Valencia freshman America Lopez has already become somewhat of a viral sensation in the California wrestling community.
Participating in her first tournament in a boys division — the Thousand Oaks JV Tournament in early December — Lopez was being knocked around the mat by a Bishop Alemany wrestler.
“Even to this day, just talking about it, it gives me chills because I was so close to pulling her out,” said her father Doroteo Lopez.
During the final period, though, something changed. It was America who was tossing around her Alemany opponent. Eventually, she pinned him, capping off a 4-0 day to win the tournament’s 170-pound boys division.
Lopez, in a state of shock, jumped around the mat until finding the waiting arms of her mother, Naomi Sanchez, to jump into.
The moment was captured on video and posted to the Valencia wrestling Facebook page, where it has over 9,300 views.
“It was crazy how much attention that got,” America said. “I didn’t even realize I had even won the match until ended and they raised my arm up.
“ … When I got off the mat, I realized the whole crowd had been watching my match. It was a pretty amazing feeling.”
To those who know America best, including her brother Nicholas, a senior on Valencia’s wrestling team, this kind of performance was just a matter of time.
America already had four state titles to her name before entering high school. She won the freestyle and folkstyle titles in the 175-pound division at the California USA Wrestling Championships in seventh and eighth grade.
Winning a CIF State title this season certainly isn’t a foregone conclusion. But the freshman phenom has already won two of the three girls varsity tournaments she’s participated in this year. She took home titles in the 170-pound division at the Lady Rebel Rumble in late December and the BlackWatch Tournament later that month.
“I want to make wrestling more popular, especially for girls,” Lopez said. “It’s great hearing that people believe in me and think a state title is possible. I want younger girls to be able to look up to me.”
America got her start in wrestling as an 11-year-old after watching countless sessions between her five older brothers, first at Big John McCarthy’s Ultimate Training Academy and now at Peterson’s Grapplers — where she works with the owner and Valencia coach, Brian Peterson. Her brother, Andrew, currently wrestles for East Los Angeles College.
“Every day I’d go and watch and (Peterson) would try and get me to join,” America said. “One day, I just decided I’d give it a shot and I fell in love.”
Part of America’s apprehension had to do with the lack of girls wrestlers in the area. At first, she’d be lucky to find two or three girls wrestlers in tournaments. Now, she’s wrestling in tournaments with 20 girls in her weight division alone.
“I was kind of nervous because I thought I’d be wrestling guys all the time,” Lopez said. “But in the end that didn’t really matter to me. I wrestled my brothers all the time. I wanted to try and start something.”
Though tentative at first about the idea, America relishes the chance to wrestle with boys. She hopes to participate in a boys division once again before the girls postseason begins.
“It’s really important for me to get those opportunities,” America said. “A lot of times the guys will just write me off and say, ‘She’s just a girl.’ It’s helped build my confidence when I wrestle against girls, too.”
While hopeful for the chance to again wrestle the boys, she knows it’ll have its drawbacks.
“My dad’s a little iffy about it, especially after how physical the first tournament was,” America said. “But I want to do it.”
The CIF-Southern Section Girls Masters will be held Feb. 9-10 at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Corona, with the CIF State wrestling championships to follow Feb. 23-24 in Visalia.
She’ll has plenty of time to bring home Valencia’s first state title, though the wait might not be very long.
“She’s right there,” Doroteo said. “She’s ranked second right now in her weight class and everyone I’ve talked to around the tournaments truly believe she has a chance to bring it home. It’s been incredible to see how fast all this has happened.”