Last March, Andrew Lopez borrowed a suit from a neighbor to wear to the CIF State wrestling tournament where he would coach his younger sister, America Lopez.
The neighbor showed him a selection of suits, shirts and ties, but one accessory, in particular, drew his attention: a tie that had the design of a waving American flag.
“I told her, I don’t want to put pressure on you, but this is how much confidence I have in you,” Andrew said. “I know you’re capable of going to the finals and winning state.”
America fell short of a state title at the tournament. But when Andrew went to return the tie to the neighbor, he told him to keep it. That he would be needing it in the next season.
On Saturday evening, Andrew was wearing the tie once again, in accordance with the neighbor’s inkling. But this time, he was wearing it in the presence of a state champion as America had beaten Katja Osteen of Royal High School, 2-1, in the 170-pound finals.
“I just remember looking at the score because she got one point and I’m like, oh my god I’m down a point,” America said. “I just kept my confidence and I thought, I have to do this. For me, my teammates and everyone around me. I have to do it. I didn’t break down when I saw she had one point, it pushed me even more.”
Osteen was no stranger to America. She handed America two of her three losses this season, beating her in the CIF-Southern Section Northern Divisional tournament and then once more in the CIF-SS Masters Meet.
Losing in the Masters Meet gave America the No. 3 seed heading into the state tournament. However, she and her brother embraced the competition and the difficult road ahead.
She faced BaoAnn Duncan of Clovis in the semifinals, a wrestler she had never competed with this season. America was able to come back from a 3-0 deficit and win in triple overtime.
The win sent her to a finals matchup with Osteen.
“Just wrestle out of your heart,” Andrew told America before the final match. “I told her, you’ve got to wrestle for what you really want.”
America had learned what to look for against Osteen after seeing her before. She knew she had to wrestle smart and keep her composure in order to get the win.
“Be careful with her signature move, headlocks, and not get caught and let my temper come to me when she hit my head and everything,” America said. “I had to play smart with her and obviously, it paid off.”
Now that the prep wrestling season is over, America will continue with club wrestling season and head to the USA Wrestling Girls Folkstyle Nationals, which will run from March 26-29.
She still has one more season of prep wrestling next year, and she knows she’ll have a target on her back for her senior campaign. America and Andrew will be ready — with American flag tie in hand.
“We still have next year and all these girls are going to come for me, but I have to train hard, harder than I did this year and win it next year again,” America said. “That’s our goal. It’s awesome, though, hearing that and knowing that they’re after me now. But I like it.”
Smelser reaches podium at CIF State tournament
The Vikings had three boys wrestlers at the CIF State wrestling tournament, with Braden Smelser reaching the podium in eighth place in the 170-pound bracket.
Smelser is the third wrestler in the program’s six-year history to receive a medal at the state level and finishes the season with a 35-9 record with 15 pins.
Trent Munoz (160) and Alex Munoz (145) both went 2-2 at the tournament. Trent finished the season with a 44-9 record and 21 pins, while Alex ends his freshman year with a 48-11 record with 27 pins.