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The Pioneers of Idaho Girls Prep Wrestling: Maria Sifuentes, Columbia
Al Fontes goes one-on-one with Columbia's standout grappler
Published: 2/22/2023 11:00:05 AM
Al Fontes
Contributing Writer
 

ORDER GAME PHOTOS

Four words come to mind when I think about my next interviewee in the Pioneers of Idaho Girl’s Prep Wrestling series. They are PERSERVERANCE, RESILENCE, MOTIVATION, AND GRIT. A state finalist in 2022, Maria Sifuentes of Columbia High School in Nampa has had a very tough, but interesting journey to this point in her life. As a young child, Maria led a very inactive lifestyle. She did not participate in any extracurricular activities or sports. To sum it up, life was a continuous battle to survive, spending most of her childhood years breaking the cycles of victim and poverty consciousness.

In spite of all the hardships and continuous day-to-day challenges she had faced, Maria persevered. Without a doubt, the positive driving force that has guided, as well as brought Maria to this point, is her mother – her mentor in life. Together, they have achieved a great deal in conditions that would have deterred a vast majority. I am inspired by Maria’s resilience and ability to always move forward in the midst of adversity in life and on the mat. The parallels of life’s challenges and entering the wrestling circle are like no other and Maria’s draw to the sport of wrestling, in my opinion, was not by circumstance, it was inevitable.

Maria’s mother has been a genuine leader from the beginning. She has always led by example by fostering a strong relationship with her daughter and ensuring that the negative impact of historical and generational trauma that she had experienced in her life is undone and not repeated. In essence, she set a strong example for Maria to follow. Her ability to influence, encourage risk-taking, while balancing hard truths with optimism, have been the strong pillars that she has built upon to not only mentor Maria, but to teach her mental, physical, and life skills in the process. For instance, while going to college (graduating with a Master’s degree), she worked full-time, managed household responsibilities, performed community service, all while raising Maria by herself. The days were long, arduous, but throughout, she took every opportunity to read to Maria, watch educational documentaries together, and have Maria help with her community service activities or anything that could be utilized as a learning opportunity. Without a doubt, a strong seed had been planted along with a solid blue print for success provided!

My first opportunity to observe Maria in competition was at the Jaybird Girl’s tournament held at Columbia High School in the early part of the 2021-’22 season. Despite losing her first match by pin in the waning seconds of the third round, Maria was very composed in defeat and walked off the mat with her head raised high. There was no complaining or excuse making, she just moved forward. This situation caught my attention and impressed me. Without knowing her back story, I surmised that her ability to face adversity and hardship was deep rooted and went beyond her experiences on the mat. Like a true champion, Maria won the remainder of her matches and a place on the medal stand.

Maria’s wrestling journey, or at least the concept of wrestling, began in the sixth grade while she was attending East Valley Middle School in Nampa. From the sixth thru seventh grades, it was only a thought, an unknown concept, not a reality. If not for the persistence of Maria’s good friend, Madison, who, on many occasions tried to convince her to give wrestling a try, I would not be writing this article at this moment in time. Coming from a wrestling family, Madison understood the value of wrestling, its challenges, and the life lessons it provides. Fortunately, after many attempts to convince Maria to give wrestling a try, she finally agreed to attend a wrestling camp with her during the summer between their seventh and eighth grade years.

A member of the track and cross country teams since the sixth grade, Maria decided to finally enter the wrestling circle and give it a try during her eighth grade year. Her first experience only lasted approximately four weeks. According to Maria, she did not like the structure, discipline, and lifestyle of wrestling. It was overwhelming to her. Although it seemed as if her future in the sport was finished at this point, she re-evaluated and gave wrestling another try during her freshman season at Columbia. Something inside told her to not give up and face her fears and demons of doubt. For the next couple of seasons, she won a small percentage of her matches, but for the most part lost a majority (16-38 record). During her freshman and sophomore seasons, she competed at the Girl’s Open State Championships (Girl’s wrestling was not sanctioned at this point), gave it her all, but did not place or win a single match (0-4 state record).

From the youngest of age, Maria was taught to never give up nor did her mother permit the option to quit at anything. Early on, Maria was provided a great example to follow and, in the process, learned to be resilient in the face of adversity, a survival skill that has benefited her a great deal and a means to adapt to the rigors associated with the core ingredients of wrestling; mental and physical pain in arduous conditions coupled by structure, discipline, and never ending challenges that requires one to remain focused in the midst of training, competition, and day-to-day life. Always moving forward, Maria was highly motivated to improve upon her skills on the mat, which at this point in her wrestling experience she had not bought into the sport nor understood what it meant to train to the next level. All that changed during the summer months prior to her junior season.

Maria began her post season training routine by attending a couple of wrestling camps with her Columbia teammates and then traveled to Fargo, North Dakota with the Idaho national team to compete at the Cadet/Junior National Championships. It was at Fargo where Maria met Suples Coach Ivan Ivanov and at the conclusion of the tournament decided to attend practices at the Boise facility with the likes of multi-time All-American and Cadet Pan Am Gold medalist Marissa Jimenez of Caldwell High School (now attending Oklahoma City University), as well as other national and international level wrestlers that compete for the Suples Wrestling Club.

While training at Suples, Maria made several friends and in no time begun to delve into a new training environment directed by world level coaches Ivanov and Mitko Georgiev that not only inspired, but also changed her wrestling mindset. It was the grind and training regimen that she gravitated to, and from this point forward her outlook and commitment to excel to the next level increased a great deal. Above all, it was a turning point in her journey on the mat. Maria went from winning few matches to having her hand raised a majority of the time in just a short period, a quantum leap of growth in less than one year’s time.

 

“Maria’s growth as both a person and Student-Athlete has been enjoyable to witness. Watching an athlete commit themselves to a path of excellence is very rewarding as a coach…Maria’s “all in” approach both in season and out of season is what we hope to see in all our athletes…her modeling of what it takes to be successful will have a lasting impact on our program.”

 

  • Todd Cady, Columbia H.S.

     

    The gains and results of her hard work and commitment were evident with the number of accolades that she was now adding to her wrestling resume. For instance, during the post season of her junior year, Maria placed third at the District III Championships and then reached the finals of the Girl’s State Championships in Pocatello, finishing runner-up in a competitive weight group (this was the first time girl’s wrestling was an officially sanctioned sport with the boy’s division in Idaho). She then won an individual title at the Idaho Greco-Roman State Championships in addition to reaching the finals in Freestyle. Moreover, Maria then competed at the USA Wrestling Western Regionals placing third in Greco and fifth in Freestyle, and also made her second trip to the Fargo Nationals. Once again, this was a turning point for Maria. Now buying into the wrestling culture and integrating “true grit” into her new outlook, it had proven to be a positive and moving forward provided her a clearer path.

     

    “Wrestling is my medicine. It saved my life and put me on a positive trajectory.”

    • Maria Sifuentes

 

Fast forward to the 2022-’23 season and Maria is now on course to complete her final prep season at Columbia while exploring a host of options to compete at the collegiate level. As we enter the post season, Maria has had a solid season to this point, winning nearly three quarters of her matches compared to only a third the years prior. Currently ranked in the state’s highly competitive 144-pound weight group, Maria has updated her wrestling resume with solid performances at the competitive Rollie Lane Invitational, as well as earning her first All-American honor at the tough Reno Tournament of Champions. Earlier this week, she placed third at the District III Championships and will now compete in her final prep state championships in pursuit of reaching the top of the podium.  

In summary, although Maria faced many challenges growing up, her resilience, as well as her ability to overcome tough obstacles and adversity, has placed her on a solid course to be very successful in life. In the face of living in a very structured and disciplined household, participating in the sport of wrestling has provided Maria many parallels, and as a result has brought her closer to her mother in the past several years. Despite having demons of doubt upon first entering the wrestling circle in 2019, Maria has not only been able to persevere, but also reach higher levels in a short period of time. Motivated to excel both on and off the mat, along with solid academics, her grit and determination has guided her from very humble beginnings to becoming one of the best in Idaho. Up to now, Maria is one of nine wrestlers since 2019 to have placed at the Idaho Girl’s State Championships for Columbia. Additionally, she was a member of the first team to fill a complete girl’s roster and is now in position to be the first girl wrestler at Columbia to compete at the collegiate level. Academically, Maria maintains a 3.2 GPA while taking college prep courses and has been on the honor roll several times. Her story is very inspiring and from what I have been able to observe thus far, she is a leader and TRUE WRESTLER, both on and off the mat.

More recently, I had the opportunity to interview Maria about her life growing up, wrestling, academics, hobbies, and her goals moving forward in life. As she prepares to compete in her final prep State Championships this week, I wish her the best on the mat, in life, and to follow her dreams! Below is my Q&A interview.

 

 Q&A INTERVIEW WITH COLUMBIA’S MARIA SIFUENTES

How long have you been involved with the sport of wrestling?

SIFUENTES –  I was first introduced to wrestling about five to six years ago while attending East Valley Middle School. I didn’t truly commit to the sport until my junior year at Columbia High School.

 

Who introduced wrestling to you?

SIFUENTES – My friend Madison Graves from East Valley Middle School. She comes from a wrestling family…Since the beginning of our friendship, she always encouraged me to give wrestling a try. At the time, I was running cross country and had no interest, but by the end of my seventh grade year, she finally convinced me to attend a wrestling camp with her. 

 

What life lessons have you learned from wrestling?

SIFUENTES – Wrestling taught me to be comfortable being uncomfortable…Learn to embrace the grind, love the burn.

 

Who inspired you to be where you are today?

SIFUENTES –  My Mom, family, and friends. Seeing other women in the sport of wrestling, such as Adaline Gray, Kala Miracle, and Tamyra Mensah Stock has inspired me to take wrestling to another level and in life.

 

What are your academic goals at Columbia High School?

SIFUENTES – My goal is to finish my senior year with a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher.

 

What hobbies do you enjoy?

SIFUENTES –.  I love to read, draw, and arts and crafts.

 

Who is your favorite college or Olympic level wrestler?

SIFUENTES –  My favorite college wrestlers are Marissa Jimenez (Oklahoma City) and former Eagle High School wrestler, Liv Wieber, who is now at Eastern Oregon.

 

Having placed second in the state last year, what are your year-end wrestling goals at Columbia High School?

SIFUENTES – My short term goal is to attack more…be more offensive on my feet. My long term goal is to chase an individual state title.

 

Do you have ambitions to compete at the collegiate or Olympic levels?

SIFUENTES –  Yes, my immediate plan to is compete at the collegiate level. Not sure about competing at the international level. 

 

What goals do you have in life beyond the sport of wrestling?

SIFUENTES – My goal is to become a Doctor (Pediatrician).

 

Do you plan to coach or be involved with the sport of wrestling in some form or capacity in the future?

SIFUENTES –  I am not sure at this time. My future plans are to go to medical school, which will keep me very busy for the next several years. We’ll see…

 

Girl’s wrestling is the fastest growing high school sport in the United States. What advice would you give a young girl showing interest in the sport?

SIFUENTES – I would encourage her to do a lot of research about wrestling and to have fun.

 

If provided the opportunity to make an impact to girl’s wrestling at the grassroots level, what would you do to improve opportunities and increase participation levels?

SIFUENTES –  In addition to high school wrestling, I would create more opportunities for girls to compete in the all three style…I like Greco-Roman. Also, come up with a way to educate the masses about the sport of women’s wrestling, opportunities, and its history.

 

MARIA SIFUENTES’ ACADEMIC AND ATHLETIC PROFILE

SCHOOL: Columbia High School

GRADE: 12 (Class of 2023)

WEIGHT GROUP: 144

CLUBS: Suples WC/The Factory

 

ACADEMIC ACCOLADES

  • GPA: 3.2 (College Prep Courses)
  • HONOR ROLL: Multiple

 

WRESTLING ACCOLADES

  • Idaho District III Championships – 3rd Place ’22
  • Rollie Lane Invitational – 6th Place ‘22
  • Reno TOC – 3rd Place ’22 (ALL-AMERICAN)
  • USA Wrestling Western Regional – 5th Place ‘22
  • USA Wrestling Western Regional – 3rd Place ‘22
  • Idaho Greco-Roman State Champion ‘22
  • Idaho Girl’s High School State Championships – 2nd Place ’22
  • Idaho District III Championships – 3rd Place ’22
  • Idaho Freestyle State Championships – 2nd Place ‘22
  • Rollie Lane Invitational – 3rd Place ’21




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