BY RAUL GARCIA
DONNA — Donna High wrestlers Precious Hernandez and Karla Cruz didn’t have wrestling on their radar when they entered high school. That is, until Donna High wrestling head coach Raul Cardenas walked into their classrooms.
Heading into today’s District 16-5A duals tournament at Donna High, Hernandez is riding an 11-0 record while Cruz is 11-6 and coming off a big showing at the Grapefruit Bowl, where she placed second in the 148-pound weight class at the largest tournament of the Valley.
“Karla and Precious have always been part of the finals and they have been a part of some brutal battles along the way to their success,” Cardenas said. “They are real humble and shy but they know what they have to do to win.”
Hernandez was in physical education class when Cardenas sparked her interest to join the wrestling team by inviting her to a team practice.
Cruz recalls finishing her geography assignment before the end of class her freshman year when Cardenas announced to her and the class to join wrestling team.
Both Hernandez and Cruz stepped on to the wrestling mat for the first time the same day Cardenas invited them to practice and they never looked back.
They helped lift the Donna High girls wrestling team to a district title during their freshman season.
Hernandez secured the title for the team with her win in the final against a more experienced Roma opponent who she pinned to win the match.
“I don’t like to doubt myself. I always go on to the mat feeling confident in myself like I can accomplish anything,” Hernandez said. “I have been doing very well, so far I’m still undefeated and this year I plan to make it to regionals, and from there I plan to make it to state and hopefully place and be one of the first girls to place in wrestling in my district — ever.”
Each of them qualified for state competition last year, and it’s their end goal this year to make it back and win.
“These girls have been focused since their freshman year with a committed tenacity and winning attitude to make it back to state,” Cardenas said. “It’s a great experience and when you wrestle at state, it’s like the coliseum and the wrestlers are like gladiators with everyone watching them perform and they enjoyed that.”
After the taste of success at regionals and mat time at state Cruz realized she had to hit the training harder and get stronger to match up better with her opponents the next time around.
“It’s a lot of work to get back there again and I know everyone is expecting us to go to state again because they look up to us,” Cruz said. “My vision is just to let the girls know that there are no limits and you could do anything as long as you put your mind to it.”
Eleven area teams including Donna High, Edcouch-Elsa, Grulla, La Joya Palmview, Mission Veterans, PSJA Memorial, PSJA Southwest, Rio Grande City, Roma, Sharyland High, Sharyland Pioneer, Valley View and Vanguard Academy will be participating in the all-day team tournament.
“It’s going to be competitive, and a lot of the girls who are ranked in the top 10 will be wrestling,” Cardenas said.
Girls will be wrestling in 10 weight classes between 95 pounds and 215 pounds.
Eleven girls heading into the tournament are ranked in the top 20 in the state in their weight class — the highest ranked is third in their division.
Among the highly ranked, according to wrestlingtexas.com is PSJA Southwest’s Katherine Farnquist, third in the 138-pound weight class. La Joya Palmview’s Judith Rivas is fourth in the 165-pound weight class. Sharyland Pioneer’s Camila Flores is fourth in the 215-pound weight class and La Joya Palmview’s Ashley Aleman is ranked 10th in the 148-pound division.
Six other wrestlers are coming into the tournament ranked in the top 20 in their division. They are Sharyland High’s Jerilyn Peralez (No. 20), 95 pounds; Sharyland High’s Alejandra Briere-Segovia (No.12), 102 pounds; Sharyland Pioneer Emily Treviño (No. 11), 119 pounds; La Joya Palmview’s Brooklyn Garza (No. 14), 128 pounds; Mission Veterans’ Mia Sanchez (No. 15), 138 pounds; Rio Grande City’s Rachel Villarreal (No. 20), 215 pounds and Hernandez (No. 16), 215 pounds.
“This is an opportunity to put these girls in the spotlight,” Cardenas said. “They have been working and training hard and putting up with the pain and this is where they will put all their hard work to the test.”