Harvey wrestlers Melany Herrera and Cristina Cortez have the chance this weekend to achieve something no other Red Raider female ever has accomplished.
They’re reminded of it every day at practice.
When Herrera and Cortez toe the circle at the second Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches’ Association Girls State Championships, they’ll do so with the hopes of adding their names to the wall of glory in the Harvey wrestling room.
That wall immortalizes all of the former wrestlers who have placed at the state tournament. To date, no female is listed.
“I want my name so badly to be up there,” said Herrera, who is making her second trip to state after attending the inaugural tournament last winter. “It would be really nice to see a girl up there and for the future girls of Harvey to look up there and say, ‘If she can do it, I can do it too.’ I want them to be motivated and work harder at practice because my name is up there and I want their name up there too.”
Cortez wrestles with the same goal in mind.
“There are only boys up there so far, so it would be really awesome if Melany and I are the first girls up there,” she said. “It’s something that can inspire girls to (wrestle). Not only boys can do it, but girls can do it too.”
Herrara, a 101-pound sophomore, began wrestling when she was seven years old.
The boys she wrestled with back then weren’t as excited to share the mat with her, so she gave up the sport.
Thanks to the encouragement from some friends, she returned to the mat in seventh grade.
“I was walking to the bus with some of the wrestlers and I told them about how I used to wrestle,” she said. “They were like, ‘Oh, you should come back,’ so I thought about it and I ended up coming back and I fell in love with it. I feel like this is where I need to be.”
Last fall, Herrera learned there was an entire community of female wrestlers and she was excited to attend the first OHSWCA girls’ state tournament.
She thought her experience wrestling the boys had set her up to dominate the competition.
It took less than a minute for Herrera to realize how wrong she was.
“I had a humbling experience,” she said. “I went down thinking I was going to be better than everybody there and I got my butt kicked. Those girls were really good. I knew I had to start working hard because I wanted to be good; I want to be like those girls.”
Herrera opened the tournament against Elyria’s Riley Banyas, who went on to finish as the state runner-up and is one of the favorites to win it all this year.
Banyas need just 49 seconds to pin Herrera.
Herrera bounced back in the consolation bracket with a 47-second pin of Cincinnati Taylor’s Isabella Savage but bowed out of the tournament in the next round when she was pinned by Paulding’s Charity Schnepp.
As humbling as it was, Herrera did what any good wrestler does. She learned from the experience and has set her sights on becoming one of the most feared wrestlers in the state.
“That prepared me a lot,” she said. “I know what’s coming now. I know different styles now. I watch the girls that I’m going to wrestle and I watch them. I keep an eye on my bracket and my weight class. I work harder at practices now.”
That extra effort paid off as Herrera placed second at last week’s Northeast District tournament to earn her state berth.
She pinned her first two opponents in a total of 37 seconds before falling to Banyasz in the championship match. This time, it took Bayasz over a minute to end the bout.
Herrera will open her second state tournament against a familiar opponent as she drew Savage in the first round. With a win, she could set up a showdown with defending 101-pound state champion and the top-ranked wrestler in the state, Hayley Snyder of Warren High School.
Regardless of what happens at the state tournament, Herrera has found her calling and she’s working hard to grow the girls’ team at Harvey.
“I’ve been trying to recruit girls but they’re not really falling for it,” she said. “They think it’s too hard or it’s too gross. I genuinely feel that if I can do it, they can do it. I hope that they see what I’m doing and I hope they come to the sport.”
Cortez took a different path to the wrestling room.
Her stubbornness actually worked to Harvey’s advantage as a friendly wager prompted Cortez to join the wrestling team and she refused to lose that bet.
“It started as a game,” she said. “Someone just dared me to do it and I won the dare and I stayed there. I didn’t know anything about wrestling and I wanted to quit after the first week but I was stubborn that I was going to win my bet against the boys and then it just grew on me and I stayed with it.”
Cortez began wrestling as a sophomore and now, two years later, she’ll wrestle for a state title.
“I’m excited but I’m also nervous,” she said. “I hope I can make it (to the podium).”
Her path to state began last weekend with a second-place finish at the district tournament. She drew a first-round bye and then pinned Mentor’s Erika Novak in 1 minute, 21 seconds. Alliance’s Jayda Patrick pinned Cortez in the second period of the championship bout.
Cortez will open the state tournament against Clermont Northeastern’s Jesse Foebar.
While her path to the podium is littered with top-ranked wrestlers including No. 1 Erin Hamby of Miami East, who placed third last year, and No. 2 Sol Franco of New Lexington, a state runner-up last season, Cortez is ready for the challenge.
Like Herrera, Cortez has drawn strength from her wrestling family.
“Regardless if you do good or not, they support you and we’re always there for each other no matter what,” she said. “That’s what I like about the sport.”
For Cortez, though, wrestling isn’t just a sport.
It has been a life-altering experience.
She has developed more self-confidence and the mental toughness to overcome whatever life throws at her.
“If you can go through wrestling, if you can go through practice, and go through an entire season, nothing can be harder,” she said. “Wrestling is a really hard sport and it just helps you be mentally strong and physically strong.”