Mike Powers | News-Bulletin photos
Andie Saiz, of Belen, says wrestling helps “get your anger out.”

As high school girls wrestling continues to gain popularity three years after it was sanctioned by the New Mexico Activities Association, many of those who have put on the singlet are passionate about the sport.

“I love the hard work,” said Belen High School senior Andie Saiz, who wrestles at 114 pounds, and recently won the championship at the Battle For Honor tournament in Gallup.

Saiz posted a 12-7 record last year, her first wrestling experience.

“I like to be physical. It’s a good way to get your anger out,” she said.

Los Lunas wrestler Kiyah Padilla, right, wishes she had tried the sport sooner.

Los Lunas High School senior Kiyah Padilla has a similar view. Padilla started in martial arts and moved into wrestling. “Calming” is her description.

“Whenever I’m frustrated, I can take it out on the mat and take it all out on the person,” Padilla said.

At Valencia High School, senior Nevaeh Bracamonte, who has been “getting pins pretty fast,” competes at around 126 pounds.

“Coming in, I was a little nervous, but I try to calm down before a match-It’s an amazing learning experience,” Bracamonte proclaims, calling wrestling “a mind game.”

Mia Carabajal-Hartog earned All-State honors in soccer at Los Lunas High School, and this year she is testing her athletic ability on the mat.

“It is nerve wracking,” Carabajal-Hartog said.  “It’s super challenging going from a team to an individual sport.”

LLHS teammate Padilla is also a two-sport standout, and says cross country and wrestling have similarities.

“Your legs have to be in shape (for both),” Padilla said. “You need to be figuring out what moves to do next and anticipate what they’re going to do to you.”

Each wrestler found different inspiration when it came to taking the initial leap.

Valencia’s Navaeh Bracamonte finished fourth, with Katie Booth first at the Conflict at Cleveland to lead the Jaguars to ninth place.

“There was nothing else to do. My friends encouraged me to try it,” was Carabajal-Hartog’s simple answer. “I watched videos on YouTube. I said, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’”

Saiz was motivated by her boyfriend, BHS wrestler and state champion Ely Gutierrez.

“There’s no comparison to anything else,” said Saiz.

Being in the same wrestling room with the boys hasn’t been a problem.

“Everybody has been real helpful,” said Saiz.

“They (boys) have respect for girls who do it,” proclaimed Bracamonte.

“We work together,” said Eagles coach Nick Sanchez. “Boys and girls are treated the same, no different.”

All three Valencia County programs could use more female participation.

“I wish I had done it sooner,” said Carabajal-Hartog. “But it’s better to start late” than not at all.

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Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.