North Brunswick pins down success in girls’ wrestling

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North Brunswick High School will have its first ever all-girls wrestling team compete during the 2019-2020 season.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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North Brunswick High School girls' wrestling team's Leslie Banos-Bautista takes down her opponent during the team's practice on Dec. 11. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Ariana Kravitz, left, and Kristina Jamies, right, wrestle off during the North Brunswick High School girls wrestling team's practice on Dec. 11. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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North Brunswick High School will have its first ever all-girls wrestling team compete during the 2019-2020 season.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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North Brunswick High School girls' wrestling team's Leslie Banos-Bautista takes down her opponent during the team's practice on Dec. 11. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Ariana Kravitz, left, and Kristina Jamies, right, wrestle off during the North Brunswick High School girls wrestling team's practice on Dec. 11. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

Girl power has made its introduction into the North Brunswick Township High School wrestling program in a major way this season. 

North Brunswick boasts 16 female wrestlers competing on the mat this winter as apart of the program’s first all-girls’ wrestling team. 

“It’s very unheard of,” said North Brunswickcoach William Ojeda. “Most schools who have a girls’ wrestling team have around seven to 10 girls on their roster. Word has gotten out about the school having an all girls’ wrestling team and more and more girls have come up to ask to join the team.”

It was just last year when the state’s governing body for scholastic sports, the New Jersey Scholastic Athletic Association, instituted girls’ wrestling into the high school sports program.

The action was a booming success when over 400 girls competed in the sport last season.

Ojeda was motivated in his second-year as head varsity wrestling coach to get an all girls’ wrestling team going at the school before this year and got a great response with girls from every grade inquiring about the team after he put the word out.

Ojeda is the head coach for both the boy and girl squads.

The Raiders started with 10 girls coming out for the team to begin the season. As word continued to grow throughout the school about the program having an all-girls’ team, the number grew to 13 female wrestlers by the second week of training and now stands at 16.

From the start, Ojeda has made sure his female wrestlers understand that they create their own experience. The girls have the choice to wrestle only fellow female wrestlers and compete in all girl wrestling events, or can also wrestle the boys and compete in the boys’ team’s dual meets during the season. 

“I put the power in their hands,” Ojeda said. “They can wrestle the boys and other girls. They can wrestle just boys or just girls. It’s whatever they want. I just want to teach them how to wrestle and get out what they want from this sport.”

It will not be just Ojeda and his assistant coach, Kevin Totten, coaching up the girls’ team this season. Ojeda sought out to bring on a female voice to help him coach the girls up in Dina Fleming.

Fleming, an English teacher at North Brunswick High School, does not have any wrestling experience, but has been involved in the sport by watching her son, Travis Wesen, wrestle for the last 10 years. Wesen wrestles for Spotswood High School.

From wrestling mom to now wrestling coach, Fleming has enjoyed every minute of coaching the girls’ squad and has been a big help, said Ojeda.

“The girls are a blast,” Fleming said. “I love that they’re all inspiring each other. They encourage one another. They push each other to new limits. It’s the coolest thing to watch.”

As for training the girls, Ojeda said the girls have told him to train them just like the boys.

“They don’t want to be looked at as just a girls’ team. They want to be looked at as a team,” Ojeda said.

Ojeda and the rest of the North Brunswick coaching staff have seen their female wrestlers make major strides over the course of the first couple of the weeks of the season.

Three girls who have really stood out are Leslie Banos Bautista, Ariana Kravitz and Kristina Jamies. 

Bautista has some wrestling experience from competing in the sport in middle school as an eighth grader last year.

Ojeda has been very impressed by Baustista, saying the freshman does a better job getting single takedowns than most of the boys on the team do.

“I really enjoy this sport,” Baustista said. “It allows people to get out of their comfort zone. It’s a good example to help teach girls self defense. I feel like most girls will actually like wrestling.”

Kravitz was the team’s manager the past two seasons and developed a great love for the sport while helping out the team.

“I love how this sport teaches you the mindset of how much you’re going to push yourself to win your match,” Kravitz said. 

Jamies decided to go out for the team after Ojeda encouraged her to do so while being her freshman social studies teacher last year. 

The sophomore has been really impressive in the early going and has seen wrestling help her become a stronger person.

“Wrestling has trained me to have a stronger mentality and become a stronger individual,” Jamies said. “We girls are strong enough to be wrestlers and to compete with the boys.”

The girls’ team will mostly wrestle in tournaments this season, said Ojeda. Some girls will also compete in the boys’ team’s dual meets as well. As of date, no girls wrestler has yet to hit the mat for North Brunswick this winter.

A great opportunity that all North Brunswick female wrestlers will have this season is to compete in the inaugural Greater Middlesex Conference girls’ wrestling tournament on Jan. 26.

The Greater Middlesex Conference became the first league to sanction an all girls’ conference wrestling tournament back in November. 

The conference has seen a great turnout in girls’ wrestling over the past two years. Along with North Brunswick, St. Thomas Aquinas High School and New Brunswick High School each fields a girls’ wrestling team.

The NJSIAA girls’ wrestling North/South Tournaments will be held on Feb. 23. Qualifiers will the compete at the state championships in Atlantic City during the same weekend of the boys’ tournament. The two state tournaments will be wrestled March 5 through 7 at Boardwalk Hall.

In the big picture, Ojeda hopes that having a girls’ wrestling team at North Brunswick will be a pathway for some of his female student-athletes to get college scholarships and have a career in the sport of wrestling in some capacity.

One thing that has already stood out to Ojeda and the girls’ team is the support they have gotten from the school and the great perception students have of the girls that are on the team.

Ojeda said that a North Brunswick girls’ basketball player told his girls’ wrestling team “you guys aren’t athletes, you’re warriors.”

That just speaks to the respect the school has for the girls’ wrestling team and how the team is providing female student-athletes another opportunity to compete in high school athletics.

“These athletes are acknowledging that our girls’ wrestling team is doing something special,” Ojeda said. “Girls are starting to see that they can do anything the boys are doing, even play their sports. The girls on our team are pioneers. They’re the school’s first girls; wrestling team. I want to help them have a competitive first year, so that we can inspire more girls to come out for the team next year.”

Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports