Don’t get sucked in by the big brown eyes and bright smile, Marizza Birrueta is all business on the wrestling mat — and there are plenty of guys in the CWAC who have a loss on their record for proof.
The Grandview junior, fresh off her third district title and second regional title, will be on center stage this weekend in Tacoma at Mat Classic XXVI as she goes for her second consecutive state title. She won at 100 pounds last season, and is competing at 106 this year.
“Girls wrestling is growing so fast and seeing better competition every year,” said Grandview coach Jeff Sevigny. “All year we had her in the varsity lineup and she had a winning record against the guys (12-4).”
Joining Birrueta at state will be sophomore Desiree Zavala, who has an impressive résumé of her own. She is a two-time district champion, won the Region 4 title last weekend, and captured the 124-pound state title last year. She is going after the 130-pound gold this weekend.
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“Our girls are well known throughout the league for how tough they are,” Sevigny said. “A guy from Selah was going to forfeit to (Zavala), so she bumped up a weight. The guy wrestled her, and she beat him. We hit two girls tournaments on the west side to see what they have. There are some girls we haven’t seen, but we will see them this weekend.”
Birrueta (30-4) will open at state against sophomore Alexis Perry of Lakewood, while Zavala (27-6) will take on junior Kendra Blue of White River.
Birrueta didn’t start wrestling until the eighth grade, but she was a natural from the start.
She got a bit of a push at the time from Fidel Medina (15-0), who won the 2A regional title last week at 113 and will be making his first trip to state.
“He was dating one of my friends at the time and told me I should join,” Birrueta said. “I did and I fell in love with it.”
It took a little longer for her parents to embrace their daughter wrestling with the guys.
“My parents are Mexican and they didn’t know much about it at first,” she said. “They didn’t want me to do it. I tried to explain it to them. When I was a freshman, I had Mr. Sevigny as a teacher and he explained it to my mom. They are OK with it now.
“When I went to state as a freshman, my dad went and watched me and he thought it was cool.”
Birrueta is a little on a shy side, so joining the wrestling team was not a social statement.
“I do it because I love it, not because of anything else,” Birrueta said. “All of my friends come and support me.”
And wrestling against the guys?
“I just have to work that much harder,” said Birrueta, who has been the Greyhounds’ 106-pound varsity starter for two years. “When I wrestle, I don’t care if they are boys or girls. When I lose to a guy it’s disheartening, but I use it as motivation to push harder. It makes you that much tougher.”
The Greyhounds have had a few other 106-pounders over the last couple of years, but they were gone by the Christmas break. It’s not known if they couldn’t hack the discipline or they couldn’t deal with not being able to beat Birrueta.
“It shows how tough girls can be,” said Medina, who noted that Birrueta has not been able to beat him — yet. “Wrestling is not just for guys. I knew she would be good for the sport. She has worked hard for everything.”
Birrueta’s freshman year, she was sixth at state, losing to eventual champion Justin Palabrica of Everett 8-6 in the quarterfinals. Winning last year helped ease the painful memory.
“After all the time I put in, I felt I finally reached my goal,”said. “I just couldn’t believe it.”
Whereas Birrueta is just four years into the sport, Zavala has been on the mat since she was 4 years old.
Growing up, her next door neighbor Jesus Valdez was a youth coach and encouraged her to try the sport.
“My mom said it was for boys,” Zavala said. “My coach said if I cried at practice that I couldn’t do it any more.”Apparently, like baseball, there is no crying in wrestling.
Zavala spent the first 10 years honing her craft against the boys. It wasn’t until last year that she actually wrestled against girls.
“It was a lot easier wrestling the girls than the guys,” she said. “They aren’t as strong. I like wrestling the guys during the season, but the in the postseason, the girls tournament gives us a better chance at state.”
After winning a state title last year, Zavala has her sights set on being a four-time state champion.
“My coaches told me when I was little I could do that,” she said. “All of our coaches are super supportive. They are willing to have extra practice time to help us out.”
It has paid off.
Girls state tournament
Where: Tacoma Dome. When: 10 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Finals 5 p.m. Saturday. Admission per day: Adults $15; seniors, students with ASB and children 12 and under $11. All tournament passes are $23/$17.
What you need to know: Defending champion Warden will send nine wrestlers to state. Senior Deianeira Caudle (100 pounds) won state in 2012 and was second to Grandview’s Marizza Birrueta last year. She was eighth as a freshman. Junior Aneissa Gonzales (155) is making her third trip to state. She was eighth last year, but did not place as a freshman. Junior Andrea Contreras (235) also is making her third trip to state. She was eighth last year, and was 1-2 as freshman. Making their first state appearances for the Cougars are Levi Guerra (100), Vanessa Morales (106), Tania Dominguez (118), Jennifer Mendoza (130), Ashley Martinez (145) and Alexandra Prado (235).
Area state qualifiers: Grandview: Marizza Birrueta (106), Desiree Zavala (130). Kiona-Benton: Brittnee Cook (100), Elsa Gonzalez (145). Richland: Tamika Pierce (106). Othello: Tori Zambrano (112), Nikki Velazquez (124), Tatum Sparks (137), Phelicia Perez (137), Rosana Pena (170), Isabella Chavez (190). Chiawana: Marylou Martinez (118), Sydney Virgen (124). Sunnyside: Daisy Chavez (118), Aylin Bautista (155), Jessica Cardenas (170), Belen Torres (190), Jasmine Starke (235), Cassidy Ochoa (235). Royal: Bria Diaz (124). Pasco: Alexa Castellanos (145), Jesse Lobos (155). Connell: Jackie Ramos (145), Caily Mendez (155), Felisha Orozco (190). Wahluke: Asusana Bartolo (137). Mabton: Neomi Gutierrez (112), Jesenia Meza (130).