GONZALES — Gonzales High School graduate Maria Lopez completed her freshman year as a wrestler for the Simpson University team with a berth to the National Association of Interscholastic Athletics (NAIA) Wrestling Championships in Jamestown, N.D.
The 18-year-old qualified for the national meet by finishing the regular season with a top 20 ranking at 123 pounds. Lopez is the daughter of Francisco and Maricela Lopez of Gonzales.
“My expectations were low, honestly, as I didn’t think we would have a season or if we would have other schools to wrestle,” Lopez said. “The difference from high school is that I would get away with my weight when being too light, but for college wrestling I am responsible for keeping my weight in check as well as taking care of my own injuries.”
According to Gonzales High girls wrestling coach Sandra Rodriguez, Lopez did not start wrestling until her sophomore year for the Spartan team. Lopez learned a lot about wrestling her next three years at Gonzales and earned a partial scholarship at Simpson University, located in Redding.
“I was so excited to hear that Maria had qualified for the National championships,” Rodriguez said. “Even though she had just a few years of wrestling experience, she is very athletic and works very hard on the mat. Maria placed sixth at CCS (Central Coast Section) in her sophomore year. It was helpful for her to go to Simpson University with her teammate and friend Veronica Rodriguez. They help each other in practice and support each other as students as the share a dorm at school.”
Rodriguez continued, “They are both strong students, as Veronica earned a scholarship for track and field and as a merit scholar. Veronica also earned a spot on the Simpson wrestling team and wrestles at 143 pounds. After wrestling, Veronica will join the track team where she will throw the shot put and discus.”
Lopez was joined in Jamestown by Simpson University teammates Aphrodite Ayala of Gilroy (116-pound weight class) and Melanie Salazar of Tulare (109-pound weight class).
“To qualify for the championships I had to finish in the top 20 of the national rankings and I was ranked 18th,” Lopez said. “Covid made our training a little harder, as we had to wear masks for conditioning and even when we started hard practices. We are in the Red Tier here in Redding, but we still had to be careful because if a wrestler came up positive, they had to quarantine. Luckily we went the whole season with no positive results.”
Lopez went 0-2 on the opening day of the tournament, losing 8-0 in her opening match to Alesandra Parker from Brewton Parker. In her second and final match, Lopez lost 14-2 to ninth-ranked Mami Selemani of William Penn.
Lopez will continue her frosh year at Simpson University and will declare kinesiology as her major next year.