Nyla Valencia felt she could’ve wrestled better leading up to her Central Coast Section 106-pound title match against Santa Cruz’s Greta Gustafson last Saturday at Independence High. When it came down to the championship match, however, the Sobrato High sophomore was on her game. In control from the start, Valencia ran her record to 18-0 on the season with a pin at the 3 minute, 27 second mark to fulfill a goal she set out before the season started.
“It feels great,” she said. “My arms are sore, but I feel great.”
Valencia advances to the CIF State Championships, which begin on Thursday at Mechanics Bank (formerly Rabobank) Arena in Bakersfield. Her teammate, Abbeygael Cabuag, also earned a berth to state with a solid third-place finish at 101 pounds. Cabuag fell to eventual champion Kiely Tabaldo in the semifinals, 7-6, before defeating Silver Creek’s Kelalani Tumale, 9-5, in the third-place match. Only a freshman, Cabuag is a rising star and no doubt has the potential to win a CCS championship and a state title in the future. They have all the moves and the work ethic, and if they stay injury-free, there’s no telling how much they’ll be able to accomplish.
Cabuag and Valencia—who is in her inaugural season of high school wrestling—form one of the most dynamic duos in the state. Against Gustafson, Valencia executed her game plan to near-perfection. She got an early takedown before riding Gustafson for the majority of the match. Then she executed a low single takedown, which eventually led to the pin. Never threatened, Valencia showed why she’s the premier 106-pounder in the section.
“My entire plan was to showcase my moves at the beginning of the first period, then choose a spot in the second round in which I was going to go for something big or pin her,” Valencia said. “And that is exactly what happened. That was the plan and I got the result I wanted.”
Valencia has all the tools, and the low single takedown just happens to be one of the moves in her vast repertoire. She uses the low single takedown in heavy doses in international competitions. However, the biggest improvement for Valencia this season has been in the mental game. In the past, Valencia said she might have lacked confidence or let her nerves affect her performance, but that looks to be a thing she has vanquished.
Valencia looked loose and relaxed before the final, as she listened to a music playlist compiled by her brother, Aden. Once she got on the mat, there was never a question Valencia was going to roll.
“I felt very confident and wasn’t thinking about pressure or the nerves,” she said. “I was just out there to wrestle, have fun, and enjoy the moment because this is not something you get to do everyday. And so I’m just preparing myself mentally and physically for state and future competitions. Learning to relax before my matches is extremely important along with staying focused and going strong the entire match. (Before the final) I put myself in a zone and flushed out my nerves.”
Valencia won her first two matches via pinfall and her third by a major decision. She beat a tough opponent in Gilroy’s Valerie Glenn in the semifinals, 4-1. While on the surface the score looked close, Valencia’s coach and father, Joel, said Glenn was never close to scoring (he said Glenn’s one point came via a one-point penalty on Nyla for clasping).
“I wrestled more defensively in the semis, didn’t take as many shots and decided to ride my opponent,” Nyla said. “In the finals, I opened up a little more as opposed to keeping it safe in the semis.”
Valencia is one of the favorites to win state, and though it’s a goal of hers, her biggest objective centers on her desire to be at her absolute best in every match.
“My main goal is to push my opponents, push myself and prepare for the finals match because I know it’s going to be a battle,” she said. “I want to wrestle to the best of my capabilities.”
Valencia was actually the No. 6 seed in the CCS Championships and No. 6 in the CCS rankings, which looks laughable now because of how thoroughly she dominated the field. Valencia didn’t wrestle in as many high school tournaments compared to her peers, as she often trained at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs or took part in national and international competitions.
Valencia is a multiple-time national judo champion and has all the throws at her arsenal. Although she’s still used to getting used to folk style wrestling, there’s little doubt she will raise her level and knowledge of the style in the coming years. She’s already well versed in free style and Greco Roman, which is used in international competition. Quick, elusive and highly technical, Valencia is seemingly on a fast ascent to a much higher state. Valencia has a terrific coach in Joel, who offered some constructive criticism immediately after Nyla came off the mat.
“My dad was wanting me to look for those throws,” Nyla said. “I actually took two throws but didn’t hit them. … The thing I love about my dad is he is so calm in the corner. He doesn’t scream at me and he keeps his composure in a way that makes me calm and more relaxed, which helps me in matches.”
Of that, there is no doubt.