A half dozen grappling pairs practice spin moves on a mat — it's starting to get sweaty. It's the De La Salle North Catholic High School gym on a winter's evening, and some of the wrestlers have long hair and curves. Other than that, it's hard to tell the difference.
"I wanted to prove a point," says Rebecca Antoniadis , a 15-year-old freshman at the North Portland school who competes at the 113-pound level. "Girls can wrestle, too."
Antoniadis is undefeated in varsity so far. She grew up wrestling her older brother, and always held her own. Early in the season, she faced off with a boy from Tualatin High and won the match.
Antoniadis likes wrestling because it's possible to be tough and aggressive, but not hurt anyone. It calls for a strict healthy diet and constant working out.
"The goal is to strive and win," she says. "I don't like to lose."
To girls who are thinking about wrestling but are unsure, Antoniadis says, "Try it out. Don't go with the stereotype that only guys can wrestle."
Carla Valenzuela, a De La Salle senior, wrestled for two years, and now is team manager because her academic and college application schedule intensified. De La Salle students hold down internships to learn about the world of work and also pay for their education. Valenzuela was a transfer to wrestling from soccer because coaches noticed her toughness.
"It's a positive way to get your aggression out," says Valenzuela, who grew up scrapping with cousins and watching professional wrestling extravaganzas on television.
Before her matches, she would listen to music on earphones Michael Phelps style.
"That gets you pumped," she explains. "You have to feel powerful to be powerful." Last year, Valenzuela wrestled a few boys in official matches. She lost, but learned a lot.
"I felt empowered seeing how many points I earned," she says.
Rose Gilmore, a junior wrestler, says girls have more aggression than most people think. "I almost think girls have more to put on the line," says Gilmore, who joined the team this fall. She also grew up wrestling a brother, who is now 6 feet tall and 190 pounds.
"I didn't like sitting around and being lazy," Gilmore explains. "This is very physically demanding and mentally and emotionally demanding."
Gilmore's goal is to keep learning technique and then trust that she can put it into practice. A match, she says, can start out with a plan, but inevitably, a wrestler must react to what the opponent does.
Quincy Chance, in his second year as De La Salle coach, wrestled in high school and college. He previously coached the sport for boys at Catlin Gabel. This is his first experience coaching girls in wrestling.
Chance treats the girls no differently from the boys. He's kind but firm and has high expectations. He bellows now and then, but no one's feelings seem hurt.
"I want them to enjoy the sport and have passion for the sport," he says. "It's a very difficult one."
The De La Salle team, boys and girls, started with 37 athletes and now is down to 17 because of the academic and job load. The team has some disadvantages — no weight room, abbreviated practice time. But the girls, especially, make up for it all with determination.
"They are better listeners," Chance says of the female athletes. "And they are better technicians because they listen so well."
Chance says girls can be every bit as assertive as boys, but in many cases have more discipline by nature. That's to the girls' advantage, because wrestling requires a balance of power and control. On the mat, pure aggression leaves limbs exposed and leads to being pinned. Chance, who likes what he's learned, looks forward to having more girls join the sport.