San Benito’s Athena McGoff poses at the Balers’ practice earlier this week. McGoff is preparing for the 2012 girls state championship.
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One year ago, at the Central Coast Section wrestling championship, freshman wrestler Athena McGoff had to watch from afar.
Unable to make weight, the young wrestler couldn’t compete. Fast-forward 12 months later, McGoff was doing more than just wrestling at the CCS championship, she earned a spot at the 2012 California Interscholastic Federation Girls Wrestling State Invitational Championship.
At the CCS championships in early February, McGoff – wrestling in the 235-pound weight class – was the only Baler to earn a spot at the Feb. 24-25 championship at Lemorre High School. To do so wasn’t an easy task for McGoff.
She knocked off the No. 1 seed Raquel Lozano from Overfelt and earned a second-place finish at the meet. It extended a season that included her wrestling boys who were taller, heavier and stronger.
Luckily, it all made her better, she said.
“To get that far and beat the No. 1 seed, means a lot to me because it means I worked hard,” McGoff said. “Wrestling boys has made it so I have a little bit of an advantage. They might have wrestled other guys but I’ve wrestled guys who are so much larger than me and taller than me, so it’s much easier.”
The state-championship berth, though, was more than a year in waiting for McGoff. To reach that moment, McGoff went through a life-altering change.
After missing her weight goals at the 2011 CCS championship, McGoff decided to lose weight. Twelve months later, she is 40 pounds lighter.
McGoff began going to the gym more and started to eat better, she said.
“At first it seemed easy but it gets a little harder,” she said. “But once you get into the habit of it, it gets easier and stuff. You just have to keep on doing it now. It really felt really good to lose all that weight. I was working out and eating a lot better than I was. It helped out a lot. I can go a lot longer in matches now. It’s so much easier now.”
All of hard work has made her an inspiration of sorts for the rest of the team, head coach Brian DeCarli said.
“I tell everyone this, you have to invest time in the sport,” he said. “It’s not a sport where you can just walk into and excel – it’s not going to happen. Everybody gets humbled, and the hardest thing is sticking it out.”
He continued: “That’s where Athena was at. We were sending her out against bigger kids, with more experience, last year and this year. She stuck it out, and the time she invested in the sport started to pay off. The more time you invest in a sport, the harder it is to give up.”
And McGoff hasn’t.
The sophomore was drawn to wrestling in eighth grade, a year before she enrolled at San Benito High. McGoff wanted to find a sport different than soccer, which she outgrew.
“I was trying to find some sort of sport and it was just something new to try,” McGoff said of wrestling. “After that, I really got into it.”
The sport ended up being more than just fun for McGoff, she said. The more she wrestled, the more her self-esteem and confidence grew.
“It really helped my self-esteem and it gave me a chance to wrestle with guys,” she said. “I really never liked doing sports with girls because they seem a little more wimpy as I like to say it. I used to hate showing off my arms and legs and stuff. I was uncomfortable in a singlet, but all of a sudden it helped me.”
Three years later, McGoff is proud of what she has been able to accomplish in a short amount of time. And she should only get better.
DeCarli believes McGoff’s talent could be limitless with the time she dedicates to the mat, he said.
“Wrestling pushes you to keep trudging forward to accomplish those obstacles,” he said. “Everything she has put into this point is paying off. If she continues to push herself in her junior and senior years, who knows where that ceiling is?”
To accomplish those goals, she plans to continue to find tough competition – whether it’s a boy or girl. Wrestling boys bigger and stronger than her forces McGoff to focus on technique and makes her a better wrestler.
“It’s a definite confidence builder,” she said. “The strength the guys have is so much more than me no matter what. I have to be better with technique. I expect to get better. Even if I don’t do well at state this year, I expect myself to get better.”
She has two more years to do just that.
“The next time I go to state I’ll be even better,” she said. “If I lose, I have next year and senior year. There is another time. It’s just more experience for me.”
It wouldn’t surprise DeCarli if she does just that.
“She wants to do this,” he said. “A lot of people can talk about it being important, but she is investing more of herself in it everyday and she is improving because of it. It says a lot about a person in sports or in business, when you stick around and find a way to win and overcome those obstacles.”

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.

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