Durango High School’s Samantha Vasquez is determined to grow girls wrestling in La Plata County.
After she finished second in the 147-pound weight class at the Colorado Girls High School Wrestling State Championships last weekend in Thornton, Vasquez had some time to reflect on the season. Vasquez was one of three DHS athletes to compete in girls wrestling in 2019-20 along with junior Bridget Henry and sophomore Anna Newman. Added to Bayfield’s trio of Shayden French, Lindsey LaMay and Brooke Morse, Vasquez hopes to form a team from La Plata County next season.
“The best thing about this season was meeting Brooke, Lindsey and Shayden, plus Bridget Henry and Anna Newman from DHS were there with us,” Vasquez said. “It was nice to have them support me this year and the Bayfield girls that were there competing at regionals and state. It made such a difference. Before this year, I was the only one in the county. Now, it’s growing and I want to keep it up.”
Vasquez, daughter of Bruno and Lisa Vasquez, has wrestled since third grade and grew up with five older brothers. One of her brothers, Nick, wrestled at DHS and helped her prepare for high school wrestling.
A year after she placed fifth at the girls state meet, Vasquez had her best season as a junior, as she went 15-3 overall. Two of her losses came against Hailey Jo Ahsmuhs of Sierra High School in Colorado Springs. Ahsmuhs beat her in the championship match at both the regional and state tournaments.
With girls wrestling to be a sanctioned sport by the Colorado High School Activities Association next season after it was a pilot sport for the past three years, Vasquez believes it will create more competition and will bring in new wrestlers.
“It was really good that we have a lot more girls and there’s more that want to wrestle,” Vasquez said. “I think there will be more next year when we get to compete at the Pepsi Center.”
Vasquez is looking for coaches who understand the differences in between boys and girls wrestling. She said girls wrestling uses more lower-body techniques as opposed to pure upper-body strength. She built a good bond with coaches Robert Finneseth, a first-year coach at Durango, and Todd McMenimen of Bayfield.
“Girls have a different wrestling style than the guys,” she said. “And I think we need to have a coach that understands the difference and teach better moves for the girls. You can’t really muscle wrestle girls. You have to use technique, and it’s more lower-body wrestling as opposed to upper-body wrestling. There’s a certain finesse to it. Our muscle mass is different. We don’t have a lot of upper-body strength, but we are super strong for our lower body. There’s a mixture of both, but it’s mostly lower-body wrestling.”
Vasquez’s knowledge and insight was noticeable from the first practice of the year. She led the DHS trio in practice, and her passion for the sport stood out.
“The neat thing about Sam is that she’s got great leadership skills with her family and friends,” Finneseth said. “I think it’s been something that’s always been there. Sam had that confidence from the start and knew which direction she wanted to go in. The other girls, as a result, gained a lot more of that and the skills as we went along in the season.”
The coaches split driving duties this past season, as Finneseth took the six girls to two tournaments. McMenimen did a few early-season tournaments as well as regionals and state.
“It was actually really nice of coach McMenimen to take time out of his schedule to come with us, wanting to spend time with us,” Vasquez said. “I would like him to be a girls coach for the whole county next season, and that would be really fun to have him as a coach. At state, he was really supportive of how all of us wrestled. You could tell that we have learned a lot and have improved a lot from state, and coach was so supportive all the way.”
Finneseth said because numbers are not quite high enough yet for each school to have its own dedicated girls team, he believes that if Bayfield, Durango and Ignacio girls can come together to form a county team, it would work out for everyone involved.
“It might be tough for the administrative side, but I think it would be great,” Finneseth said. “It’s all about strength in numbers. Right now, we don’t have enough girls in comparison to the Front Range where there might be 14 or 15 girls on a team. We’re just not there yet. But with time and committed coaches to the girls, I think we can really make an impact here.”
Finneseth said he plans on reaching out to girls who have a fall or spring sport as their main focus. He believes wrestling can give girls the skills to help them succeed in whatever sport they chose.
“Wrestling carries over to every sport. I can see it if the backrow hitter in volleyball were to wrestle, they’d be grittier, things like that,” Finneseth said. “It’s not just about growing this sport, it’s advertising to the girls in the other sports that this is what wrestling could help you with. It’s a team unification thing. They can come in, we can help them fine tone those skills or their other sports.”
Next year, Vasquez believes big things are coming. She’ll get a chance to wrestle for a sanctioned girls state championship, and she has heard there will be a good number of middle schoolers who intend to wrestle next season. She’s already looking forward to senior year.
“My senior year and the year after, I am definitely wanting to come back and possibly have a team here or in the county that wants to have wrestlers,” she said. “It’d be really nice to have a full team here before I leave. I have learned so much from this sport in terms of what I can do and also sportsmanship. This sport has given me a lot, and I can’t wait to see what happens next year and after that.”