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Ariana Flores and Alize Ramirez set the bar high for themselves when they got the chance to represent Evanston Township High School at the first-ever Illinois High School Association state wrestling tournament for girls.

The pair came away disappointed, registering only one win apiece at Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington, but still made a contribution to a historic season for the sport.

Both were eliminated from the two-day tournament on Friday in the double-elimination format but helped to blaze a path as pioneers for the future of the sport, both at ETHS and statewide. Ramirez, a senior who was competing in the sport for the first time this season, finished with a final record of 16-12 at 155 pounds while Flores, a junior, fashioned a 15-7 won-loss record at 110 and is still dreaming big about becoming Evanston’s first female state champ.

Despite the early exit from the competition, they proved they belonged with the state’s elite, in the mind of head coach Dillin Randolph.

“I definitely expected both of them to be on the [awards] podium, and they didn’t meet their own expectations. They wanted to prove they’re the best in the state,” said Randolph. “But I’m definitely proud of the way they wrestled and the way they fought. I know just how good they are.

“The crowd was mostly the other wrestlers and coaches, and some parents. But it felt grander than a sectional or a dual meet to me. We just need to keep growing the sport and we’ll see more people in the building at state. The more we establish the sport, the more electric it will be at the finals.”

Ramirez suffered a fall in 3 minutes, 45 seconds to Elgin Larkin’s Giselle Ayala, the eventual fourth-place finisher at 155, and bounced back in the consolation bracket with a pin of her own in 4:38 versus Samir Elliott of Granite City.

Maya Kalombo of Wheaton Warrenville South then scored a 7-5 decision over Ramirez, knocking her out of the tournament.

“It really was a wonderful experience,” Ramirez said. “At the start of the tournament I was very, very anxious, but after the first match I realized I shouldn’t be scared, so I just kept going. I didn’t have my head in the game in the first match, and that was a big mistake.

“Most of the girls I wrestled kept going so I faced some of the best competition. I try to see that as a positive. I let it all out in that second match, but I could’ve done a little more against Wheaton South. I ran out of gas. My opponent was very strong. I had her down for about 30 seconds, but then I got tired, she got away from me and got a single leg [takedown] to win it.

“I’m happy I got the chance to wrestle at state and I am proud of myself for winning a match down there.”

“Alize was only down 2 points when she got pinned against Larkin,” Randolph said. “She improved dramatically from November to January and made some of the biggest improvements I’ve ever seen. She has to be one of the most improved girls in the state.

“Sometimes, though, she just goes through the motions and she wasn’t aggressive enough against the Larkin girl. I told her she needed to push more in the next match and she listened, wrestled her match and asserted her will.

“Against Wheaton South she had some trouble defending that girl’s shots and it was mentally and physically pretty taxing, a match where you’re up 1 and down 1 and up 1. By the end she just ran out of gas and couldn’t give it her all anymore, but she did a great job.”

Flores has struggled with her confidence despite her success in the sport – including against male opponents as a regular in the varsity lineup last year – and she knows she can use the experience as a building block for future success.

“I’m pretty proud of myself that I made it to state, and I kinda proved something to myself. But I also have a tendency to doubt myself,” she admitted. “I set standards that are really high and I know I put a lot of pressure on myself. So I was a little disappointed with my performance.

“My goal for the tournament was just to take it one match at a time until, hopefully, I placed in the top three.”

Flores made history by scoring the first ever-state finals win for a Wildkit grappler, pinning Diana Cervantes of Chicago Hubbard in 5:19 to advance to the quarterfinals. After that, she absorbed back-to-back losses to Shaina Hyre of Lawrenceville (fall in 3:53) and Jennifer Villagomez of Morton (fall in 4:17). Hyre went on to earn the third place medal in the weight class.

“The first match is always the hardest for me. I never really took any shots and I was really upset, even though I won,” said Flores, who was still working out an hour before the match, trying to cut a single pound to make weight. “She’d take shots against me, and I’d counter, and that’s how I got the pin.”

Flores built an 8-2 lead in what turned out to be the last match against Villagomez, but couldn’t finish her off.

“I just made a silly mistake. I got the lead and I was doing a good job of moving her around, and I was heavy on top of her, doing a good job of riding her,” she said. “But at some point I was on the bottom and I have a bad habit of not moving when I’m in that position. I really want to work on that.

“I’m just hoping that my confidence will click in at some point and I won’t second-guess myself anymore. This experience showed me that I need to be more aggressive on the mat.”

“There are more lessons to be learned, and Ariana will get there,” Randolph predicted. “She was only down 2-0 to that Lawrenceville girl when she got pinned, and she just has to make sure she doesn’t put herself in positions like that again.

“She improved a lot this year in the neutral position and was able to get some takedowns out of that. If she needed a point, she could get it, and that really helped her control her matches better this year.”

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