Tuesday, February 24, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Girl grappler wrests title

Leader sportswriter

Beebe junior Destiny Nunez made history on Saturday at the Jack Stephens Center on the campus of UALR by becoming the first female wrestler in state history to win an individual state championship.

Wrestling at the high school level hasn’t been around for very long in Arkansas, but in the seven years the state wrestling tournament has been held, no girl ever claimed the top prize – until Saturday afternoon.

Nunez, a dual-sport athlete who plays volleyball in the fall, entered the state tournament as the No. 3 seed in the 106-pound weight class, and she claimed the state title in that weight class by winning a 5-2 decision against No. 1 seed Aiden Menchaca (15-5) of Maumelle.

Although the win was considered an upset, based on their seedings, it didn’t come as a shock to Nunez or those that have followed her wrestling career.

Nunez medaled as a freshman, finishing fourth overall in that weight class, and last year as a sophomore, she earned the bronze medal in the 106-pound division by finishing third overall.

This year, the junior wrestling pioneer made it a goal before the season started to take two steps forward and capture the state championship.

“I set it at the beginning of wrestling season,” said Nunez of her goal. “My ninth-grade year my goal was just to do good in state and place, and then last year’s goal was to place higher than I placed my ninth-grade year.

“So at the beginning of this season I set my goal that I wanted to get first.”

Nunez’s path to the state championship began with a win over No. 6 seed Tommie Lor of Gentry in the first round of the state tournament. She won that match by pinfall 1:23 into the bout.

The win over Lor put Nunez in the semifinals against No. 2 seed Noah Forke of Berryville. Nunez won that match by pinfall as well, and did so 1:57 into the bout. That win put Nunez against Menchaca in the finals, where she won by decision.

Despite getting the win, Nunez said she wasn’t entirely pleased with her performance in the final.

“I wasn’t really happy,” Nunez said. “I thought I could have done better. I felt like I should’ve been able to pin him instead of just winning by points.”

Nunez’s official record this season in the 106-pound class is a perfect 3-0, and that number is so low because she spent the majority of the season wrestling at 113 pounds so that Beebe could use another wrestler at 106 pounds in order to earn more team points, and therefore place higher in tournaments and dual meets.

Nunez’s journey to joining the wrestling team at Beebe first started her freshman year. She was originally going to be a water girl for the team, but decided after watching some practices that it looked fun enough to try herself.

Her brother, Aaron Nunez, a BHS senior who’s a state champion in his own right, was a sophomore on the team that year, and it wasn’t long before his sister approached him about the possibility of her joining the team.

“I went home and I talked to Aaron, and I was like ‘I think I want to do wrestling.’ He was like ‘really?’ And I said, ‘yeah, it looks kind of fun.’ So he showed me kind of the basic stuff to wrestling at home.

“Then the next day in practice I went up to coach (David) Payne and told him I think I want to wrestle. He asked me how much I weighed. I said, ‘around 106.’ He asked me if I had practice stuff, and I said, ‘yeah,’ and so from then on I just started practicing with them and that’s how it started.”

Aaron Nunez went on to win the state championship in the 145-pound weight class that year; the year his sister finished fourth. Aaron Nunez, who also quarterbacked the Badgers’ football team, suffered an ACL injury during football his junior season, and didn’t get to wrestle last year because of the injury.

Though he was unable to wrestle last year, he watched as his sister eventually won a bronze medal in the 106-pound weight class, and that was the moment he said he saw the real potential in his sister that she could become a state champion in her own right.

“It wasn’t till last year’s state tournament, where she finished third, that her talent really proved to me that she was capable of becoming a state champion,” said Aaron Nunez.

Before she even considered wrestling, Aaron Nunez knew his sister was a tough person, because as the lone male among his siblings, he had Destiny and their younger sister help him practice the various sports he’s participated in over the years, including wrestling.

“I’m the only guy in my family, so I really took it rough on my sisters because I didn’t have a brother,” Aaron Nunez said. “Destiny and my younger sister below her, I had them practice all my sports with me every year I played sports.

“Then she came to me and told me she was thinking about wrestling. I kind of just laughed a little bit, and she said, ‘no, I really am.’ I know she’s a tough girl, because I’ve made her into that, making her practice sports with me.

“So we went to coach Payne, and he said, yeah, you can try it and practice with us and stuff and she just stuck with it. We just kept getting her better and better, and we knew she had the potential to be a good wrestler.”

The two siblings got to be teammates on the mat again this year. Aaron Nunez finished his senior season by earning a bronze medal in the 152-pound weight class Saturday. He beat Jackson Helm of Bismarck via pinfall in the third-place match.

As for Destiny Nunez, she’ll defend her title and try and repeat as the 106-pound state champion next year, her senior season. It’s a feat she said she doesn’t necessarily expect to achieve, but that it’s definitely a goal for her, nonetheless.

“I do hope to repeat,” she said. “I won’t say I expect to get it. I’m just going to say it’s just going to be another goal to get this title again.”