In just her fifth season in the sport, a freshman from Gervais High School is hoping to make the medal stand at this weekend's Oregon State Wrestling Championships against the boys.
A 15-year-old, 113-pound freshman phenom, Gervais' Alexys Zepeda isn't just one of the best grapplers in the 3A ranks but she is one of the top wrestlers on the mat in the Beaver State and beyond.
"I don't even look at it as girl and guy, she's just out there. She is a wrestler to me," said Abel Valdez, Gervais High School's head wrestling coach.
Wrestling for equality, Zepeda is quickly pinning down that respect.
"They'll say, 'oh yeah, this will be quick, she's a girl.' But after, some of them start crying. I feel bad for them but it's cool at the same time that I can do that," said Zepeda.
Never underestimate the heart of a champion.
"She has the opportunity to win state. If she won state, I would not be surprised. In the boys division," said Santos Cantu, Salem Elite Wrestling head coach.
"Her only losses, with an exception of one loss this year, have been to seniors, senior boys," said Valdez.
Unbeaten at her 113-pound weight class, Zepeda is the "big woman on campus" at Gervais High School.
"You know how I was in the newspapers? They just threw the newspaper in front of me and said, 'sign it,'" she said.
A newsmaker and note taker, the devil is in the details.
"Even when it comes to college wrestlers, she has the work ethic to be one of the best," Valdez said.
"What she's doing right now is rare. Colleges are already looking at her," said Cantu.
Her coaches, Valdez and Cantu, are both state champs and Cougar alums themselves.
"They are my motivation because they used to go to school together, they were state champions at Gervais," said Zepeda.
Mental and physical, Zepeda's toughness shines under the light. Especially last summer in Santiago, Chile where she was named the most outstanding wrestler for her age group at the Pan-American Schoolboy/girl Championships.
"That was amazing. I learned a lot over there," said Zepeda.
While the girls bracket is currently just an exhibition, the OSAA has approved an officials girls competition next year. Oregon would become the seventh state to do so.
"There are way more girls. At the districts last year there were 75, this year there were 300," said Zepeda.
While she'll compete against the boys at state, Zepeda wants to empower others to hit the mat, no matter the gender.
"Don't be scared. Come out, try it, you'll like it and just have fun," said Zepeda.
In this Olympic year, the Summer Games are her ultimate goal, and she might one day have another girl right alongside her during that journey.
Zepeda has recruited one of her three sisters to wrestling. Sariah, who is three years younger, is already a three-time state title holder.
The 2018 OSAA Wrestling Championships are being held at the Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 16-17. For more information visit http://www.osaa.org/activities/wre.
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