Liberty’s first female wrestler defies odds

January 2, 2013

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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By Laurel Bluhm
Joanna Moreira, Liberty High School sophomore (right), wrestles her opponent at the Auburn Mountainview Girls Tour in December.

Just a day before competing in last year’s Mat Classic, Liberty High School wrestler Joanna Moreira stood high up in the rafters of the Tacoma Dome and stared down at the 12 perfectly placed mats laid across the floor.

“I remember just looking at those 12 mats and saying, ‘I got this far, and tomorrow I’m going to dominate,’” she said.

Liberty High School’s first female wrestler did not place at last year’s state competition, but as she begins her sophomore campaign, it’s clear that the determined teen expects to be back in the Tacoma Dome at the end of the season.

“They say that getting to the Tacoma Dome changes your wrestling career, and they are right,” Moreira said after a long, grueling practice at Maywood Middle School.


‘One of the guys’

It’s not easy to immediately spot Moreira at a Liberty wrestling practice. She is, after all, just another one of the guys, Liberty coach Manny Brown said.

“She’s one of the guys, in fact we don’t say ‘guys and girls’ — she’s just a wrestler and the guys accept her as a wrestler,” he said.

As the only girl on the team, Moreira must go up against guys the entire practice, which is tough on her physically, she said, but it makes her a better wrestler.

“These guys beat on me every day,” she said with a smile as she pointed toward her teammates. “They don’t hold back, and it just makes you tougher.”

The experience she gets competing against male opponents will help her when she gets the opportunity to face other females, Brown said.

“She works awfully well with the guys, and my philosophy for her is that if you can wrestle a 135-pound guy and do well, then you will do well with a 135-pound girl,” he said.

Moreira, who also plays football, said her teammates are very supportive of her, but just a few years ago, she didn’t have the confidence to try out for the team.


An encouraging brother

As a sixth-grader at Maywood, Moreira turned out for the wrestling team, but for seventh and eighth grade she decided against it.

“In seventh and eighth grade, I was kind of ashamed of it because a lot of girls didn’t do it, and so I just started doing basketball because that was the right way of doing it,” she said.

As a kid, people would tease her about her passion for seemingly male-dominated sports, forcing Moreira to shy away from the things she loved to do.

“People would call me Jomanna, just to tease me about it, but now it’s just a joke to me, and people will joke about it, but they know that I’m good at what I do,” she said. “At the time, though, it kind of affected me. I didn’t like being called that and that’s why I quit for a while, because I was ashamed of it.”

When she entered high school, her older brother Tulio encouraged her to try out for the wrestling team, and disregard what others thought about it.

“My brother kind of changed my thought about it and said, ‘Who cares what people think? By the end of high school, you are not going to see these people,’ so I turned out,” she said.


‘Place myself on a banner’

Now that Moreira has made history as the school’s first female wrestler, she wants to do it again by becoming the school’s first female wrestler to win state.

“My goal is, by the end of my four seasons, I want to place in state,” she said. “There are not too many state banners, so I kind of want to place myself on a banner.”

Moreira will tell anyone that wrestling is by no means easy — just take a look at the bruises and pains she accumulates throughout the season.

“The first week of practice it’s all about aches,” she said. “Walking up stairs is the worst, and a lot of bruises.”

Yet, she continues to eagerly compete in the sport that she loves.

There are a lot of things that people can learn from Moreira’s drive and perseverance, Brown said.

“If you set your mind to something, don’t let anybody get in your way,” he said. “You know she could’ve just as easily said, ‘I’m not going to do this because I’m the only girl.’ But, you know, she brings a little extra to our team and that is really helpful.”

Both Moreira and her coach have high expectations for her performance this year. The goal is to have Moreira place in the state competition this year, not just qualify. Brown said he believes she can do it.

“She’s proven herself and she went to state last year,” Brown said. “She’s just a natural athlete and she’s pretty good.”


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