In a 108-pound tournament loaded with section champions, finalists and a national title winner, Amy Fearnside was a face in the crowd when the CIF State Invitational Championships began Friday at Lemoore High School.
She stood out by being the one wrestler who refused to lose and, in doing so, reserved her own place in Live Oak history.
Fearnside was crowned the school’s first CIF state champion Saturday with a 9-2 finals win over Arvin freshman Angelica Llanes.
“It feels amazing,” Fearnside said. “I honestly can’t really describe it.”
Acorns coach Robert Fernandez called it a “$200,000” achievement.
“Every college is going to be blowing up your phone, offering to pay your way,” he said. “That’s how you have to look at it.”
Fearnside has verbally committed to wrestle on a partial scholarship for Jamestown (N.D.) College but could have more options to choose from after an impressive weekend.
Even as a No. 2 seed, the quick and incredibly strong Fearnside (39-3) had never worked harder to win a tournament. She faced many obstacles, the biggest a punishing semifinal against third-seeded Marina Sanchez, a senior from La Sierra in Riverside. Fearnside could ill afford mistakes in her opening matches Friday, as she pinned Beatriz Cortez (1:27) of Bethel-Vallejo and Gabrielle Eslinger (2:48) of Lincoln.
“I wasn’t expecting anything to be easy, and it wasn’t at all,” said Fearnside, who placed fifth at state in 2011 and was coming off a 4-0 finish at the Feb. 3-4 Central Coast Section Championships. “It was tougher than I imagined.”
Fearnside appeared to catch a break in the championship match in drawing a freshman. Llanes, however, was like no opponent she had faced.
“She’s built like a tank,” Fearnside said. “I had to be smart. She kept wanting to do this one move where she pushes down on my head and goes for my legs. I had to keep her hand off me and keep her in bounds. I was able to take her down three times and get a reversal; I was really proud of that.”
Fearnside could not have been more keyed in after her 6-5 victory over Sanchez, whom Fearnside learned was a past national champion only after the match.
“That was probably a good thing,” Fearnside joked. “She’s an amazing wrestler on and off the mat. She has this positive attitude, just one of the best I’ve seen, and she’s very athletic and strong. Beating her was probably the hardest thing I’ve done.”
Fearnside scored a winning takedown late in the third period and held on through a tense final minute.
“I remember telling Amy, ‘Get through this, and you’ll be a state champion,’” Fernandez said. “I had complete faith she would, and she wrestled a great match.”
It’s a wonder if anyone could have stopped Fearnside from there. She didn’t feel any nerves even as the minutes ticked down to Saturday night’s finals.
“I thought, ‘Something must be wrong with me’ because I didn’t feel the adrenaline kick in,” she said. “I didn’t feel the butterflies. I felt normal. I was just focused on winning state.”
It had been Fearnside’s goal all season. Now she belongs in elite company. Live Oak’s only previous state champion of any kind came in 2008 when then-senior Moriah Fernandez took first at the Girls State Wrestling Championships, an event that was sanctioned by the CIF three years later.
“All of Amy’s goals have been met,” coach Fernandez said. “Now it’s time to pass the torch on. It’s huge. There’s nothing better than getting the finality of reaching that goal you’ve been training and training for. It’s pretty satisfying.”
Another Live Oak wrestler will try to fulfill the same goal this week in at the CIF Boys State Championships in Bakersfield. Sophomore Isaiah Locsin (46-0) is gunning for the 113-pound title.
At least on the girls side, “the torch” will likely be passed to sophomore 114-pounder Isabella Fernandez, who inspired Fearnside at state in finishing 1-2 while wrestling with what was later discovered to be an appendicitis.
“She felt sick, but no one could tell what was wrong with her,” Fearnside said. “She’s one of the toughest girls I know. I couldn’t have done this without her. We had an amazing team this year.”
Not one to be materialistic, Fearnside gave her first-place medal to her grandfather, Donald.
“For me, it’s all about the moment,” she said. “I have to find a new goal.”