Rianna Hurst could not be happier with her decision to try wrestling.
The senior has run track during her high school career and this year is one of two girls on the Ewing High School wrestling team.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be as fun as it is,” Hurst said. “I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t think I would like it as much as I do.”
Her passion for the new sport gives her only one regret. She wishes that she started wrestling sooner in her athletic career.
“I was upset I was a senior and it was my first year,” Hurst said. “I’m pretty mad about.”
Hurst has made the most of her only year of scholastic wrestling. She placed second at the Queen of the East tournament in December and has given consistently strong efforts through the regular season while wrestling a mix of boys and girls. She earned the No. 11 seed at 114 pounds for the South Jersey Region on Feb. 23.
“She’s been successful,” said Ewing head coach Matt Dalessio. “She’s wrestled guys all season. She’s beaten a couple. She’s been beaten by a lot of them. She knows that’s going to get her better going forward for the regions and is optimistic about how it’s going to go, and she’s excited for it.”
Hurst began contemplating wrestling when her junior year came to an end. She’d been primarily a long jumper and triple jumper for the track and field team, but saw wrestling as another opportunity to prepare her for the Marines after graduation.
“I wanted to get physically fit,” Hurst said. “I know wrestling takes a lot. I’m going into the military. For me to get stronger, I thought wrestling would be it because there’s a lot of body weight stuff. I’m a pretty physical person so I thought it would be fun.”
She says that she has enjoyed it even more than she could have imagined. She and returning wrestler Meara Hayes are the lone girls on the Ewing team.
“Against the boys, I get nervous sometimes,” Hurst said. “I know they’re probably going to overpower me, but I do try my best. Sometimes I’ll get a shot on them or get a takedown. Most of the time, it’s pretty hard. Plus I’m not experienced so I don’t know how to get out of stuff. For girls, I’m pretty strong so I usually overpower them. Or I’ll do something really quick like a reversal or something.”
Ewing as a team is inexperienced. They have great numbers with 35 on the team, the most in Dalessio’s tenure.
“I feel like we’ve done a good job as far as recruitment and bringing together a team and we are getting better every day in the room,” he said. “Unfortunately it doesn’t necessarily always show on the scoreboard, but we’re making improvements. We’re developing a plan to go into the summer and get out there and get in the clubs, get in extra training, get in camps to prepare us for years going forward.”
Ewing won just one match this year, but their strong participation numbers bode well for the future. Its top trio is Alex Samayoa at 132, Owen Weigle at 152, and Michael Abelowitz at 220, all wrestlers with more experience from which to draw. The team is hoping it can continue to get strong numbers and get its wrestlers to work year-round as it builds the program back up.
“That was the first goal,” Dalessio said. “We had a lot of talent up top last year, but after graduating them, having such a small team, we wanted to look to the freshman class—it’s pretty big with 12 kids—and it’s a matter of them getting more mat time and developing more as wrestlers.”
He said that a lot of the young wrestlers didn’t understand that the jump from middle school to high school can be pretty steep.
“Especially in a town where wrestling isn’t the top priority, let alone during the school year, but in the season itself, we’re No. 2 to basketball,” Delessio said. “We know that, so to get kids out and interested and testing the waters in Year One has been pretty nice. Hopefully from there it’s a springboard to better results going forward.”
Hurst was just as welcomed as any of the new wrestlers. She dived into her new sport with energy and excitement.
“She’s a tough girl,” Dalessio said. “She wanted to come out and see what it was like, and she took to it really quickly. She really enjoys it. She likes going out there and being competitive. It’s like hand to hand combat in her mind.”
Hurst has appreciated the team’s help in her first foray into the sport.
“They’ve been great,” she said. “They’ve been showing me a lot of stuff and encouraging me. They said I pick up stuff quickly and I’m strong.”
Hurst has never been one to shy away from hard work. The youngest of five children, she balances her schoolwork with wrestling or track plus a part-time job.
Hurst has helped Ewing maintain a girls presence on the team. Along with Hayes, last year Ewing had Devon Kueny, who placed third in the state.
“Rianna’s not bound by expectations,” Dalessio said. “Devon last year wanted to go in and place top three at regions, place top three in the state, roll, roll, roll. Rianna isn’t bound by those expectations. She wants to go out and have fun, enjoy the sport for the time she has and just go and see what happens.”
Hurst had some chances to compete against girls in the regular season. Ewing for the first time this year hosted a girls-only wrestling tournament. The Ewing Girls Holiday Tournament gave another opportunity for girls to compete with each other.
“We hosted what was more of a round robin tournament,” Dalessio said. “It was to get girls together in the same room together and just get them matches to see where they match up with girls in the area. It was fairly successful. “Going forward, I want to make it bigger and better. That’s always my goal, no matter what type of tournament it is.”
Hurst is discovering the benefits in wrestling. She has gotten plenty out of her new sport that will help as she prepares for life after high school.
“It’s helping me be able to carry my own body weight, being able to handle somebody else’s weight on me, and it’s gotten me stronger in general,” Hurst said. “I see a difference in my body already.”
Hurst now feels mentally and physically stronger, and more prepared for the Marines. She will ship off to training at Parris Island in August before doing four years of college and then serving her Marines commitment.
“I made a promise to my dad,” Hurst said. “It was always one of my choices if I didn’t want to go to college. As of now, I still want to go to college.”
Hurst even expects to see immediate results from wrestling when she begins track practice in March. She will resume jumping and some sprinting for the Blue Devils girls team.
“My legs got a lot stronger for jumping,” Hurst said. “My stamina has gone up for running. I want to do better in triple jump and improve my speed on long jump.”
Hurst knows wrestling has helped her. She has gotten everything she expected and more out of her first season of wrestling.
Said Hurst: “I didn’t expect myself to be this good for first year.”