By Ray Hamill — Perseverance has paid off in thrilling fashion for one Eureka freshman, and that’s something her teammates all seem to appreciate.
In what her head coach described as a “Cinderella Story,” Eureka’s Lucia Romero is headed to the state wrestling championships after a dramatic turnaround and an achievement that will go down as one for the ages in H-DNL high school sports.
The freshman wrestler had not won a match in two months heading into the North Coast Section championships at Albany High School last week, but that didn’t matter on one of the biggest stages of all.
After dropping her opening match at the prestigious tourney, which is larger than many state championships around the nation, she battled back to pin two straight quality opponents on her way to placing fourth in her bracket and qualifying for this week’s state championships in Bakersfield.
The remarkable turnaround came about in part thanks to some new moves her coaches showed her late in the season, moves that were designed to take advantage of her shorter arms in the 235-pound division.
More impressively, however, is how the freshman standout has grown in confidence over the past few months, and how her perseverance has inspired her teammates.
When she went to practice on Monday, she was surprised by every one of her teammates, who were there to greet her and show their support despite the fact their seasons have now ended.
And, according to the coach, it was a touching moment.
“This was a girl who wouldn’t even look me in the eye,” Eureka head coach Cecil Wilson said of Romero. “And now, I told her on Monday night, ‘you want to look around this room, at all these girls here, it’s all about you. They’re here for you. You earned this.’
“That brings tears to my eyes.”
It’s a remarkable achievement for Romero, whose only previous victories this season came against teammates very early in the season.
“It’s a Cinderella story,” Wilson said. “She hadn’t won a match in two months.”
The Eureka freshman is one of just four H-DNL wrestlers to qualify for the state tournament, along with Arcata’s Joshua Hannan, Hoopa’s Gerard Marshall and Del Norte’s Savannah Williams.
“She’s just a little spark plug, and once she had a move that was specific for her, everything changed,” the coach said. “The little freshman is now bubbly.”
She’s also now remarkably ranked No. 16 in the state after her victories at the section tournament over two ranked wrestlers.
And no matter how she does at the state championships, the experience of competing there will stand to her going forward.
“It’s a going to be a great experience,” Wilson said. “Because it just gives you that level of confidence, and wrestling is a mental game.”
Romero’s junior teammate Maize Fugate barely missed out on qualification for state after placing fifth at the Sections, and she has also enjoyed a very successful season, including winning the H-DNL title at 145.
“Maize has been a consistent performer all year,” Wilson said fo the junior. “She’s done really well.
“She never missed a practice and I fully expect her to (qualify for state) next year.”
Fugate will still make the trip to this week’s tournament — which gets under way on Thursday and runs for three days — as Romero’s wrestling partner and to show her support for her younger teammate.
Wilson says he is stepping away at the end of this season after he and assistant Thomas Gowing built a local powerhouse over the past few years and led the Loggers to a third-place finish at the section championships two years ago.
“This was a rebuilding year, but I feel very confident we’ve got a sustainable program,” said Wilson, who along with Gowing was named the Eureka High Head Coach of the Year in 2021.
The influential Gowing will take over as head coach.