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Hemet wrestler Samantha Barragan enjoys the work as much as the results

HEMET >> When Samantha Barragan made her first appearance in a wrestling gym, it was snug in a carrier, riding on the back of her father. That was pretty much the last time she got a free ride in the sport.

Born into the sport as the daughter of a coach who used to wrestle, Barragan’s success in the sport might involve some genetics. It might involve growing up with wrestling all around her. What it definitely involves is a lot of hard work.

The work paid off last year when, representing Hemet High, she brought home a fifth-place finish in the state tournament as a freshman. The road back to state begins Saturday at the Eastern regional qualifying tournament at Hillcrest High.

Barragan was too young to remember those first backpack rides to the gym. She does remember a couple of years later, being surrounded by the sights and sounds of the sport, and thinking it seemed like fun.

She began wrestling at 8, and it was soon after that the line was crossed from a fun activity to something more.

“When she first asked about wrestling, I kind of cringed,” said Gabriel Barragan, her father and the coach of Hemet’s girls team. “A while later, I had a long talk. I said, ‘If you want to be serious about this, you’re going to have to do it my way. And my way is going to be a hard way. You sleep on it and give me your answer tomorrow.’”

For Samantha, the “sleep on it” part was a formality. She was in.

In her early years of competing, girls wrestling was still in its formative stages. That meant many of her matches were against boys. And, as her father warned her, boys will be extra aggressive against her because losing to a girl is something none of them want to deal with.

“At first, I was all for it,” said Samantha’s mother, Monica. “When she started wrestling against boys, I began to have second thoughts.”

Monica, however, was reassured by her husband’s ability to coach Samantha out of trouble and by Samantha’s enthusiasm. Oh, and all that winning. Samantha placed second in age-group state tournaments for five straight years before reaching Hemet.

Gabriel said the top quality needed for wrestling is “meanness” and he sees it in his daughter. The soft-spoken Samantha smiles at the word and says her businesslike approach can be mistaken for being cold.

“I don’t show a lot of emotion,” she said. “If you get mad or upset, it just clouds your mind so you can’t focus.”

To Samantha, it’s work, which doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.

“I really like the sense that, with every practice, I’m getting better,” she said. “I’m getting stronger and faster. And, when I’m training, it’s always in the back of my mind that there is someone out there who can beat me.”

That number is getting smaller. Moving from the 111-pound class to 121 pounds, Barragan is 37-3 this season. She has left a strong impression on Hemet boys wrestling coach Chris Santana.

“A lot of this sport is based on effort,” Santana said. “And that goes beyond the match, to good diet and lifting and just doing the work. Samantha puts her best foot forward every practice.”

Santana said that effort and her athleticism can take her far, including potentially the Olympics, which is her dream.

A veteran as a high school sophomore, Barragan said she has made some adjustments to the all-business approach.

“I used to see wrestlers socializing and think, ‘What are you doing?’ That was like a no-go for me,” she said. “Then at one of the big meets, I went to the podium for my award and no one was cheering. I started to think it would be nice to have some friends (among the wrestlers).”

For the most part, though, it is head down and straight ahead. Take the losses and turn them into wins, as she did last year when she beat senior Clare Garcia of San Marino after losing twice to her during the season.

Do the work and accept the results.

“I know wrestling doesn’t define me,” she said. “God does.”


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