This past Saturday and Sunday, March 12-13, the Mohawk Valley Tournament concluded in Canastota, New York, marking the season’s first Beat the Streets girls freestyle tournament. It was a weekend of fun and lively competition that saw numerous winners, new friends, and the growth of the women’s wrestling family.
BTS wrestlers demonstrated their maturity through their demeanor on and off the mat. They cheered for all the BTS athletes and showed humility in victory as well as defeat. They asked questions and welcomed advice from their coaches. These signs of confidence and growth help to prove that the mission of BTS is being fulfilled every time a young woman hits the mat.
Both wrestlers and coaches found enjoyment in this early season engagement. Coach Vivian Vu, Brooklyn Tech and BTS Alumni, felt proud of the tournament's growth. "Mohawk Valley just keeps getting bigger and bigger every year that I come back,” Vu said. “I am waiting for the year that the girls' matches get moved to the other gyms because there will be too many of us to fit all on two mats."
This tournament is an exciting and challenging time for the young women of BTS, bringing them head-to-head with tough competition from upstate, out-of-state, and out-of-country contenders. Mohawk Valley is the first freestyle tournament of the girls season and is used as a warm up event: quite simply, it is a chance for the girls to try things that they are still learning in an environment with decreased pressure or fear of failure. Additionally, BTS does a camp the day after the tournament that is free and open to all girls who want to stay for some extra mat time. The girls don't just learn new wrestling skills, they also make new friends, and ultimately what happens is that the women's wrestling family grows. The first session of this camp was run by the very knowledgeable Coach Kimin from the Canadian team.
"I have never felt closer to a group of girls who come from different places. I love the positive attitudes and vibes this team has to offer,” said Michelle Isakova a 12th grader from Cardozo High School. “This tournament taught me something important: if you really love something and want to improve, taking it slow and steady will help all the way."
One wrestler who stood out amid tough competition was Chelsea Hallums, a 7th grade girl from Brooklyn who embarked on her wrestling career only four months ago. Hallums had just joined the junior league team that BTS started in her school. Although she was born into a basketball family--her dad being a local and esteemed club coach--she quickly fell in love with wrestling.
When her junior league season ended, she continued to practice at the BTS program hosted in her local Bed-Stuy PAL. Before long, she was seeking bigger challenges outside of these practices and began attending the girls freestyle practices every Sunday at Columbia University. Eventually she even ventured into the BTS Training Center in SoHo.
Before the Mohawk Invitational, Hallums had never competed in a freestyle tournament, let alone an international event outside of the city. Not only did Hallums do both of these things in the same weekend, but she was the only 7th grader in the high school age division that she entered. She did not just hold her own, she took 5th place!
The accomplishment did not come easily. Hallums faced a number of talented athletes with more experience than she had. She sometimes struggled, but Hallums never gave up. She listened and made corrections, she observed and took risks, and in the end, she showed that she was an established force on the mat. The BTS staff looks forward to working further with Hallums and is excited to have her compete at the Revolution in Springfield, Massachusetts next month.
These sessions also started and ended with some entertaining wrestling games. Head Girls Coach Jacque Davis said “the purpose of these games was to remind the girls that yes, wrestling is hard, and yes, wrestling will hurt sometimes, but why do we keep doing it? Because we love it and we have fun.”
One of the most memorable parts of this event, according to Davis, is the now-annual Cheese Bus Dance Contest. Last year, after plugging some music into the bus radio, an impromptu dance contest broke out. This year the contest grew to include dancing, lip synching, judges, and a prize at the end for the winning team. The girls stepped up and showed that they were willing to do whatever kind of aisle choreography it took to win the pride of the second annual contest. Davis said she loved seeing them work together to pick songs, make up moves, and strive to win the crowd over with their skills.
The dance contest is already important to the girls after a long weekend of wrestling. It helps remind them that despite being from different schools and neighborhoods across the city, they all have something important in common: they are all a part of one family.
In addition to all of its other unique attributes, this is the only trip that takes place during the freestyle season where there is a sleepover the night before. The sleepover serves multiple purposes: not only does it facilitate an early morning departure, but it provides an excellent opportunity for the girls to bond with their teammates. This year happened to be the largest sleepover in three years, with twenty girls and two coaches crashing on three sections of mat in one of the offices. The girls watched movies, played games, and created new friendships before the lights went out and they settled down to sleep, eager to step into the circle.
The top athletes over the weekend were:
Andreina Rodriguez, Michaela Beck, Hailey Cancelleri, Yvayela Jeudy, Dennielle Phillip (1st)
Pearl Fletcher, Aileen Gonzalez, Faith Guevara (2nd)
Zopouled David, Kassandra Marcelo, Diandra Phillip, Chloe Cabrera (3rd)
Estefany Chavez, Rachel Koltsov, Fatoumata Diallo, Liza Rodriguez (4th)
Stephy Dorce, Unwana Abasiurua, Daisy Bravo, Jacqueline Tlaczani, Chelsea Hallums (5th)
Stepahanie Kouboulas, Michelle Isakova, Nighyar Calliste (6th)
Salma Hussein, Kadejah Gentle (7th)
Other wrestlers with notable performances were:
Brianaley Lara, Natasha Padilla, Nia Crosdale, Melanie Lalman, Shakima and Washington.
The full results from the tournament can be found at: