Stefana Jelacic has already done a lot in her wrestling career, but what she did in North Dakota last week did even more for other females in Arizona who step on the mat.
The Mountain View sophomore became the first freestyle national champion from Arizona after she won the 112-pound freestyle title in the Cadet age division at the prestigious Fila Cadet and Junior National Championships in Fargo, N.D.
“It meant a lot and I was super happy,” Jelacic said. “I don’t even know I how reacted, really. I know it was an important win. I looked at my coaches and started smiling. They were happy and I could hear (Team Arizona) cheering. It really hasn’t even hit me yet.”
Jelacic, a Fountain Hills resident who opened enrolled at Mountain View for the academics and wrestling program, is probably too close to the situation and maybe too young to truly understand what getting her hand raised in the championship match wearing Arizona on the singlet means.
The coaches in Arizona do and feel like other girls can now see themselves reaching similar heights.
“It’s an example of what can be achieved,” said Na Humma, the women’s wrestling director at AZ USA Wrestling. “Stefana is a girl who works hard to achieve her goals and has shown what can be achieved with little to no support from the AIA (Arizona Interscholastic Association) or even our own organization, AZ-USA Wrestling. Imagine how many more successes could be achieved when girls in Arizona know that there is support for them.”
The first steps, just baby steps, toward getting girls wrestling a place in Arizona has begun as it is considered an emerging sport and preliminary talks with the AIA have started.
Having the first female champion and second ever finalist from Arizona is another sign that the talent and interest is there.
“It’s great for girls wrestling in Arizona,” Desert Vista and Team Arizona coach David Gonzales said. “We have been taking girls to Fargo since 2007 and it’s great to finally have a champion. We had a finalist before in Areana Villasecusa, but now we have a national champion.
“It’s great for Arizona as we get ready to start girls wrestling as an emerging sport by the AIA. Our hope is to grow girls wrestling both the AIA and AZ/USA wrestling.”
Jelacic has her “stop sign” – the nickname for the octagon-shaped plaques given to All-Americans at Fargo – on the kitchen counter and will eventually place it in her bedroom somewhere near the gold medal she won representing the USA at the Junior Pan-American Games in Peru last summer.
She hopes it is the start of collecting gold medals with eyes on the Olympics in 2020 and 2024 just like her idol Helen Maroulis, the U.S.’s first female Olympic gold medalist, did in Rio last summer.
Jelacic, who had a 13-6 record for the Toros against boys before breaking her hand last season, has already spent time at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado and is sponsored by Sunkist Wrestling. She has a few events coming up like Super 32s in October, World Cadet team trials and a trip to Sweden for a tournament in February.
“I just want to keep getting better and compete against the best in the country, and world,” said Jelacic, who also competes in judo. “My coaches have told me to treat every match like it is any other one. It doesn’t matter who it is. You are not wrestling their accomplishments or their state. They are just another wrestler.
“And I have it within me to beat them.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a freelance writer for MyNewsMesa.com.