Grappler scores a first with scholarship

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Sitting in a side room in the otherwise darkened Valencia High School gymnasium, LoriAnn Archuleta looks down at the scholarship papers in front of her, then at her family and asks “What’s today’s date?”

Sitting in a side room in the otherwise darkened Valencia High School gymnasium, LoriAnn Archuleta looks down at the scholarship papers in front of her, then at her family and asks “What’s today’s date?”

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: VALENCIA GRADUATE LoriAnn Archuleta, center, signs her national letter of intent to wrestle at Missouri Valley University in Missouri alongside VHS asstistant coach Vince Armijo, left, and Jaguar wrestling coach Lorenzo Carrillo, right.

“It’s your graduation day!” responded her family in unison gleefully as she smiles, looks down, and writes the date before signing her name to a national letter of intent to wrestle for the women’s wrestling squad at Missouri Valley University, an NAIA school in Marshall, Missouri.

With that stroke of a pen, Archuleta, who recently won the New Mexico Female High School State Championship in the 114-pound weight division and was named the tournament’s most valuable wrestler, became the first female wrestler in Valencia County to ever accept a wrestling scholarship.

“It’s a once-in-a lifetime opportunity and I knew I’d never get it again,” said Archuleta after her signing ceremony. “I just wanted to get out there and since it’s to do something I love, so why not?”

Archuleta, who was also named Valencia High’s Female Athlete of the year this past week, began her journey to Marshall, Missouri with her 6-0 slate at the N.M. championship held in Grants on March 1. There she found out about USA Wrestling’s Girls Folkstyle National Championship and University National Championships in Oklahoma City on March 29-30.

Though she did not place at the tournament in Oklahoma City, Archuleta attracted the attention of several universities, including hometown Oklahoma City University and Jamestown University of North Dakota. Soon afterward, she was started corresponding with coaches.

“They contacted me after I went to wrestle at the female nationals and a few said they were really interested in me,” she said. “So we stayed in contact and they finally sent me the scholarship papers. It took me a while to decide, about a month. It’s a big decision so I took a while to decide and finally decided to take (the scholarship).”

Archuleta said that even though she hasn’t visited the campus, she said she is anxious to get there and begin her college career.

“They also travel a lot, they go overseas, and around the United States so I’ll get to experience that as well,” she said excitedly.

The trip to Oklahoma was organized at the last minute after the trip to the New Mexico state championship in Grants.

“We primarily wanted her to get exposure in Oklahoma,” said Diane Arculeta, LoriAnn’s mom. “She was the only one who went without a coach or a team.”

The trip showed LoriAnn, mom Diane and dad Edward the possibilities for her future as well as something LoriAnn hadn’t seen much of in New Mexico — female wrestlers with the same skills and passion and she has for the sport.

“It was just shocking to see girls just like me,” LoriAnn said. “It was a good experience, eye-opening. Because there are girls out there exactly like me.”

Used to wrestling boys her age who were as strong if not stronger than herself, LoriAnn now encountered girls who were as strong and as technically sound as she was.’

“Here in NM girls she wrestled weren’t challenging her,” said Diane Archuleta. “We went out there and she said ‘Those girls are just as strong as me.’ So it was a challenge. That’s what she liked – the challenge.”

LoriAnn’s uncle Philip Montano, who helped LoriAnn convince her parents to let her join the varsity boys wrestling squad at Valencia in the first place and was among her first coaches, said he wasn’t surprised that LoriAnn had made her way to a college wrestling scholarship.

“She’s just so determined,” said Montano, who said his daughter Norene ― state junior wrestling champion herself ― also helped LoriAnn develop. “It was fun to see her in the room. Now she’s on her way.”

LoriAnn said she’s grateful for all the coaching and support she’s gotten from everyone on her journey to make it to a college wrestling team.

“It would have never happened to me (without all of them),” she said. “I’m just lucky that I had all the great coaches I’ve had to train me and show me the way. And to have my family’s support. And now I have this scholarship and can go.”

She also said she hopes her story can help other girls see that wrestling isn’t just for the boys.

“I just feel like I can be an inspiration to little girls,” said LoriAnn. “There are a lot of wrestling scholarships out there.”