PREP WRESTLING: Bear River’s Canizalez takes aim at State
Special to The Union
Ashlyn Canizalez surprised even herself at the Masters Wrestling Tournament last weekend, tossing around her opponents and snagging third place to become the first female wrestler from Bear River to advance to the CIF State Championships since 2012.
“I feel pretty good considering this is my first time making it to state,” said Canizalez. “I did really bad at the tournament before so I was just kind of like, ‘oh this might not go the way I was expecting it to’ and I just proved myself wrong.”
Canizalez, a junior who competes in the 121-pound weight class, defied the odds at Masters with her No. 7 seed, going 4-1 and pinning all off her opponents but one (defending State champ Jennifer Soto, Orland HS), including the No. 4 seed twice. Of the elite 16 grapplers to qualify for Masters, only the top six advanced to state.
“My coach Jeff Danieli gets me through it. He just makes me feel comfortable,” added Canizalez. “Jeff just kind of tells me to do what I do. For me a lot of kids just don’t understand how to do it. They just wrestle all mad and angry, hyped up I guess, but I can’t really think like that and I think Jeff knows me pretty well. He just keeps me pretty calm I guess. And that’s just my main goal, to stay calm and focus.”
Earning some redemption, Canizalez also bested Nevada Union’s Mackenzie Morgan after previously coming up short against her at the regional tourney.
“I lost by points (to Morgan) the week before, which for me was kind of disappointing because I felt I could have wrestled her better than I did,” explained Canizalez. “This match I just went in second period and I pinned her and it was pretty amazing because at that point I won two matches the first day I was guaranteed to go to state no matter what.”
Only in her third year of wrestling after jumping on the mat her freshman year, Canizalez’ game has really evolved to a top-tier caliber, including overcoming some hurdles with an injury earlier this season. A few weeks ago she won the Pioneer Valley League title as well, pinning her male opponent from Foothill.
“It’s way cool,” said Bear River coach Danieli. “You’re talking a girl that’s never stepped on a mat her freshman year to going to state basically her third season out, and she was out for seven weeks with a major knee injury at the beginning of the year. She was on crutches for six weeks, so to get where we are now it’s pretty cool.”
Although wrestling has obviously become a key part of her life, she admits there are still things she enjoys in addition to just putting people on their backside and twisting them into pretzels.
“My home life I don’t really eat a lot of meat, so when I’m not at home I like to eat sushi,” said Canizalez. “We have PF Chang’s and Dutch Bros. Dutch Bros really got me through the (Masters) tournament to be honest. I got a Rebel, which is like a slushy, which is kind of weird because it’s like 7 o’clock in the morning. It’s really nice because I’ve been under weight for the tournaments this past weekend so I got one each morning, which was really nice to start the day off like that. I get an OPP with white chocolate, double blended.”
She also enjoys a night out at the theatre just to get her mind off things and relax.
“I really like going to movies,” said Canizalez. “I remember last year at Masters I couldn’t eat anything or a lot basically, so my mom took me to the movies so I wouldn’t think about food.”
The State Championships feature a 32-woman bracket with a double elimination format, but this is just the beginning for the young Bruin. She has a full slate planned for the off-season as well.
“Pretty big deal if you think about it,” added Danieli. “She can pretty much say she’s top 32 in the whole state of California because there’s only 32 that make it. After this week we have offseason wrestling, then she’s in Colorado, then she’s in Reno, so there’s a lot going on. All the top wrestlers, if they’re going to wrestle, they keep wrestling. There’s some things that you could do in Fresno like for this thing called Frosh-Soph-Junior-Senior-State. If you place at a certain level you can go to more National tournaments on USA wrestling. They help you get there. She’s got an association dual. She’s got a lot coming up. We’re just trying to chill out and relax.”
The top eight place at state and while that would be a tremendous accomplishment, just coming this far and gaining the experience is treasure in itself.
Bruins coach Kevin Figueroa recalled when Canizalez first joined the team.
“She had a passion in her mind that she wanted to be a wrestler, but she didn’t know how hard it was to work to become a good wrestler,” said Figueroa. “Last year when she started wrestling and started appreciating all of her hard work turning to wins, then she started setting her goals higher. One of the biggest goals was going to state and now to achieve that step, now she doesn’t know where the ceiling is. She’s willing to challenge it.”
Of course, there’s more motivation behind her moves than just simply striking fear into her opponents. She has a fan club who drives her to be her best.
“My fans are really just my mom, my uncle and my coach Jeff,” said Canizalez. “They are like the three people who support me the most. Shout out to them for pushing me as far as they have. Without them I would not be the wrestler that I am today.”
Canizalez will be in action today at Mechanics Bank Arena in Bakersfield. Weigh-ins begin at 7 a.m. and wrestling gets underway at 9 a.m.
Brian Shepard is a freelance sports writer who contributes to The Union regularly.
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