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Casa's Mihalca has made winning a tradition


Casa Grande's Erika Mihalca flips teammate Seamus Lanhan during wrestling practice at the National Guard Armory in Petaluma on Feb. 26, 2014. (Photo by Alvin Jornada, The Press Democrat)

Casa Grande's Erika Mihalca flips teammate Seamus Lanhan during

wrestling practice at the National Guard Armory in Petaluma on Feb. 26, 2014. (Photo by Alvin Jornada, The Press Democrat)

Casa Grande High girls wrestling champion Erika Mihalca had a leg up on the rest when she decided to take to the mats.

"I'd started judo in fifth grade. I won gold medals at the national tournament four times," she said as she prepared for the CIF state championship wrestling tournament, which begins today in Visalia. "I won silver in judo at the Junior Olympics. When I got into middle school, I was already a national champion so I decided to try wrestling in eighth grade."

Mihalca, who is seeded third at 131 pounds in the state wrestling meet, had a huge edge on most every female giving wrestling a try.

See photos of Mihalca in action here

"Judo and wrestling have some similarities," she said. "It was a natural transition. There are moves that cross over from judo to wrestling. Plus, girls who come from team sports like soccer or volleyball have to adjust. There's a team aspect to wrestling, but when you're out there … it's all on you. That's a different feeling than in a team sport. I was coming from judo where you're out there on your own, too."

Mihalca, one of 13 Empire stars who'll compete in the state meet, had other advantages on others in the then new sport of girls wrestling.

"I was extremely confident," she said. "I'd already being training really hard for judo. My cardiovascular conditioning was good. I had really short, quick matches. I was undefeated my first year until the postseason. Judo just clicked for me and that really helped in wrestling."

Mihalca wrestled only boys at the beginning and through most of her early career.

"I don't think I saw another girl wrestle until the state tournament when I was in eighth grade," she said. "But, I'd done judo with boys so it wasn't hard for me to be in the wrestling room training with boys."

All that Mihalca has done in her four years at Casa Grande is reach the North Coast Section finals four times and win two section titles.

"She works really hard," said volunteer Casa Grande assistant coach Ike Reya, who worked with Mihalca. "She goes out there and just wants it more than anybody else."

Mihalca has had to adopt a strategy to approach Empire area matches against inferior opponents.

"Rancho Cotate and Ukiah have good wrestlers," she said. "My goal in league is just to work my moves and get the best workout that I can get. It sounds funny, but I enjoyed seeing other girls new to wrestling try new moves. I think girls wrestling is growing and will continue to grow and I like seeing other girls getting better."

Mihalca heads for Visalia with a clear plan.

"I really want to go and have fun. Of course I want to win a state title," she said. "I just want to do my best and enjoy it. I've always been somebody who achieved something and then immediately looked forward to the next big achievement."