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Casa wrestler has two trips to state, wants more

Casa Grande High School sophomore Lillian McCoy is on a mission to make her hometown recognized for more than wristwrestling. She wants Petaluma to also be known for its girls wrestling.

“I want people to know about me,” she explained. “I want people to know a small town like Petaluma can be the home of good wrestlers.”

McCoy is well on her way. Following the trail blazed by her senior teammate Brigitte Mihalca, who was a four-time state tournament qualifier, McCoy has reached state level in each of her two wrestling seasons at Casa Grande.

As a freshman, McCoy finished sixth. This year, she moved up to fifth, going 4-2 against the best in the state. Now she wants more.

“I want to be first in NCS and I want to be on the podium at state in at least third or fourth place,” she said.

Her fifth-place showing at state was good enough to get her chosen to the Team California folkstyle team that competed in a national tournament in Oklahoma, where she faced some of the top juniors in the nation and earned High School All-American honors by finishing fourth.

McCoy almost gave up wrestling before she got started. By her own admission, during her seventh-grade year she was “terrible.”

“I lost every match,” she said.

Talked into giving wrestling another try by coach Isaac Raya, McCoy completely turned things around as an eighth-grader. A natural 220- to 225-pound wrestler, she was big as an eighth-grader, but not as big as the boys she wrestled against.

“I was undefeated,” she recalled of her eighth-grade year. “I don’t know how I did it. Some of the boys I wrestled against were huge.”

By the time she entered Casa Grande as a ninth-grader, she was a committed wrestler.

“I love the sport,” she said. “There is nothing I would trade for it. I’m even better at school because of wrestling. I worked so hard to stay eligible, I had a 3.6 GPA.”

Although she competes primarily against other girls in tournaments during the season, McCoy has to practice against boys or the coaches. There just aren’t any girls who are strong enough or good enough to give her the competition she needs to keep getting better.

She has tried to recruit other girls for the Casa team, but has found it a hard sell.

“The girls don’t understand the discipline you have to have to wrestle,” she said. “They don’t know what wrestling is all about.”

McCoy enjoys being a part of the Casa Grande wrestling family, but also understands that, when it comes time to compete, it is an individual sport.

“It is just you, the mat and your opponent,” she explained.

She also understands that wrestling is as much mental as it is physical, and it is part of her wrestling she is working hard to improve.

“I have trouble in the finals of tournaments,” she admitted. “In finals I just shut down and don’t wrestle my best. I’m going to break that this year.”

Physically, she works hard to improve her strength. “I know the value of pushing myself past my limits,” she said. “I do a lot of push-ups and a lot of pull-ups. It is conditioning after conditioning. I keeping pushing myself to get better and better.”

At 220 to 225 pounds, she is usually smaller than most of her opponents in the 235-pound weight class, but she compensates by being quicker.

“I’m faster than most of the girls I wrestle,” she said. “Most of them underestimate how quick I am.”

She gives much of the credit for her success to Raya and the other coaches who have worked with her along the way.

“My coaches mean the world to me,” she said. “They know my potential, and they have always been there for me. They are great people.”

She said another major influence in both her wrestling and her life has been Mihalca, who has set a high bar for Casa Grande girl wrestlers, reaching the state tournament in all four of her years in Casa wrestling. She was sixth in the 121-pound class at state this year.

“We have a bond that can’t be broken,” McCoy said. “She is pretty much my older sister. We were the best girls on the team and understood what it took to be good. I looked up to her and knew that I wanted to be that good too.”

McCoy also has an in-home support system with father Nolan, step-mother Tasia and biological mother Elizabeth Baye.