Pioneer wrestler Woody looks to blaze trail to state title

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

February 23, 2007|By MILTON KENT

It's a good thing that Nicole Woody is a girl who is comfortable not only in her own skin, but also in wrestling tights, because if she weren't, the title of role model wouldn't fit so snugly on her.

Kids typically tend to run from things that make them different from other kids, and being a wrestler, moreover a successful one, certainly sets Woody apart from most girls.

But, as she prepares to make her last push for a state wrestling title with this weekend's 4A-3A East region tournament and the state finals next weekend, Woody, who will take just three years to graduate from Arundel, long ago made peace with being a symbol of what young women can accomplish in sports, if given the opportunity.

"Ever since I started wrestling, Mom told me that I was going to be a role model for women's wrestling," Woody said this week. "I've kind of had that stuck in my head. I've always thought of myself as one since I started wrestling, so it doesn't really bother me."

If the mere act of getting on the mat with boys was all there was to being an iconic figure, Woody would have achieved that when she first started wrestling competitively at 9 years old.

For Woody to become a figure to be emulated, she had to beat boys, and her victory in last weekend's Anne Arundel County championships - a pin of South River's Curtis Taylor in 5 minutes, 42 seconds - is only the latest proof that she can hold her own with boys.

Woody, who is 28-3 this season, is ranked sixth in the 103-pound weight class in the most recent Maryland State Wrestling Association rankings. She became the first girl to qualify for the 4A-3A meet two years ago, and last year she became the first girl to pin a boy at a state meet.

Woody has worked on overcoming whatever strength disadvantages she might have to a given male opponent by being a better technical wrestler.

"I just use whatever move is there," she said. "Purposefully, I've learned a lot of moves, and now I have a lot that I use. Whatever opens up, I go with."

Woody faces a potentially stern test at the regional meet against River Hill's Scott Mantua, a sophomore who is unbeaten this year. He also owns a win over Woody in an earlier match this season.

Since the top four wrestlers in each class advance to next week's state finals at Cole Field House at the University of Maryland, Mantua and Woody likely won't settle matters until then.

Nationally, Woody, the only American - male or female - to win a junior world championship last August, is the top-ranked female wrestler in the 100-pound class, as compiled by the United States Girls' Wrestling Association. She will wrestle in April at the association's girls national event.

Woody will pass up college for a year to seriously train, splitting her time between here and the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. She feels she'll need the time to improve in freestyle wrestling, the style that is used virtually everywhere outside U.S. high school wrestling.

Woody feels she's improving steadily, but not so much that she feels she could land a spot on the national women's wrestling team that will head to Beijing for next year's Olympics.

It's only been recently, Woody said, that she was able to keep from getting turned when she drilled with Patricia Miranda, who won a bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics in the 105.5-pound women's competition.

"I think I'd be further ahead, but I just don't think I'd be mature enough," Woody said.

That may be, but as chapters are added to the history of Maryland high school wrestling, at least one of them will reflect that a girl named Nicole Woody was a pioneer who was comfortable being a role model, but only wanted to be known as "a good wrestler and a real hard worker."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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