BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — Trica Martin stands out in a crowd.
Even at only 5 feet tall and not much over 100 pounds, the Traverse City St. Francis senior is a heavyweight when it comes to wrestling.
The Traverse City St. Francis wrestler is following in the footsteps of her two older brothers. Both of them had solid careers on the mat — but could be surpassed by their younger sister.
She's won three United States Girls Wrestling Association state championships, and hopes to add a trip to the boys state finals this year after earning all-Lake Michigan Conference honors last season.
"She's a tough girl," St. Francis wrestling coach Mike Simaz said. "That's the best way to describe her. Most girls, they'll get beat up on for maybe a season at best and then they'll find out this isn't for them. But she took her beatings early on and kept on coming. She kept working in the summertime and the off-season and went to all the national tournaments she could do, and all that hard work paid off. Now she's a quality wrestler. She can wrestle with most of the boys now."
Just two years into her wrestling career — and in a sport in which many participants already have years of experience under their belt by that time — she was 25-23 on varsity in her freshman season for the Gladiators. Then 34-17 as a sophomore, including advancing to regionals. And 38-12 as a junior.
This year, she's 2-0 in the early going — eclipsing 100 career wins in Saturday's Mason County Central Invitational.
"If she keeps working really hard, she may make it to states this year," Simaz said. "I could see that happening."
The list of accomplishments doesn't end there.
She's a four-time girls freestyle All-American, a four-time girls folkstyle All-American and won the Body Bar Women's National Championships in Florida as a freshman.
"She's a great girl," said TC West coach Berard Priante, whose son Vincent frequently worked out with Martin over the summer. "Great student. Great wrestler. Great athlete."
She already has a wrestling scholarship waiting for her at Jamestown College in North Dakota, where she'll grapple in either the 101- or 109-pound weight class. There, she aims to major in biology and pre-veterinarian studies.
Her brothers Jerret and Brad were four-year wrestlers for TCSF. Jerret was a two-time regional qualifier and had 35-5 records each of his last two years. Brad would later coach the SF middle school program that has been a key component in helping the Gladiators win the LMC championship last year.
The Record-Eagle recently sat down with Martin for an in-depth interview:
Who got you into wrestling?
"My brothers and my dad. My brothers both wrestled. And it looked fun and they always came home and wrestled with me. So I thought, 'Why not?'"
When did you start getting really good?
"Probably in ninth grade. Seventh grade was a rough year. In eighth grade, I started to get into it a little more."
How difficult is it going up against guys every day in practice?
"Our practices are definitely the hardest thing I've ever been put through. But it makes me better. I'm glad we have really hard practices. You dread it all day, but at the end of the day when it's all over, I'm like, 'I glad I did this.' I wouldn't want to do anything else."
What's your favorite part of the whole wrestling experience?
"My favorite part is the team part and traveling. I'm on the (state) girls team, too. We go all over, and I love doing that — meeting new people, competing all over. Before wrestling, I had never been out of Michigan. This whole being on the girls' team, I've been all over the U.S. and Canada."
What's the most difficult part of wrestling against guys?
"Definitely the strength, because guys are so strong. I can maybe out-technique them, but if they have way more muscle than me, it's tough. When it's against girls, you kind of match up evenly with strength."
Do you get any flak from the boys on the team, or are you one of the guys?
"I'm pretty much one of the guys. They pick on me as much as anyone else in the room. I'm just part of the team. I'm not singled out as a girl. They expect me to do everything they do — and I do."
What would you describe your technique as?
"I'm better on the mat. On my feet, I'm a little lacking coordination. When I'm on the mat, I feel really comfortable."
What are your expectation for your senior year?
"I would love to make it to boys states. I went there last year and watched. I really, really want to be there. But the girls season is more important on a national level. I'd love to move up my place at (women's nationals in) Fargo. I've placed eighth every year. This year, I'd love to place above eighth. It'd be nice to move up a little bit."
When you first started out, what was your first practice like?
"It was really eye-opening, I guess. I'd always watch my brothers do it, and it looked hard, but you never know exactly how hard it is until you do it. I didn't know if I was going to make it, but I had support and wasn't allowed to quit."
Does your father (St. Francis assistant coach Ted Martin) critique you a lot?
"I would rather him yell at me all practice than not say a word. It keeps me going."
Does anyone give you flak at school?
"No, not really. Most people just think it's cool because I'm the first girl wrestler to come through our school. We've had a few at Traverse City, but none on the national team."
What do you think your male opponent is thinking?
"Most of the time, I think they're thinking, 'Oh, easy win. It's a girl.' Unless they know me. Most of them just expect me to be decent now. But you still get the overconfident ones.
Do you ever get someone who's really nervous?
"Yeah, I've gotten those ones, too, where they already look scared before they get out there."
Is the high school season just warm-ups for girls nationals for you?
"The high school season is more like for me to prove myself. If you're in girls, it's all the same. But if you're a girl competing against guys and you win, you're kind of looked at more respected. So this season is me looking to prove myself, that I'm not just a typical girl wrestler or a typical girl trying to wrestle."
How much did it help having two older brothers who wrestled?
"I came in knowing a little bit, because we used to get a mat out in the basement of our high school when I was in seventh grade. And we used to drill moves. My brother outweighed me by like 50 pounds, so it was kind of not too helpful, but I got the hang of things before I started."
What do you do with your hair during matches?
"In the high school season, you have to wear a hair bonnet. It's required. In girls, you don't even have to wear headgear, if you don't want to. You just pull your hair up in a ponytail and call it good."
What are the other differences between girls and boys wrestling?
"In girls national, it's actually freestyle and not folkstyle. Freestyle is a little different. The scoring is different and you get different points for different throws. And you're only on the mat for 10 seconds at a time. I don't like freestyle, but I have to wrestle that for college, so I have to get used to it. I've learned a few throws, but I have yet to use them."
What made you decide to go to Jamestown?
"I have always been to a small school. And Jamestown is pretty small. I love the small atmosphere and being able to have small classes, so you can have one-on-one with teachers if you need it. If I went to a bigger college, I don't know if I'd ever get to talk to the teacher."
What other activities are you involved in?
"I ran cross country. I run that to help me for wrestling. Running and sprinting really helps a lot. And I'm on our dance team, too, which is actually the same season as wrestling. I go from school to dance practice and then straight over here for wrestling practice every day. Those are the most opposite sports you can do one time, but it's fun."