DR. PHILLIPS Jamaris Vargas watched her cousin Jaquan Loney wrestle for four years at Gateway High in a career that culminated in a third-place finish for him in the 138-pound class at the FHSAA Wrestling Finals last spring.
Vargas remembers helping out where she could with the program at Gateway and, over time, she became inspired to wrestle, too.
Luckily for Vargas, she is a freshman at Dr. Phillips — one of the few local schools that fields a girls wrestling program. And after years of looking up to her cousin, the Panthers freshman one-upped him by winning a state championship at 128 pounds Feb. 13, pinning Evans’ Biverlie D’Haity in the final of the Florida Girls Wrestling Championships.
“I was so happy because all the hard work I’d put into everything, it finally paid off,” Vargas said.
Vargas came out for the team at the beginning of the school year and didn’t know quite what to expect. Under head coach John Miller, she and the seven other freshmen newbies quickly learned that training and conditioning for wrestling was no joke.
“It was really, really hard, but I liked it,” Vargas said.
As a program, Miller’s team has been infused by a new wave of interest this year. After fielding a girls wrestling team of just five competitors in 2014-15, the 2015-16 edition of the Panthers completed the season with 12 wrestlers at the state competition. Miller said a combination of siblings of boy wrestlers and a few recruits from the school’s Junior ROTC program have helped turn out a healthy roster.
Dr. Phillips placed third at the state competition, with freshman Shedeline Ulysse earning a state runner-up medal at 197 pounds and sophomore Remy Hellinger placing fourth in the 140-pound class.
Tops among the group though was Vargas, perhaps the quietest of them all.
“She is very soft-spoken, but she works very hard,” Miller said of his newly crowned state champion. “She doesn’t panic.”
The third-place finish at state has emboldened the girls on the team, with some already coming up to Miller in the hallways on campus, eager to start training for next season.
As extra motivation, Miller placed the third-place trophy in the wrestling room.
“That little trophy over there — that’s their reminder that they have to be bigger next year,” Miller said. “They all come in and look at that (third-place trophy), (and) that’s not what they want.”
As for Vargas, who plays no other sports at Dr. Phillips, she and her underclassmen teammates are excited to be a part of what could become something special in the next few years.
“It’s like a little sisterhood,” Vargas said. “Next year we’re planning on placing first as a team.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].