Photo submitted by Frank Moreno
Banda, Moreno, Martin head out to state tournament in Houston
Wrestlers have to fight on and off of the mat.
On the girls’ side of this year’s state tournament, San Marcos sophomore Anisa Moreno, junior Kaylynn Martin and junior Jesyka Banda head to Houston after impressive showings in the regional state qualifiers. But it took a lot of will and determination to get there.
For Martin and Banda, they’ve been to the state tournament before but it took a massive toll on their bodies and major grit and determination to get to this point again. Banda suffered an elbow injury in Houston over the summer. It happened during a drill where the junior was taken down by her sparring partner while she posted her arm to the mat. At first, Banda thought to herself “it was just hypertension.” She fought through it.
Again, she hit the same arm on Martin in a drill where each had to touch the other’s laces. Martin sprung at Banda and accidentally re-injured the hyperextended arm. The pain wasn’t over. Practicing with her brother, the arm was exposed to a hit once again, only this time Banda knew there was something wrong. It was a partially torn ligament, which kept her out until the district meet.
Even then, she wrestled through it.
“You get it so bad that you don’t care how bad it hurts,’’ Banda said. “That’s the mentality of a wrestler.”
The junior still found a way to get back in time to qualify for the tournament. As a district runner-up with a 5-3 record, her perseverance is what’s gotten her this far.
Martin, similar to Banda, faced a nagging injury from snapping her ankle in a drill, which forced her to miss multiple tournaments this season.
“It really did suck because I thought that was gonna be my setback,” Martin said. “Honestly I thought I wasn’t gonna wrestle this year. Like, I didn’t know and then I started healing. I was working every day and I was doing rehab and ever since I did that, it still hurts but it’s not gonna stop me.”
Martin still put up an impressive 11-3 record this year, collecting accolades such as district and regional runner-up in the 110-pound weight class. The story to look out for is the rematch in the finals between Martin and the only opponent she’s lost to this season: Jocelyn Lass. Lass is Martin’s partner in club wrestling, too, so the familiarity with one another is there.
“I want to see her in the finals, that’s what we’re trying to go for,” Martin said with confidence. “I’m just going to do what I can do.”
Anisa is trying to create her own legacy in the Moreno household. Her brother, Johnathon Moreno, competed at the state tournament in 2016.
Her older sister, Gianna Moreno, set the tone by winning the state championship a year ago. Gianna had a bruised sternum while winning the title fighting through pain each match. Anisa’s pain is more emotional than physical. More commonly than not, the regional takes the top four in their respective weight classes but due to COVID restrictions, the committee decided only to take the top three in 2021. They even shrunk the event from two days down to one in order to prevent too many people from being in the venue at once.
Last season, Anisa was fourth in the regional qualifier. But the new rule hindered her ability to go. This time, Moreno didn’t give the committee a chance to count her out.
“If I’m being honest, I cried,” Moreno said. “At the same time, I forget how young I am and how much time I really have. I guess when I wrestle at that level of all the Austin clubs and all those people that are so skilled, I just forget to step back and realize how big of a deal it really is to qualify and COVID (was) … very frustrating. We didn’t get many matches and our records were small and I think it was — now looking back at it, I’m like, ‘That’s a big deal.’”
A third-place finish in regionals advanced her to the state tournament for the first time in her young career. Anisa has been nothing but impressive this year sporting a 25-8 record and was the runner-up in District 26-6A, wrestling at 138 pounds. Her sister took home the gold medal last year and while that may be nerve-wracking to some, Anisa feels like there is no pressure on her at this age and time.
“The funny thing is, I have no pressure put toward me. Like my parents are very supportive and whatever outcome is gonna be fine and I can come back next year,” Anisa said. “The nervousness, I think it’s just because of how much I love the sport. I’ve been told by a lot of people that if you care enough about something, it’ll make you nervous because you want it to count and you want it to matter. My coaches or my parents are saying you do what you’re gonna do. Then you learn and come back next year and you practice for next year.”
Her parents even believe that she has the potential to grow into a state-champion one day based on the success of her sister.
“Anisa’s a sophomore, she’s on her own path,’’ Frank Moreno said. “I think by the time she’s a senior, she’ll probably have a little more of a skill set than Gianna because she started earlier going to club practices whereas Gianna didn’t go to club until she was a senior because of softball.”
The district runner-up and regional third-place finisher also has a matchup to look for this weekend with club partners and top finisher in state last season, Shaili Davis.
“We go to the same select practices,” Anisa said. “Just practicing together, I see her a lot. She has just helped me grow and recognize a lot of new things and technique-wise and having a feel for it. She’s placed in state before, she’s very talented and she gives me a great feel for what it’s going to be like this weekend.”
The format consists of three two-minute periods with a 45-minute break in between each match which the girls believe isn’t enough time to recover but those are the rules.
“That six minutes feels like a lifetime,” Banda said. “In really good intense matches, you just think about like, ‘Oh my God is it almost over?’”
It will take five or six of those matches to reach the state championship, which is a gruesome couple of days of wrestling. But it’s what it takes to get a gold medal and stand on the podium in the end.
The tournament will take place in Houston inside the Berry Center on Friday, Feb. 17, and will continue until Saturday, Feb. 18.