Central Valley High School sophomore Nayeli Pelayo has developed into one of the top female wrestlers in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
"My uncle wrestled when he was in high school," said Pelayo, a newcomer to the sport. "I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I come to practice every day and work hard. The most challenging part is the conditioning."
Nayeli climbed to No. 3 in the section rankings for 189-pound grapplers earlier this month.
"It's exciting to see the success that she has had," Central Valley head coach Rob Beckhart said. "She's just a sophomore. She's young. She's a friendly, smiling girl off the mat. She turns into an animal when she wrestles. I like that."
Pelayo had a successful debut with the Hawks.
She placed first at the Central Valley Novice Tournament on Nov. 28.
She took second at the Pacheco JV Tournament on Dec. 19.
She finished fourth at Queen of the Mat in Pittsburg on Jan. 2 and fifth at the Asics Napa Valley Classic on Jan. 9.
Nayeli won the title at Pitman's Rumble in the Jungle this past weekend.
"When I first started wrestling, I didn't know any moves," said Pelayo, who will participate in the Western Athletic Conference Finals on Feb. 12 at Patterson High School. "I was scared because I thought I'd get hurt. Now, I know what to do. I'm not as timid as I was in the beginning. I don't get as nervous. I know I can do well if I try my hardest."
"We have a great conditioning program and Nayeli participates in that," Beckhart said. "She's a competitor. She hates to lose. She works hard. She's very athletic. She just needs to clean up some of her technique."
Pelayo and Hawk teammates Claudia Martinez (106 pounds), Emily Mendoza (111s), Darian Robinson (137s), Brianna Quiroz (143s) and Cassandra Justice (150s) will compete at the Southern Regional Qualifier, Feb. 5-6, at Modesto's Enochs High School.
"Right now, Nayeli is one of the favorites," Beckhart said.
"I need to start practicing harder," Pelayo said.
The top 8 finishers in each weight class at Regionals advance to the Section Championships, to be staged Feb. 19-20, at McNair High School.
The CIF State Tournament will be held, Feb. 26-27, at the Visalia Convention Center.
"I definitely support girls wrestling and all it has become," Beckhart said.
"Our coaches believe in us," Pelayo said. "They push us to be our best. It's been great to place at tournaments. I'd be shocked if I got to State because it's my first year. A lot of the other girls have been wrestling for a while. I just want to be competitive."
Pelayo batted cleanup and played catcher while starring on Central Valley's varsity softball team her freshman year. Nayeli was selected to the Western Athletic Conference Second Team. She batted .324 with one homer, seven RBIs, one run and one stolen base.
Pelayo chose wrestling over basketball this winter.
"I've been playing softball since I was small," Pelayo said. "This is my first year doing wrestling. It's fun. I really like it. It's one of the hardest sports. If you can do this sport, you can do any sport."
"The potential is there," Beckhart said. "If she sticks with it (wrestling), and continues to work hard, the possibilities are endless for."
Pelayo had a 21-9 overall record as of Monday.