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While the strong group of Cougars boys wrestlers has been making waves around the state for their strong play, the wrestling success for Canby does not stop there. After becoming the lone Cougar girl wrestler to qualify, senior Lexli Lopez-Zuriaga placed sixth in the state tournament this week.
The 170-class wrestler qualified after finishing 3-1 and nabbing third place at the Special District Northwest tournament in Hillsboro on February 7, defeating Sunset’s Arianna Boyd by fall.
The Cougar girls wrestling team started out strong, sending six wrestlers to compete in a team dual meet at Woodburn. Five went to the Hillsboro tournament, with some different faces showing for the Cougars. But as a long season dragged on, several girls dropped out, some for injury, some for other reasons.
Eventually, Lopez-Zuriaga and her wrestling partner Valeria Perez were the last two standing, practicing and even competing with the boys’ team. Still, the two remaining Cougars paled in comparison to the start of the year.
“I don’t blame them [for leaving] but it felt lonely,” she told the Current. “I was a bit upset because I had the dream of ending together. In the end, I had to accept they had left for their own valid reasons.”
She placed third at the Three Rivers League District Championships in the 170 class to help the Cougs capture their first league title in a decade. But even so, Lopez-Zuriaga admitted she had “low expectations” heading into her state appearance at Culver High School on February 24.
Despite her recent improvement at the Hillsboro tournament, there were many girls competing she had already faced. And they were tough. But, rather than be down, she continued to work hard, getting better and using her teammates’ departures as motivation.
“It gave me more motivation to keep going,” Lopez-Zuriaga said. “And after winning my first couple of matches — against people I’ve lost to — I felt like I’d actually improved. I stayed and wanted to see how far I could go. It felt good, I finally felt like a member of the team.”
Lopez-Zuriaga lost her first match of the day to Kami Hart, of Sweet Home, a tough start to the day for the already nervous senior.
But, as she had all season, Lopez-Zuriaga rallied again, winning her next two consolation matches against Roosevelt’s Onastacia Boling and Bend’s Sarah Witts. She pinned Witts in only 1:25 of action and Boling an impressive 43 seconds in.
Though she lost the consolation semifinals against Cambria Funk of St. Helens and the fifth-place match against Woodburn’s Jasmine Lopez, Lopez-Zuriaga still left Culver with a sixth-place overall finish — the best finish by a female wrestler in Canby school history.
For the senior, Thursday’s result was the culmination of years of hard work, practice, sweat, and determination. After a topsy-turvy 2020 and a barren team in 2021, Lopez-Zuriaga had something great to show for it.
After Lopez-Zuriaga graduates Canby and attends Western Washington for a pre-veterinary career, there will be a hole left in the Canby girls wrestling team. But for any girls interested in starting a wrestling career, Lopez-Zuriaga suggested attending open mats and learning the sport.
And, if there’s anyone who can speak to resilience and perseverance in wrestling, it’s Lexli Lopez-Zuriaga.
“When you do join, remember to have fun and do the best you can,” she said. “Don’t let any losses to drag you down.”
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