When Ian Summerville was coaching wrestling at Silverado, he distinctly remembers a meet in 2013 against Rancho. It was the first time he saw Leiana Nacapuy.
“She was a freshman wrestling 106, and she gave my 106-pounder all he could handle,” Summerville said.
In the three years since, Nacapuy has made a name for herself not just as a female wrestler but as an elite wrestler, period. She has blossomed into a three-time All-American, a contender for a state championship and a leading female in a sport dominated by boys.
Summerville, now the Rams’ coach, didn’t know it then, but that meet in 2013 was Nacapuy’s first year ever wrestling. She began training in jiu-jitsu when she was 13 and transitioned to wrestling when she arrived at Rancho a year later. She found wrestling more enjoyable and focused on it full time.
Now it’s her life. She wrestles around the calendar, minus the time she’s an all-league volleyball player for the Rams.
While high school wrestling is in the traditional folkstyle, her sophomore year she ventured into freestyle, which emphasizes moves from the bottom position as opposed to pinning the opponent from above.
Call it her jiu-jitsu training or sheer natural talent, but she placed fifth at a national women’s freestyle tournament in Fargo, North Dakota. She was named an All-American that year, and again last season, and added a third honor in women’s folkstyle.
“It made me not get so nervous because I feel like I belong here now,” Nacapuy said. “I’ve won, and I have a name. I’m not just any wrestler. I have some accolades.”
Nacapuy is the only girl on the Rancho team. While in the past boy athletes might have been hesitant to take advice from a girl, it’s a different time. To Nacapuy’s teammates, she’s just another wrestler. And far from being demeaned by a successful female on the team, they are inspired.
“A female wrestling for a male-dominated sport, you don’t see that very often,” said Jose Rubio, one of her common practice sparring partners. “We all look up to her as a role model. We all want to be like her or exceed that level that she’s at.”
That’s all Nacapuy wants: for her teammates and her coach to not treat her any differently because of her gender. She concedes sometimes it slips into polite chivalry off the mat, but in the wrestling room, she’s simply the 113-pounder that is one of the best Rancho has to offer.
After the state tournament in February, she will eye a third straight All-America freestyle honor and fourth overall. After that? Well, there is no women’s college folkstyle wrestling. But there is for freestyle.
“Colleges, they really care how you do in freestyle rather than folkstyle,” Nacapuy said. “That’s why I still continued to follow wrestling, so I could get that scholarship.
“I see I have somewhere to go wrestling.”
Contact Justin Emerson at email@example.com or 702-387-2944. Follow @J15Emerson on Twitter.