SELMA — In front of family, friends, coaches and teammates, Gracie Figueroa and Alleida Martinez officially signed to wrestle at Menlo College inside the Selma High School dining hall on Jan. 29.
They will begin wrestling for the women’s program on an athletic scholarship in the fall after graduation.
Figueroa said Menlo College felt like home during her visit to the campus, which made attending there an easy choice for her.
“I think it reminded us a lot of Selma,” Figueroa said. “It felt like a family and the coaches knowing they have our backs is a good feeling to have.”
For Martinez, the environment of the program and proximity of the school - which is located in the Bay Area town of Atherton (approximately 2.6 miles away from Stanford University) - were some of the reasons she decided to go there.
“Their team is really close,” Martinez said. “Their team bonding is really good and it’s not that far from home. We’re still in Cali.”
Both Figueroa and Martinez have wrestled on the same team since they were in the Selma youth program. They've had a close bond since they started wrestling together during childhood.
“We’ve always been together,” she said. “We’re like sisters, you can’t really separate us.”
Menlo College is a private four-year institution and its sports teams compete in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). The Oaks – the mascot of the university – is a member of the Golden State Athletic Conference in the NAIA. Menlo College has an enrollment of 800.
Currently, the Oaks women’s wrestling squad is the No. 4 team in the nation, according to the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association (WCWA) rankings.
Menlo College head coach Joey Bareng said Figueroa and Martinez could help elevate the women’s wrestling program to eventually become the top-ranked squad in the nation.
“We’re very excited to have them at our program,” Bareng said. “Obviously they’re world level competitors...and for us the last five years since I’ve been here there, we have not gone after an athlete of that caliber before.”
Bareng considers Figueroa and Martinez to be among the best high school wrestlers in the country.
“At the high school level, I consider them the best in their weight-class,” Bareng said. “As they transition to college, I’m excited to see their progression going from high school to college.”
When Figueroa and Martinez entered in their senior seasons at Selma, both had unblemished overall records. Figueroa was 106-0 before her senior campaign while Martinez began the year at 72-0. Currently, both girls are the nationally No. 1 ranked wrestlers in their weight classes. Figueroa is the No. 1 wrestler in the 122-pound weight-class and Martinez is on top of the charts at 117-pounds.
Before their prep careers end, they could make history by becoming the first undefeated four-time California state wrestling champions in February. Figueroa and Martinez are also on the verge of helping the Selma girls wrestling team win a state championship for the third-consecutive year.
For their current coach Joey Areyano, it was an emotional day for him. Areyano has coached Figueroa and Martinez since their days in the youth program. He hopes to watch the girls compete in the Olympics.
“I hope to see them in 2020 because I will be saving my money to go Tokyo,” Areyano said.
Throughout their high school careers, the girls have had support from the community, family and friends at most of their matches. Figueroa said that shouldn’t change since friends and family won’t have to travel far to see them compete.
Frances Santillan - Figueroa’s mother - said it’s going to be difficult to have her daughter move away from home, but glad she’s staying in California.
“It’s going to be tough because I’m on hands with her 24/7,” Santillan said. “To let her go, it's going to be very hard, but she's just a couple of [hours] away, and I will be there whenever she needs me.”
Alondra Martinez, 22, said she’s glad her little sister Alledia won’t be moving far away as well.
“I’m really happy that she made the choice to go Menlo because it's within the state,” Alondra said. “Her other choices were out of state and I was getting worried, I was going to miss her so much. She’s still going to be gone, but it’ll only be a couple of hours [away].”
Alledia and Figueroa will aim for their fourth-consecutive titles at the CIF Girls Wrestling State Championships on Feb. 23-24 at the Visalia Convention Center.