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Lakeview girls haven't backed down in wrestling room

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Makaiya De La Cruz

Lakeview senior Makaiya De La Cruz, far right, kneels in the front row for a Viking team photo. De La Cruz is one of six girls out for the first year of sanctioned NSAA wrestling on the Lakeview roster.

Lakeview wrestling coach Jeff Bargen wasn't sure what to expect out of the handful of girls who showed up to practice just over two weeks ago.

In the first year of girls wrestling, rosters remain fluid. Many programs will go through additions and subtractions as the season progresses and as athletes find their form or discover that maybe they've bitten off more than they can chew.

Not at Lakeview.

Up in the wrestling room above the north gym, the girls who will make history as the first Lady Vikes to put on a singlet just keep showing up and doing what's asked.

"I wasn't sure how they would handle a pretty grueling practice, but I've been impressed with their work ethic, their toughness, their willingness to learn, their coachability, it's been awesome," Bargen said. "I'm so proud of them. I have nothing but good things to say. It's been a blast."

Bargen's inaugural group of wrestling females includes six total -- four sophomores, a freshman and a senior.

Lacy Lemburg, younger sister of former Viking state medalist Joel Lemburg, is the youngster. Libby Held, Morgan Finecy, Paola Vivar and Patricia Vivar make up the sophomore class. Makaiya De La Cruz is the lone senior who decided that, even though it might just be for a year, she wanted to get on the mat.

"I did it this year to help with powerlifting," De La Cruz said. "I think they can both benefit from each other, building muscle for wrestling and staying in condition for both. And then, I wanted to do it because it's my senior season. Why not give it a shot?"

She was also influenced by an older and younger brother. Never one to back down from a family challenge, De La Cruz sees it as an opportunity to prove, "if you can do it, I can do it."

Her younger brother, Sebastian, is a freshman on the roster. Older brother Jose wrestled in his youth days.

"It's always a competition between my little brother and me," Makaiya said. "We'll wrestle each other to improve each other."

De La Cruz wasn't involved in youth wrestling and, admittedly, had no idea what she was walking into when training started on Nov. 15. Now more than 10 practices into the experience, she calls it "interesting." It's a lot to learn, and a lot to learn fast, and there's the physical intensity of it. But overall she said it's been good for her in a lot ways, not the least of which is mentally.

"It's something to get myself out there. It's better for my mental state seeing that I can accomplish something," she said. "It is intense. I had to find more of my aggression side, not be scared to hurt someone and overcome my own fear of falling. I was scared I'd land wrong on my back or on myself."

De La Cruz, like her counterparts at Columbus High, are in sort of a wait and see approach when it comes to competition. There are three duals on the schedule but whether or not the opposing team has enough girls at the right weight to hold matches remains a question. 

On the weekend, there are six tournaments scheduled for the year. It starts Friday with a girls division in the Lakeview Invite and also includes tournaments at Crete, Fairbury, Schuyler, Battle Creek, Neligh-Oakdale and the Conference Tournament. Some of those conflict with the boys and will split the coaching staff.

"My narrow focus is to get better every day and improve from the day before," De La Cruz said. "I want to continue to push myself harder than the day before. Probably a long-distance goal is to try and win more than lose."

Bargen is confident that will happen for several of the girls if not all. Their start has been inspirational for everyone else in the wrestling room.

"The guys have done nothing but welcome them. I think they've already earned the respect of a lot of the guys on the team," Bargen said. "They know what it's like to go through a grueling wrestling practice, and to see those girls hang in there and do everything we ask, you can't help but respect what they're doing."

Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sports@columbustelegram.com.

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