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For a few minutes during the New Mexico Activities Association 2020 Wrestling State Championship in Rio Rancho last month, Oñate High School senior Angelita Altamirano was the only girls’ high school wrestling champion in New Mexico history.
Angelita, 18, won gold in the 100-pound division – the first one to be decided at the tournament, which combined girls from all districts into 10 weight brackets. Her season record was 20-1, and she brought the first wrestling state championship to OHS in a decade.
“It’s the best feeling ever,” said Angelita, who overcame a number of physical and emotional obstacles in her personal life to claim a place in New Mexico high school sports history.
Her mother and stepfather, uncle, grandfather, brother and sister, OHS teammates and wrestlers from girls’ and boys’ teams from throughout Las Cruces and southern New Mexico were cheering her on and chanting her name as she dominated her championship match. You can hear her two-year-old brother chanting her nickname, “Kika,” on a short video shot during the championship match, along with their five-year-old sister. “It’s awesome,” Angelita said.
Angelita joined the OHS wrestling team as a sophomore, encouraged by the team coach, Robert Altamirano, who is her uncle. Many of her cousins had wrestled in high school. “We just grew up in it,” she said.
“It was rough” that first year, Angelita said, as she was the only girl on the team, with one other girl wrestling with her in her junior and senior years. Male wrestlers sometimes refused to wrestle against her, and some wouldn’t even shake her hand at wrestling tournaments, she said. Opposing coaches would sometimes ask, “What are you doing here?” and Angelita was also sometimes asked if she was the team manager.
The OHS team and high school wrestling across the state have both changed a great deal during the past three years, she said. “I just think it’s crazy how far it’s come,” she said. There were only four wrestlers on the team her first year, Angelita said. This year, 11 OHS wrestlers qualified for state.
Angelita said her first few wrestling matches against other girls resulted mostly in losses, but also provided motivation. “I need to step it up,” she told herself. “I’m going to figure this sport out.”
She started wrestling boys during her junior year and defeated several.
It all came together in this year’s girls’ district wrestling tournament, when Angelita found herself losing on points to her opponent. She came back with a takedown in the third round to win the match and advance to the state championship.
Thanks to dual-credit classes at Doña Ana Community College, Angelita already has 24 credits in computer science. She will graduate from OHS in May with a 3.9 GPA, and hopes to attend William Penn University, a private liberal arts school in Oskaloosa, Iowa, this fall. The Las Cruces native has also applied to New Mexico State University.
No matter where Angelita goes to college, “I would just love to wrestle,” she said. “There’s no other sport like it.” It’s very physical, but’s also strategic, “like a game of chess. You use your opponent’s momentum against them.”
She’s also an avid golfer and soccer player and enjoys swimming and gymnastics.
Angelita said she wants to pursue a career in another male-dominated field: cyber security. She’d like to be a private consultant, helping businesses solve computer-system security issues.
Considering what she’s accomplished and overcome in four years of high school, Angelita said she can’t wait to see what the next four years hold for her. She will find out April 1 if she’s been named New Mexico high school girls’ wrestler of the year.
Her advice to other girls who want to wrestle competitively or pursue anything else they may be interested in is simple: “They can do it too. You need to believe in yourself. Have the confidence to fail, because you learn more from your losses. You have to be humble. There is something out there for you.”
Angelita said she’s learned that winning is a matter of muscle, technique and heart. “Who wants it more” is the key, she said.
“I’m four-foot, 11 (inches tall) and wrestling. I just won state and I have offers,” Angelita said. “Who would have guessed that?”