Opportunity beyond the high school mat

In December 2019, Vanessa Ceja (right) returned to run a WHS wrestling practice and teach techniques she since learned in college. Her younger sister Valeria (left) is currently a WHS wrestling athlete. Courtesy photo

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Winters Warriors have been dominating the mat for years and, and a grapple of them have gone on to wrestle at the collegiate level – like Vanessa Ceja. Although in mid-January she was named Student Athlete of the Week as a Wayland Baptist University Pioneer, it’s the blood, sweat and tears as a Warrior that got her there. “I have a connection with wrestling. Once I realized you could do it in college, I started working hard at it.” Vanessa commented on her passion for the sport and her road to WBU, “I’m nice and sweet in person, but once we step on the mat, I’m a different person. You’re going to have to kill me to get this win.” Vanessa’s wrestling career started back when she was nine, followed closely by her older brother Anthony – who wrestled at Sacramento City College before injuring his ankle. They stepped onto the Winters Wrestling Club mats where they would forge a close bond with coaches Andy Gomez and Fernando Goncalves. “With Vanessa we always had the music going and sang along with conversations about life and wrestling,” Goncalves said recalling weekend trips to wrestling tournaments. “You develop a bond between wrestler and coach. They become part of your family and you look at them as if they are your child and all the accomplishments they achieve you are proud to tell your family and friends about them.” The coaches also formed close bonds with Anthony – AKA “The Brahman Bull” according to Gomez – and their little sister Valeria – AKA “Dori” according to her mother. “Anthony was fun to coach and fun to watch. He was as tough as a bull,” Gomez, WWC head coach, said about his bond with the Ceja family. “Every family that’s come through the program has gotten real close. We go to each other’s family gatherings and everything.” After high school, Vanessa was invited to wrestle in Japan with other girls from all over the nation along with her sister Valeria – who is currently wrestling at Winters High School. “Japan is all about respect. No attitude on the mat, only respect for the opponent and coaches,” Vanessa said about her and Valeria’s trip abroad. “You know they’ve been wrestling forever. Their technique, experience, skill and dedication are outrageous.” Wrestling has taken Vanessa to a variety of places like Japan, across the nation and finally, to college. While she’s currently a sophomore student-athlete at WBU, her mother Erika Ceja recalls her daughter’s early struggles in college. “It was a tough first year for her in a new environment,” she said. “But wrestling was something she brought from home to Texas and helped her through that tough adjustment.” Erika shared about wrestling from a mother’s point-of-view, “Say goodbye to your weekends! There’s a tournament literally every weekend and practices and you have to have the dedication to want to do it.” She shared about the impact on the family’s culture, “Mexican culture is very strict. Boys do boy things, girls do girl things. These days I’m talking to other Latina moms trying to get their daughters wrestling because it’s breaking the stereotypes.” Women’s collegiate wrestling is growing in popularity thanks to athletes like Vanessa. By embodying the dedication, desire and grit of a wrestler, she’s paving the way through cultural and societal stereotypes for others to follow.]]>

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