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Female Wrestler of the Year Spotlight: Tsarni

Wrestling had become a family tradition for Watkins Mill senior Nebi Tsarni, the fourth-born of seven children, with three older sisters, two younger brothers and a younger sister.

The 155-pound Tsarni is the third of her siblings to compete on the mats following younger brother Salah, 15, and elder sister Seda, 21.

“My little brother was the first one to wrestle, and my older sister, Seda, joined the year before I did. My little sister and I started wrestling after her,” said Tsarni of Kesi, 13. “The first year they had a separate state tournament for the girls, my older sister won it and became the first wrestling state champion in Watkins Mill’s history.”

Nebi became the Wolverine’s second state champion as a sophomore and the program's first-ever three-time state champion last month at the all-girls’ state tournament at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, a feat for which he has been named Legacy Wrestling’s female Middleweight Wrestler Of The Year.

Tsarni used a pin in 3:07, a 21-5 technical fall and a fall in 3:19 to reach the finals, where she planted previously unbeaten Winters Mill junior Gabbie McLeod in 4:40.

A fifth-place finisher last year, McLeod slipped to 20-1 after falling to Tsarni, who split time between 157 and 165 wrestling against boys for the Wolverines during the season.

“The score was 25-7. I was taking her down and cutting her and then at the end I pinned her,” said Tsarni, 17, who improved her record to 26-3. “I feel a little sentimental. I had a conversation with my coach and almost cried. It’s been quite a ride with my school, being the last high school season and my last high school match.”

Tsarni is the country’s No. 1-ranked 144-pounder, having won September’s “Who’s No. 1” event.

“I started wrestling in seventh grade with the Maryland Eagles at Bullis, and then I began wrestling at the Capitol Wrestling Club once in high school,” Tsarni said. “I’m a three-time National Fargo Champ in the Cadets the first two years and this past year was for juniors. I was named Outstanding Wrestler for juniors at Fargo. Two-time state champion.”

Seda became the Wolverines’ first state champion, winning the crown during the inaugural all-girls’ state tournament in 2018. Seda is a second-class cadet in her third year at the Air Force.

Salah, 15 is a freshman at Bullis who won titles in the Interstate Athletic Conference, Maryland Independent Schools States, placed seventh at the National Preps Tournaments and owns a victory over Class 2A-1A state champion Gavin Solito of Stephen Decatur, a three-time state finalist.

Kesi is an eighth-grader who will wrestle at Bullis next year.

“Considering that I would have gone at 157 for boys, I thought about wrestling against the boys, but I can’t wrestle in both the boys and girl’s postseason tournaments,” Tsarni said. “I may have been able to place in counties but I’m not sure about in the states, but I already had two state titles to defend against the girls’ division, so I figured I may as well go out strong my senior year.”

Tsarni was a runner-up at 165 pounds in the senior division of last weekend's National High School Coaches Association Tournament (NHSCA) held in Virginia Beach.

At the NHSCA's, Tsarni used technical falls of 19-3 and 21-5 to reach the semifinals, where she overcame an early 6-1 deficit for an overtime, 12-8, semifinal victory over Randallstown's three-time state champion Ugochi Anunobi, Legacy's Upper Weight Wrestler Of The Year.

“I hadn’t had a tough match like this all year, so prior to this match, I was a little bit nervous even though I had wrestled her before in an exhibition,” Tsarni said. “I had beaten her, but she’s a great wrestler who is really strong and who is a great wrestling partner. But if I wanted to compete for a national championship, this was what I had to do to get there.”

Anunobi had earned a berth against Tsarni on falls in 58, 52 and 32 seconds, and she was able to score a takedown and early nearfall points to take the lead in their semifinal bout.

“Being that I was bumping up a weight class, I was a little taken aback even though I knew that she was really strong. I’m not sure if it was a double, but she was able to get near-fall points off of that first take-down. But I couldn’t allow myself to get nervous or to freak out, I just had to come stronger and harder in order to get back into the match," Tsarni said. “I was a little bit frustrated with myself entering the third period, but I told myself, ‘I got this.’ I was able to come back on her and to make it 8-8 entering overtime. I was able to go ahead, 10-8, and then get some near-fall points out of a scramble. I believe that the last point was an escape, but it’s all kind of a blur, so I really can remember.”

Anunobi rebounded from the loss to Tsarni to take third place on pins in 37 seconds and 5:06, the latter against state champions Alyssa Guzman of Califonia and Megan Wiebe of Sharon, Maine, respectively.

“I had wrestled [Ugochi] last year in a showcase freestyle match that was an exhibition and I believe that I scored a technical fall against her,” Tsarni said. “But it definitely was not as pressing as a semifinal match that’s taking place before wrestling for a national title. Ugochi is a tremendous wrestler who is a three-time state champion for a reason. I am really excited to see how she’s going to do in college as a wrestler.”

Tsarni lost her title bout, 9-2, to Kaylie Hall, a state champion from West Virginia. Salah Tsarni was also an NHSCA runner-up as a freshman in the 160-pound division.

"I'm disappointed in my performance, but I have much respect for Kaylie Hall and she deserved the title," Nebi Tsarni said. "I had a lot of fun at the tournament and I am glad that I was able to spend it with my brother and my teammates. It felt good to be going to at least one last big tournament and becoming an All-American before I go to college."

Tsarni will join Seda, at the Air Force Academy in the fall, where she will major in Aerospace Engineering.

“I have had a very fulfilling experience as a high school wrestler. I am forever thankful for my parents, who never turned down a tournament or an opportunity for me to train. I am also thankful for the coaches and the room I’ve been able to step inside of,” Tsarni said. “I was able to build a trust with and to have a great time with my team, and I am planning to wrestle in college. The lessons I’ve learned from wrestling are the ones that will lead me into my future. I am ready to step into the next chapter of my life and to give back to the wrestling community that has done so much for me.”

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