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Taina Wins Midlands - Simply Amazing

Archbishop Spalding freshman Taina Fernandez defeated four collegiate opponents by as many technical fall victories, outscoring them by a combined, 42-1, to win the 130-pound title at Saturday's prestigious Ken Kraft Midlands Women's Championships at the NOW Arena in suburban Hoffman Estates, Ill.

Ranked No. 1 nationally among girls at 130 pounds by USA Wrestling, the 14-year-old Fernandez scored consecutive 10-0 techs over first-round opponent Jimena Serna of Morton College and quarterfinals' rival Nichole Moore of McKendree University. Moore is a 2022 Under-23 National champion, a 2023 Under-23 World team member, and a two-time NAIA All-American, according to FloWrestling.

In the semifinals, Fernandez delivered a 12-1 tech over Aurora University's No. 1 seed Lexi Janiak, a 2023 Under-20 World bronze medalist and 2023 NCWWC (NCAA) finalist. Fernandez won her championship bout, 10-0, over North Central All-American Salome Walker.

“Midlands was an awesome experience,” said Fernandez, a Bowie resident. “I’m grateful to have the opportunity to compete in that environment with some of the top girls in college.”

Fernandez’s Puerto Rican father, Kareem, is a professor of military science and the head of the ROTC program at Bowie State University. She has a Bolivian-born mother, Trinidad. "I've known Tiana since she started wrestling at about seven years old, and she's developed as an athlete and a person," said Keith Watson, former chairman of USA Wrestling in Maryland. "Her parents don't have to push her. She wants to do what she is doing, which is huge. Taina's a testament to the value of hard work."

Fernandez dominated the 130-pound field for the title at the second-annual girls Beast Of The East Tournament on December 15-16, nailing down falls in 22, 41, and 91 seconds on top of a 14-1 major decision at the Bob Carpenter Center on the University of Delaware's campus in Newark, Delaware.

Fernandez's 91-second fall finished sophomore Beast Of The East championship rival Sophia Slaughter of Virginia's Orange County High, improving her record to 10-1 and officially becoming the first Maryland female to win the event.

Fernandez began the year by placing third among 126-pound boys at the December 1-2 Ray Oliver Tournament at McDonogh, posting a 5-1 record that included two pins and a major decision all being against males.

Wrestling as an unattached participant at McDonogh, Fernandez lost her quarterfinal bout, 7-5, to teammate, Sean Garretson, a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association runner-up and third-place finisher at the Maryland Independent Schools State Tournament who placed seventh at National Preps. A junior who is ranked No. 1 by Legacy Wrestling, Garretson was the eventual champion at McDonogh.

“Taina is a beast," said Garretson. "Taina’s my teammate. I wrestle her a lot in the room. She’s a really good wrestler.”

Fernandez wrestled back to take third place at McDonogh, her 5-3 victory over sophomore Drew Roggie of St. Christophers of Virginia coming against a wrestler who was sixth at last year’s National Preps Tournament where he defeated Jake Tamai of Mount St. Joseph. Tamai is a returning MIAA and private schools state champion.

"As a freshman, Taina beat a National Preps place-winner who is a boy. What Taina's doing now is unprecedented," said Billy Buckheit, rankings coordinator for Legacy Wrestling. "Not many boys in Maryland can do that, and now, Taina's beaten a world medalist as a freshman. That's simply mind-blowing."

In March 2006, Montgomery County freshman Helen Maroulis became the first girl to place at the Maryland wrestling championships with a sixth-place finish at 112 pounds in the 4A-3A state tournament.

In 2007, Arundel High’s Nicole Woody (103) made more history as a senior by becoming Maryland’s first girl to win an Anne Arundel County and regional title and to finish as a Class 4A-3A state runner-up.

Woody pinned South River’s Curtis Taylor in five minutes, 42 seconds for the county title and blanked Centennial’s Jack Western 2-0 in the finals of the Class 4A-3A regionals on a reversal with 1:01 left in the third period.

Woody lost her state title bout 6-2 to River Hill’s Scott Mantua, who had finished third behind her at regions after losing to Western in the regional semifinals. Woody won her state semifinal 5-4 in overtime against Tuscarora’s C.J. Savage, having already become the first girl to qualify for the 4A-3A meet as a sophomore and the first to pin a boy at a state meet as a junior.

Western Tech’s Jade Hendricks became the first girl to reach the Class 2A-1A state tournament, the same year that Woody did so on the 4A-3A side. But Hendricks went 0-2.

As a Magruder junior in 2009, Maroulis became the first female to reach the finals of both the Montgomery County and Class 4A-3A East Region tournaments and repeated her sixth-place finish at states.

In 2010, Smithsburg senior Monica Hovermale (103) became the first female to place in the Class 2A-1A states and the third female to do so overall, finishing sixth.

A four-time Washington County champ, Hovermale totaled 104 career victories, becoming Maryland’s first female wrestler to surpass 100 wins. Hovermale went 2-2 as a sophomore at states, becoming the first female to win at least a match on the Class 2A-1A side. Last year’s all-girls state championship was the fifth event since the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association held its inaugural all-girls state wrestling tournament at Northeast High in February 2018.

Fernandez knows South River senior Alexandra Szkotnicki (44-8), who established herself as the second-most accomplished female wrestler since Woody by placing fourth at 113 pounds while wrestling against public school boys at the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association Class 4A-3A state tournament a year ago in March.

Szkotnicki’s effort came two weeks after defeating Broadneck sophomore Cam Williams, 1-0, to become only the second female to win an Anne Arundel County title, and a week after having placed third at the Class 4A-3A East Region Tournament.

Now a sports psychology major at McKendree University in Illinois, Szkotknicki went 3-2 at states, including victories by pins in 21 and 73 seconds and by an 11-1 major decision.

Szkotnicki lost her semifinal bout, 4-0, to eventual champion Drew Montgomery (40-0) of Northern-Calvert County, and her consolation finals bout, 14-3, to sophomore Cooper Cammarata (35-7) of Tuscarora of Frederick County.

“We could have gone to a public school. Taina probably could have reached a state title," Trinidad said. "But Taina’s proven that she is where she needs to be when it comes to schools, and Taina’s goals are bigger than state titles."

Maroulis later became the first-ever American female to win a gold medal at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August 2016, and world championship titles in 2015 and 2017. Maroulis also won a gold medal in the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, and, most recently, a bronze medal in the Tokyo Summer Olympics and a gold medal in the January 2022 Ivan Yariguin Grand Prix in Krasnoyarsk, Russia.

Fernandez met, practiced, and worked with Maroulis at the Capital Wrestling Club in Gaithersburg, Maryland, two years ago, having since become even more inspired.

"Taina's beating some of the best college girls in the country and in the world," said Woody, in her fifth-year coaching at Oklahoma City University. "Like I've said before, she's going to be the best wrestler, male or female, to ever come out of Maryland."

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