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Female Wrestler of the Year Spotlight: Taina

Updated: Apr 3

A freshman who has competed at 126 and 130 pounds this season may be among Maryland's best pound-for-pound wrestlers. That athlete is also a female.

Ranked No. 1 nationally among girls at 130 pounds by USA Wrestling, that individual is none other than Taina Fernandez of Archbishop Spalding, who has been named Legacy Wrestling's Girls' Lower Weight Wrestler Of The Year.

Fernandez finished the year with a 34-1 record that included 18 pins and 11 technical falls, placing third at the season-opening McDonogh Tournament in December, a month during which she also won the 130-pound title at the second-annual girls Beast Of The East Tournament.

Fernandez ended the year 2023 in late December by winning the prestigious Ken Kraft Midlands Women's Championships at the NOW Arena in suburban Hoffman Estates, Ill.

In February, Fernandez became only the second Maryland girl to win a National Preps Tournament at the Stabler Center on the campus of Lehigh University, joining John Carroll's Julianne Moccia, winner of the inaugural girl’s division in 2020.

"I wasn't sure what to expect going into my first high school season, but my accomplishments this year have certainly surpassed anything I could have foreseen," Fernandez said. "This season may not have been that long, but every moment has left a lasting impression. Every practice, every bus ride, every match -- it all felt right, no matter the outcome."

Among Fernandez's pins this season are those over Old Mills senior Omar Khan, who placed sixth in the Anne Arundel County tournament. Fernandez also had a 13-1 major decision over 24th-ranked junior Tyler Truitt of Loyola, who finished sixth in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association Tournament and eighth at the Maryland Independent Schools state tournament.

Fernandez's lone loss of the year was by, 7-5, to Archbishop Spalding teammate Sean Garretson, a junior Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association champion and private schools state runner-up who finished fifth at 126 pounds in the National Preps Tournament.

“I was shocked when she almost beat Sean,” said coach Mike Laidley, in his 22nd season at Archbishop Spalding. “The match was tied up before Sean got a late escape and a takedown to secure it. But even on that takedown, it was a scramble that could have turned out in Taina’s favor.”

Fernandez also owns a 5-3 decision over sophomore Drew Roggie of St. Christophers of Virginia, Roggie has finished sixth and seventh at the National Preps, the latter following a 3-1 decision over private schools’ state champion Tyler Wood of St. Mary's Ryken, who has twice pinned Garretson and finished eighth at this year's National Preps Tournament.

"Overall, I'm thankful for how my first high school season went. I just took it one day and one goal at a time," Fernandez said. "Every time I stepped onto the mat for a practice or a tournament, I could trust that I had my coaches and my teammates' support."

Fernandez began this season with a third-place finish among 126-pound boys at the December 1-2 Ray Oliver Tournament at McDonogh. At McDonogh, Fernandez went 5-1 with two pins and a major decision, her lone setback being against Garretson. Fernandez wrestled back from her loss to Garretson to defeat Roggie for third place.

Woods and Garretson are ranked first and second by Legacy Wrestling ahead of third-ranked Class 2A-1A state champion junior Tanner Halling of Boonsboro, fourth-ranked senior Bryan Santangelo of Mount St. Joseph, and fifth-ranked junior Class 4A-3A state champion Stone Yuen of Einstein.

Fernandez would be in the mix to defeat not only Halling, Santangelo and Yuen, but also Woods or Garretson, according to Legacy rankings coordinator, Billy Buckheit.

"Given what Taina did at Ray Oliver and the match with Garretson that seemingly could have gone her way," Buckheit said, "It is not beyond the realm of reality that she would contend for a public or private school state title. She will likely win one or more of those before she graduates."

Also in December, Fernandez won the Beast Of The East Tournament at the Bob Carpenter Center on the University of Delaware's campus in Newark, Delaware, officially becoming the first Maryland female to win that event. In that event. Fernandez used falls in 22, 41, and 91 seconds on top of a 14-1 major decision.

At the Midlands, Fernandez defeated four collegiate opponents by as many technical fall victories, outscoring them by a combined, 42-1, for the 130-pound title. The Midlands' featured Fernandez scoring 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 Midlands' 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.

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

At the National Preps in February, Fernandez led by a combined 19-0 before pinning all four opponents to win the 126-pound weight class. Fernandez led, 2-0, before getting a first-round 56-second fall, and 5-0 before pinning her quarterfinal rival in 1:44. Fernandez led her semifinal bout, 7-0, before finishing Thalia Vogelsang of Episopal, Texas in 2:19, and her title match, 5-0, before decking Blair Academy's Victoria Carbonaro in 2:25.

Two other Maryland girls joined Fernandez in reaching the National Prep podium. West Nottingham Academy’s Reagan Ramadan was a runner-up to Blair’s Sarah Henckel at 152lbs. Bella Sowards of Good Counsel placed third at 132.

"I'm very excited to continue to chase more," Fernandez said. "Especially now that the season's over."

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.

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.

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.

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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