If her wrestling career doesn’t work out, Daily Journal Athlete of the Week Folashade Akinola just might have a promising future as a gymnast.
That’s a big ‘if’ though, because Akinola’s wrestling career is going darn good. Menlo-Atherton’s star senior earned a three-peat as a Central Coast Section girls’ wrestling champion, claiming gold in the 189-pound division Saturday at San Jose’s Overfelt High School.
Still, a little versatility is a good thing. And Akinola showed it off following Saturday’s championship victory, celebrating her CCS title in style, doing her best Simone Biles impersonation by getting a running start and turning three impressive flips from one corner of the mat to the other.
“I like to have high spirits when I go to tournaments,” Akinola said. “So it gives me a chance to get my energy out.”
Akinola had good reason to be left with plenty of energy. With four victories in the tournament, the senior finished every match with a pin. Only one made it out of the first round. She started with a pin of Lynbrook sophomore Kaelin Romero 1 minutes, 21 seconds into the first round. Then she pinned San Benito senior Alondra Gonzalez in 41 seconds.
Her semifinal win over Alisal senior Destiny Sanchez went midway through the second round before she earned the pin in 3:06. And Akinola’s championship win over Mills junior Nena Langi took just 1:32, as the three-time champ used her high-intensity attacking style to take a 5-0 lead before winning with a smothering pin.
Akinola’s victory was a fitting end to M-A’s triumphant day. Even before she took the mat, the Lady Bears had already locked up the CCS team title. But, just ask M-A coach Phil Hoang; there is no slowing down for the Bears’ senior standout.
“As we say in practice, Fola only has one switch, and that’s ‘on,’” Hoang said.
M-A sent six wrestlers to the CCS individual finals, with four earning gold. Of those six, Akinola is the only senior. She takes her role as a team leader seriously. But if there’s one thing she stresses more seriously than anything, it’s having fun.
Akinola topped the podium at Saturday’s award ceremony the same way she prepared for the tournament — all smiles. She prides herself on knowing how to stay loose heading into a big tournament. Her methodology for gearing up at CCS? Rocking out to music with her teammates — Panic At The Disco was one of their go-to selections Saturday — and keeping the party going that is the 2017-18 season.
Make no mistake though. Akinola can access her game-face in a hurry. In fact, this is one of the reasons why M-A is so competitive on a day-to-day basis. It is also a driving force to the team’s success.
“I love what I do,” Akinola said. “I’m a naturally aggressive person, especially in the mat room with my girls.”
High energy all the time is a facet of Akinola’s skillset M-A’s coaching staff has learned to contend with. It obviously has an upside. After all, she’s once, twice, three times a CCS champion. But as her four CCS opponents learned, her energy level can be relentless.
“I think that is something that came with Fola,” Hoang said. “Fola is someone with an incredible competitive spirit. And that’s for better or worse.”
In her sophomore and junior seasons, Akinola won CCS titles at 160s. This year she bumped up to 189s and didn’t miss a beat. Not that the change in weight class did anything to change her approach.
“Absolutely not,” Akinola said. “Today was all about having fun.”
Now, the fun for M-A will continue into the CIF state championships. The two-day event takes place Feb. 23-24 at the Visalia Convention Center in Visalia. And the Bears will be travelling in force with Akinola and fellow gold medalists Anna Smith (116s), Lauren McDonnell (137s) and Abby Ericson (170s), along with silver medalists Evelyn Calhoon (121s) and Angie Bautista (126s) all advancing.
“Most schools take one or two girls,” Hoang said. “That we’re taking six is beyond remarkable. It’s a coach’s dream.”