Daniela Corona was glowing after here championship victory at the Peninsula Athletic League girls’ wrestling tournament.
You’d think the Half Moon Bay senior would be used to the PAL podium. After all, Saturday’s win at Oceana High School finished off her sweep as a four-time PAL varsity wrestling champ.
The thrill of victory never gets old for Corona, though, who joined the upstart Lady Cougars on a dare as a freshman. Now, the Daily Journal Athlete of the Week is standing on top of the PAL world in the 145-pound division.
“It felt pretty good,” Corona said. “I went in there thinking that I really wanted that four.”
Sporting a 19-2 record on the year, Corona is now setting out to climb the podium at the Central Coast Section podium Friday and Saturday at Independence High School in San Jose. The best she’s done in this respect was last season when she finished in fourth place.
This year, though, she has reason for optimism. She is ranked No. 3 in the CCS at 143s. Of the two wrestlers ranked ahead of her — Lincoln’s Eleni Fakosi at No. 1, and Gilroy’s Dafne Hernandez at No. 2 — Corona has defeated each of them this season.
“Just wrestle each match and keep my eye on the prize,” Corona said.
Corona doesn’t need much motivation to light her competitive fire. The third of four siblings, she’s been getting pushed around her whole life. But it wasn’t so much the chip on her shoulder that inspired her to start wrestling as a freshman as it was the gauntlet thrown down by her older brother David.
“’I bet you can’t last a single day, let alone a whole season of wrestling,’” Corona said, quoting her brother’s challenge. “I was a track, cross-country kid. And I wanted to prove him wrong.”
It took Corona her entire freshman season to get comfortable on the mat. She estimates she only won two matches during the regular season.
The Half Moon Bay girls’ wrestling program struggled through the 2015-16 season as well. Corona was one of just five wrestlers on the varsity roster. But, my, how times have changed.
The girls’ squad has grown in numbers every season. Corona’s sophomore year, 18 girls wrestled at Half Moon Bay. Her junior year, 20. This year, the roster is up to 24 and, in fact, dwarfs the boys’ varsity roster, as the Gentleman Cougars number just eight wrestlers this season.
“Every one of the girls that were on the team freshman year, we each brought one or two friends, and the next year we brought one or two friends,” Corona said. “And now here we are.”
And through the past four years, Corona has grown into the consummate leader — not just in dragging classmates out to wrestling practice, only to see those classmates also fall in love with the sport — but she is a keen leader by example, according to Half Moon Bay head coach Sam Temko.
“She’s been really pivotal to our program,” Temko said. “She’s our girls’ team captain this year, she’s a returning section placer … and a three-sport athlete. She works really hard every day … and she’s a great motivator and a great leader for our team.”
Saturday’s championship match ended in a first-round pin. Facing Carlmont senior Talia Fine, Corona entered the match cautiously, having never previously faced Fine. The two brawled for a bit, but Corona’s tenacity won out. As she went for a double leg shot, Fine defended it, but Corona kept the aggression up, got top position on her opponent and swiftly pinned her.
“When I first started out as a freshman, I only won a couple matches the whole year,” Corona said. “If you would have told me I was going to be a four-time league champ, I would have laughed at you.”
Now, Corona’s smiles are all earned — as a four-peat PAL champion.