Menlo-Atherton wrestler Anna Smith described herself as lazy.
“I’m incredibly lazy,” Smith said.
Smith may be lazy in other endeavors, but when it comes to wrestling, she is anything but — especially this season. Serving as the Bears’ best all-around grappler, along with the added responsibility of being a team mentor, Smith had a full plate this season.
But she could not have asked for anything more — she won five regular-season tournaments, including the prestigious Mid Cals. She captured the PAL individual and team titles in the 131-pound weight class, second place at the Central Coast Section tournament and a fifth-place, podium finish at the CIF state meet while compiling an overall record of 34-5, 25 by pin.
Now she can add Daily Journal Girls’ Wrestler of the Year to her list of honors.
“I’m so happy with my wrestling this year,” said Smith, a four-year varsity member. “I watched my matches from my freshman year. I was so bad. Now, I’ve put in so much work and it shows. My technique is so much better. It’s much more graceful.”
Along the way, Smith set a couple of school records. She is the first wrestler, boys or girls, to rack up more than 100 wins in her career. Even more impressive? She did so while pinning nearly 85% of her opponents, as she set a record for career pins — breaking the record set by her brother, James, who graduated in 2014.
“I said I wanted to beat his record,” Smith said. “Once I started pinning (opponents), the matches end so much quicker. I wasn’t as tired.”
M-A girls’ head coach Phil Hoang said Smith’s success has everything to do with the work she put in this season. From wrestling in national club tournaments to joining Planet Granite rock climbing gym in Belmont and running the San Carlos hill made famous by former San Francisco 49ers Jerry Rice, Hoang said he saw Smith invest her time in her craft like he had never seen before.
“She needed to be selfish this year and she put in a lot of work,” Hoang said. “She put in preseason work. She motivated herself. She would never do this kind of stuff before.”
Hoang used the word “selfish” in the best possible way. “Selfish” is actually a badge of honor in wrestling rooms because it means an athlete is willing to do everything to be the best, even at the expense of other things.
“It’s challenging,” Hoang said. “Your senior year, you want to prepare for the state [tournament]. It’s the time you’re supposed to be the most selfish, to reach all the goals and achievements you set.”
But Smith had to balance doing what was best for herself against what was best for the team. For the first time in her high school career, she was the one to whom the rest of the team looked for guidance and motivation. Gone were the bulk of the members who had put M-A wrestling on the map the previous three seasons. Now, she was the mentor in the room and Smith admitted it was a difficult task initially.
“It was really difficult for the first month and a half. … Everyone was looking up to me. It was a weird switch in dynamic,” Smith said. “But I got used to it. Then I figured out how I could help each girl.”
Smith actually turned that dynamic into a positive for herself because as teammates would come to her with questions or asked to see how a move was performed, Smith saw it as an opportunity to focus on the small details she may have otherwise not paid attention to.
“Explaining stuff to the rest of the team helped me understand it more myself,” Smith said. “I had moves down by heart and they would ask a question and I would say, ‘Oh yeah. You have to do that, too.’”
There was one thing still missing from Smith’s training, however: she didn’t really have anyone to work out with in the room. Since the Bears were so young and reloading its roster, there was no one at Smith’s level to really work her in practice.
Smith addressed this in two ways: one, she started wrestling with the boys team and even with some of her coaches. Secondly, she decided she would simply raise the level of everyone on the team.
“That was really difficult for the first few weeks. Who am I going to wrestle with?” Smith said.
She finally settled on working with the Bears’ Alexia Bensoussan, a sophomore at 121 pounds, who she helped groom into a CCS champion.
Smith, however, did not enjoy a a storybook finish of her own in the CCS finals, instead having to settle for a runner-up finish after she relaxed with a late lead, only to lose in the final seconds, 6-3.
“I stopped focusing. I didn’t give it my all. You lose if you don’t want it and I didn’t want it,” Smith said. “The girl I wrestled (Santa Cruz’s Maya Letona), I knew her. I’m happy for her. Obviously she wanted it more.”
Turns out it wasn’t such a bad loss, considering Letona went on to make the championship match of the state tournament. She lost to the No. 1-ranked girl in the weight class, Tiera Jimerson of Northview High School in Covina.
Jimerson is the one who ended Smith’s quest for a state title, as well. Smith won her first three matches before losing to Jimerson, 2-0. Smith would lose her first match in the consolation bracket before beating Emily Alderman of Bella Vista-Sacramento, 5-1 in the fifth-place match.
The match against Jimerson took a lot out of Smith. She said after the match, she was walking down a hallway adjacent to the arena floor when she just decided to lay down for about 15 minutes.
“I could not move any farther,” Smith said.
But given the stakes, Hoang could not have asked for anything more from Smith.
“Anna was the only wrestler to put [Jimerson] on her back, twice. Anna took more shots (at takedowns) in that match than in almost the entire season. It was cool to see. In the end, Anna earned her way all the way through to wrestle the best kids in the state,” Hoang said. “The goal for a lot of these wrestlers is to work hard, try your best and hopefully you get the chance to wrestle against the best.”