OTHELLO — If you saw her walking down the hall or at a school dance, you’d never know the extent of her talents in other arenas.
She’s a bit methodical in her behavior, likes mathematics, likes to calculate precise amounts of ingredients in her cooking even when her momma says, “just eyeball it.” She’s a thinker, likes precise measurements, likes her things in order, all her ducks in a row.
She’s a little short on swag. Her confidence is based on performance and even though her performance is off the charts, her humility is one of her greatest assets.
Her 3.8 grade point average has earned her a place in the National Honor Society. She likes design and would one day like to work in landscape architecture.
Unlike the other kids of her generation, she doesn’t text much, the ringtone on her cellphone is, “whatever’s on the phone,” although she does like to post on Instagram.
She’s never heard of Carlos Santana, but she does like a driving beat when the rhythm section connects all the dots, supersedes the words, and the sound touches her soul.
Outside the circle, you’d never know two-time state placer Othello junior Emily Mendez is emerging as one of the most sought after female wrestling recruits in Washington state as a junior.
“We’ve had girls come through our room that have won state championships or wrestled for a title. But the big difference between them and Emily is those girls were natural athletes that picked up the sport and were very successful because of that athleticism,” said Huskies coach JJ Martinez, who started the girls program 10 years ago. “Emily is very different. She was not an athlete. Her success is due to the hard work she’s put in on and off the mat.
“She’s an year-round wrestler, that’s also a three-sport athlete, and she started to excel when we joined USA Wrestling and traveled to all the big tournaments last the summer.”
Mendez is a third generation Othello native, who comes from wrestling roots. She and her brother Jeremy were able to wrestle at the Mat Classic two years ago when she was a freshman and he was a senior. Her dad Jerry and uncle Ernie Mendez both wrestled for Ruben Martinez back in the day.
Wrestling has been a predominantly guys thing in the Mendez family, but who says daddy’s little girl can’t kick butt?
Mendez is currently 29-0 going into Saturday’s Lady Huskie Invitational. She has won championships in every tournament she has wrestled this season, including last week’s Kelso Girls Tournament, which some consider the Tri-State of girls wrestling. She beat Tehani Soares of Las Vegas 7-4 to claim the 105-pound championship.
Throw in championships at Bob Mars, Central Valley Girls, Warden, Lynden “Pride of the Lady Lions.” Columbia Burbank, the Girls Winter Cup, and Kelso, and her wrestling record reads almost as impressive as her academic resume.
“When I first started, I was like, I don’t think I’m going to like this, but I’m going to try it,” said Mendez, who placed sixth at state as a freshman and fourth last year as a sophomore.
“Being the only girl in my family that wrestles makes me think different. They’ve always supported me, but I wasn’t sure if I would wrestle as well as the boys have. But I’ve proven myself wrong. I’m pretty good.”
Mendez is better than pretty good. She is currently ranked No. 2 at 105 pounds by Washington Wrestling Report, second only to Kayla McKinley-Johnson of Federal Way. She’s wrestled in Las Vegas and Reno, Nev., in casinos where Mike Tyson used to fight, in the hall where they hold the National Finals Rodeo. She hasn’t grappled before kings and queens, but she did have her photo taken with Daniel Cormier, the UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight champion.
Saturday’s Lady Huskie Invitational will be one more test in the calculated, well thought out world of Emily Mendez as she pushes to keep her undefeated season intact. Action begins at 5 p.m. on Friday. Finals are expected to be around 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Rodney Harwood is a sports writer for the Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org