July 5, 2006 - It isn't often that a 100-pound girl plays the role of intimidator. Such was the case, however, when Andrea Hughes walked into the wrestling room at Catalina Foothills High School to start the 2005-06 season.
After a successful debut season with the Falcons - one which saw her become the first girl to ever place at the Arizona high school state wrestling tournament - both teammates and opponents began to respect the sophomore. Further proof that winning is a cure-all.
"They didn't know what to do, they were kind of confused," said Hughes. "But then they saw me wrestle and I won my first couple of matches and since I was winning, they liked me. They saw that I was good and that I was serious."
After transferring to Foothills from North Carolina last summer, Hughes first made a name for herself at this year's high school wrestling state finals, where she finished fourth in the 103-pound weight class. Her efforts earned her honorable mention on the 2006 TheMat.com ASICS Girls High School All-American Wrestling Team, announced on June 15. She was the only wrestler from Arizona named to the 72-girl squad.
"She was popular at the tournaments," said Foothills teammate Billy Morris. "Everyone is always asking about her. It's all positive stuff, everyone congratulates here for coming out."
This summer, Hughes is taking measures to ensure that she doesn't lose any of that intimidation factor. The junior-to-be is spending her summer in the sweltering hot gym at Sunnyside High School, grappling with the finest wrestlers and learning from the best coaches that Southern Arizona has to offer.
Eventually winning a state championship requires work outside the gym as well as in. Every morning, Hughes is running for Foothills' cross country summer running program. The junior ran for the Falcons' 2005 state champion cross country squad before joining the wrestling team in the winter. Her nights are spent in the gym at Sunnyside in preparation for the this summer's USA Wrestling Cadet and Junior Nationals in Fargo, N.D., the biggest and most prestigious high school summer wrestling tournament in the country.
Getting to Fargo, however, won't be easy. The trip is an expensive one and Hughes is currently searching for sponsors to help fund the trip.
She began her career in sports in seventh grade playing soccer in North Carolina. Later that year, a coach convinced her to come out for the wrestling team, which she did reluctantly at first. It didn't take long for her to find a passion for the sport and soon she was winning matches against the boys.
"My dad wrestled in high school for like three years," said Hughes. "But he said I was a lot better than he ever was."
Hughes may be the first girl to place at the high school state tournament, but she isn't the first girl to come through Foothills. Brenna Larkin wrestled for the Falcons before graduating in 2003. Larkin wrestled her way to a scholarship at Pacific University where she is now a junior. The Boxers placed third in the nation in women's wrestling in March - a finish that may have been higher had Larkin (138-pound weight class) not broken her wrist wrestling the night before.
Larkin's success is proof that there is a future in wrestling for women. Pacific is annually among the nation's elite in the sport as is the University of Cumberlands, Missouri Valley College and Oregon State.
Hughes said she is aiming for a scholarship of her own in the sport and even has her eye on one day qualifying for the women's Olympic team.
Before that happens, she still has some unfinished business on the high school level and some intimidating to do.