Blaine sophomore Olivia Adams is that rare athlete who garners respect not only from her coaches, teammates and hometown fans, but also from the teams she competes against.
As the only female wrestler on Blaine’s wrestling team, Adams travels to girls wrestling tournaments without the rest of the Blaine squad. Damon Higgins, who coaches Adams at those tournaments, said Adams is well-liked by the girls’ wrestling community and she has made friends with most of her opponents.
“She has a pretty tremendous following in girls wrestling,” Higgins said. “Girls line the mats to cheer her on during her matches.”
Lately, those crowds have been cheering Adams to victory. In her last six tournaments, the 130-lb. sophomore has won two,
placed second at two and placed third at two. She won her first tournament championship at the Woolley Women’s tournament in Sedro-Woolley on January 5.
On February 2, she won the 1A sub-regional girls wrestling tournament at Bellingham. In her next competition, she placed second at the regional tournament in Sedro-Woolley on February 9, earning a trip to the Mat Classic state wrestling championship in Tacoma this Friday and Saturday, February 15 and 16.
This will be Adams’ second time at the state tournament. She participated last year as a freshman but didn’t place.
Adams said she began wrestling in seventh grade because she had always played rough with her brothers, and it seemed like a fun sport that was under-represented by women.
Higgins, who is a sixth grade math and science teacher at Blaine Elementary, was Adams’ coach then, and even though he didn’t have her as a student, he knew who Adams was before she joined the wrestling program.
“She’s pretty darn gregarious,” he said. “You don’t miss her in the hallways. She’s not a trouble-maker, but she has a big personality.”
When she entered high school and joined the wrestling team, Adams said she had some proving to do.
“At first, the boys were a little skeptical,” she said, “so I kind of had to prove myself, but now they really accept me and support me.”
Adams practices with the boys wrestling team under the direction of head coach Craig Foster, who said she is as much a part of the team as any of the boys.
“We had a team discussion the other day with her there and told her that she’s earned the respect of the team, coaches and everyone,” Foster said. “She works hard and doesn’t complain about bruises and bloody noses, and on top of that she’s a great person and a hard wrestler.”
“Foster treats her like a wrestler rather than someone of the opposite gender,” Higgins said. “He’s done a tremendous job with her.”
At practice, Adams goes through the same rigorous conditioning the boys face.
“It’s a lot of running, push-ups and weight-lifting,” she said. “It’s pretty intense. But it’s made me a better wrestler. It helps with endurance.”
Despite being the only girl on the squad, Adams said she has enjoyed being a part of the wrestling team, and has learned a lot from Foster.
“Coach Foster is just a really good coach,” Adams said. “He stays calm and says what needs to be said.”
Working out and practicing with the boys has both helped and hurt Adams’ technique against female opponents, she said.
“Boys tend to shoot more,” which means they dive for an opponent’s legs to tackle or drive them to the mat, “whereas girls seem to try and throw more,” which means they grapple and try to use momentum to swing their opponent to the mat.
“So after wrestling guys all the time, I’m sometimes surprised by girls who use a different style than I’m used to,” she said.
But wrestling against boys has its advantages.
“I would say it’s made me tough,” she said.
Higgins described Adams as a cerebral wrestler who can outlast her opponents.
“She’s got some moves,” he said. “More than anything, she’s an athlete. She’s quite possibly the most fit wrestler on the mats at any given tournament.”
Higgins said Adams has seen a good cross-section of the girls she’s likely to face at the state tournament and “she stacks up pretty well.”
In sub-regionals, Adams defeated Mount Baker’s Megan Young after the match went into three overtimes. Adams escaped a hold to win the match by a 12-11 decision. At regionals, Adams faced Young again, but Young came out of that match with the victory.
“Megan Young and Shannon Gee [a wrestler from Stanwood] are kind of like my biggest rivals,” Adams said. “It doesn’t mean I have anything against them.”
Adams is a good student who regularly gets on the honor roll and sings in the choir. According to Adams and Higgins, teams and families from other towns have taken Adams in as one of their own at tournaments.
“Other teams and families have supported me, which is awesome,” Adams said.
“One family gave me a bag with water and one of those eye masks for sleeping, which is actually a great thing to have at a tournament so you can rest between matches. That was really nice.”
Higgins observed that Adams maintains a graceful attitude in victory and defeat.
“Olivia takes it seriously, but not to the point where it’s going to ruin her day if she loses.”
Adams agreed that she doesn’t put a lot of pressure on herself to always win.
“I just try my hardest and see what happens,” she said. “It might be because I’m a sophomore. Maybe I’ll feel more pressure when I’m a senior.”