After wrestling at Centralia High School during her final three years, Veronica Chigo believed her days on the mat were over when she graduated last June.
“I really wanted to wrestle in college originally,” said Chigo, a three-time state participant with the Tigers, “but right after my senior season ended I thought I no longer wanted to do it. There was no way I was going to go to college (to wrestle) three states away. Plus, wrestling is a tiring sport. Mentally it asks a lot out of you.”
Scott Phillips, Chigo’s high school coach, reignited the spark, however, informing her about a new women’s program starting up at Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen. Phillips was persistent, knowing that given enough time away from the sport, Chigo would miss the grind.
He was right.
“Scott just kept telling me, ‘You’re going to love it here,’” Chigo said. “Everyone kind of has that love/hate relationship with wrestling. I was only away from it for a little while and I wanted to get back out there. He was right, coming here (to Grays Harbor College) and wrestling was a great decision.”
Chigo is one of 16 athletes on the first-year women’s wrestling program – one of only 32 colleges in the nation to offer the sport.
What sealed the deal for Chigo coming aboard was meeting Chokers’ head coach Andy Cook, a former wrestling teammate of Phillips.
Chigo’s passion for the sport was only enhanced once she met Cook, whose infectious enthusiasm for what he’s building at Grays Harbor College is hard not to be drawn too.
“I met Andy two weeks before (high) school ended and I signed with him the week I graduated,” Chigo said. “I just got talking to him. He made coming here pretty easy. Andrew is amazing. He was super down to earth. He gets you excited about being a part this program. Everyone wants him as a coach.”
Chigo, who wrestles in the 116-pound weight division, is one of 14 freshmen wrestlers on the roster for the upstart Chokers, which is the only program in the state to feature women’s wrestling.
“(Veronica) is the life of our team. She is so funny. Everyone loves her,” Cook said. “She comes in with just an awesome attitude every day. She’s our comic relief, but not in a distracting way at all. That’s my favorite part about her. Her light-hearted attitude. It just feels so good to be around here.”
One of the biggest obstacles for Chigo, along with her fellow freshmen teammates, is making the transition from folkstyle wrestling, which is used in high schools and places an emphasis on controlling your opponent, to the collegiate freestyle, which stresses exposure points.
“My first (college) match I got teched (technical fall) in 30 seconds. It’s such a different style,” said Chigo, who is roommates with teammate Tommie Mosteller. “Freestyle is 10 times different from folkstyle. It’s like trying to learn a new language, but as you are trying to learn it they toss you into Italy and say, ‘Find your way home.’”
Cook, however, has no doubt Chigo will eventually excel at freestyle given her naturally ability with the sport.
“Her wrestling is coming around. She’s getting a little frustrated not catching the wins like she feels she should, but every match she’s getting better. You have to look at that more than the wins when you’re a freshman in college,” Cook said.
“I had a record of 136-5 in high school and my last 88 matches were wins. I went to college and I lost my first nine matches. I think it just takes time. Give Veronica another month and she’s going to be so much more comfortable out there. She has a real knack for wrestling. So she’ll get it. I believe that 100 percent.”
Chigo and her Grays Harbor teammates will close out their home schedule on Wednesday, January 11, against Warner Pacific University at the GHC Bishop Center at 5:00 p.m.
“The thing I like about this team is we catch each other,” Chigo said. “Everyone is willing to help each other out. Coaches we’re here for you. We definitely have each other, nobody falls and if they do, we’re there for them.”