Ali Medeiros didn’t have to step on a wrestling mat to show La Salle Academy wrestling coach Rob Raso just how tough she was. The only female on the La Salle wrestling team, Medeiros had proved it from the sidelines.
A two-sport athlete, the LaSalle senior showed up in the gym during the week of wrestling practice with a rolled ankle, an injury she suffered in her primary sport – cheerleading.
A first year wrestler, she sat against the wall and focused intently on her wrestling teammates, absorbing every twist and turn – eager to learn and improve.
Then a freak accident occurred. A speaker that had been hanging on the wall, fell, landed on Medeiros and split her head wide open. She needed nearly 10 staples. She never complained.
“She was more upset that because of the staples she wasn’t allowed to wrestle,” said Raso. “Had she been allowed to, she would have kept going. She showed me right there this is the type of person I want on my team. Gender doesn’t matter. I want somebody that is chomping at the bit to get back in.”
so proud of this kid! https://t.co/ODRdlLSQE0
— Robert Raso (@CoachRobRaso) December 29, 2021
A few weeks later, Medeiros made history. She became La Salle’s first-ever female to win a varsity wrestling match. She did it on the biggest stage of the season – a holiday tournament in Lowell, MA.
“The George Bossi Holiday Tournament (in Lowell) is notoriously tough, the toughest tournament in New England, hands down,” said Raso. “The fact that she won the match is awesome. She works hard and is determined. I am so happy for her.”
Medeiros didn’t set out to make history.
She had already made her mark at La Salle – as a cheerleader. A senior captain on the La Salle cheer squad, she earned All-State honors while leading the Rams to the 2021 State Championship last spring.
She headed into this season eager to help the Rams repeat as the state champs. Medeiros was determined to step out of her comfort zone during her final year of high school.
Medeiros wanted to wrestle.
“Ali came around a year ago and asked about wrestling,” said Raso. “She would have had to give up cheer so she didn’t do it. This year, she was allowed to do both. I was all for it. I’ve never once looked at gender at something that limits you.”
La Salle cheer coach Katie Anter was equally as supportive
“My first (concern) was time management and making both sports work while keeping up with school work, but I knew that she would be able to manage both while maintaining her grades. I also knew that she has the strength and mentality that would make her successful at not only cheer, but wrestling so I have been fully supportive,” said Anter. “She is definitely a hard working and determined young lady. We are so lucky to have her.”
Medeiros has spent the last few weeks rushing from one gym to the next, barely having enough time to change from a skirt to a singlet.
“The first time I went to (wrestling) practice was a little weird…kind of uncomfortable. I am used to being around a team with 26 girls,” said Medeiros. “Then came end conditioning at the end of practice and some of these guys were so winded and weren’t able to finish what we started and I am laughing because I am able to do it so easily because of cheer.”
— RIIL (@RIIL_sports) June 21, 2021
“I love getting a good workout and I love conditioning,” she said “I have been conditioning for so long because of cheerleading. A lot of what we do in cheerleading translates to wrestling – cardio and lifting and just working out and keeping your health up.”
“When the guys on the team see how tough the only girl on the team is, it actually pushes them…it motivates them,” said Raso.
Her conditioning and own determination helped Medeiros land a spot in the LaSalle’s varsity line up, filling the spot at 120 pounds.
Raso emphasizes that Medeiros earned her spot on the varsity squad. Nothing was handed to her.
“She’s athletic and in great shape. She earned her varsity spot in a wrestle off. No coach decides who is on the varsity roster…the wrestlers do,” said Raso. “She beat a (male) teammate and earned her spot. Every week it could change. But she is gaining momentum, confidence and she’s learning really fast.”
Medeiros wore a singlet for just a few short weeks before she made La Salle history.
She is not the first girl to wrestle at La Salle, but Medeiros is the very first girl to win a varsity wrestling match at the school.
“Wrestling knows no gender it only knows tenacity and Ali’s got it. You can’t teach that,” said Raso. “She always wants to know what she can do to get better. After a match, she will go over and ask what she can do to improve and get better. It’s moments like that when I am coaching an athlete – gender doesn’t matter.”
“Both wrestling and cheerleading are two very tough sports,” said Raso. “I knew she was going to be a tough teammate and great for our team and she’s proven that.”
Most of all, she wants to be a role model for young girls who may be interested in trying wrestling or anything out of their comfort zone.
“Being a girl scout my whole life I was always told to make a difference and now being able to say I’m the first girl at La Salle to win a varsity match makes me think I know other girls are going to want to get into it (wrestling). Now they know there is someone out there who went through the whole process, broke out of the barrier and hopefully that will encourage other girls to do it,” said Medeiros.