RBHS wrestler Eleanor Aphay (top) battles against Ridgewood’s Desi Martinez during a 17-team tournament Jan. 31 in Riverside. Aphay, a junior, is 17-4 on the season. | Ian McLeod

Last season, junior Eleanor Aphay became the first Riverside-Brookfield High School girls wrestler to qualify for the first IHSA-sanctioned state meet.

Now part of the first official season as a team, Aphay was among eight Bulldogs to compete in their first home meet Jan. 31 – a 17-team tournament format with all wrestlers guaranteed two matches. The initial home meet Dec. 23 had been canceled by bad weather. 

“It was definitely a first. All of those girls wrestling at our place was exciting and good that it’s getting representation at our school,” Aphay said. “It felt nice to know that it was something just for girls wrestling.”

Aphay and freshman Danely Villagomez will compete at the Schaumburg Sectional on Feb. 11 with hopes of top-four finishes to qualify for state. 

Aphay has improved to 17-4 at 120 pounds, her 2022 weight class where she finished fourth at sectionals and 0-2 at state for a 17-9 final record. 

Villagomez has had an outstanding debut, going 20-6 at 135 with no prior wrestling experience. 

“[I’ve enjoyed] just going to tournaments and just getting that mindset to go out there and wrestle,” Villagomez said. “Getting locked in. That’s my favorite part, being mentally ready to go.” 

RBHS coach Dave Curby began the season with 12 wrestlers before four were sidelined by injuries or illness. He’s been impressed with the dedication of newcomers like Villagomez and the growth and progress of the sport.

“If you see around the state, the performance level has really jumped up as well,” Curby said. “The fact that RB made a commitment to get a stipend for a girls coach is very important.”

Other members of the Bulldogs’ first team are juniors Natalie Aguirre and Savanah Nieves; sophomores Frankie Abasta, Irma Bernal-Orihuela, Jeylin Galvan-Coss; and freshmen Estefany Bejarano, Lexi Dayton, Jaslyn Espinoza, Angelica Solis and Heidi Velasquez. 

Last season, the Bulldogs had three girls wrestlers. Galvin-Coss came one victory from qualifying for state. Abasta was injured for the postseason.

“With 12 kids, that’s a good, solid start – and they’re all underclassmen,” Curby said. “We’re not at every weight class. We look to fill that and get a few more numbers and these kids will be more knowledgeable, because wrestling’s a sport you can’t get in a couple of weeks. It takes a while.”

Aphay began wrestling last season only with martial arts experience from jiu jitsu. Villagomez has competed in judo for eight years. She was encouraged by boys at her judo club who also wrestle and after reading about Aphay’s state success. 

Villagomez said she often wins with first-period pins after throwing opponents.

“There’s different techniques and more endurance. It’s helped strengthen my endurance a lot doing wrestling,” Villagomez said. 

Aphay enjoyed a great January in which she won consecutive Saturday tournaments at Conant, Oswego East and Kaneland.

“Last season was great, but this season I’ve seen a lot of improvement based on technique and my competitive mindset,” Aphay said. “I’ve just tried to work with the [new] girls more and more, helping them out for experience. It’s definitely nice to work with some girls in practice than guys. I don’t mind but I do like to see more girls in the wrestling room.”