Putnam Valley Senior Jessica Kelvas Places 5th in the Nation
Kelvas shines at national wrestling tournament
It was a surprise to the spectators, coaches and competitors at the United States Girls Wrestling Association national championships in Livonia, Michigan last weekend.
Who was that girl none of them knew, from a town none of them had ever heard of – Putnam Valley, New York – holding her own against the best female wrestlers in the country? Was it true that she had less than a year’s experience?
Yes, it was true. And Jessica Kelvas, the girl from the Putnam Valley High School wrestling team, took fifth place nationally in the 130-pound division.
She won four of six matches against girls with as much as 10 years of tournament experience, some of them in international competition.
"I'm really excited,” Kelvas said on the phone Sunday night, her voice fairly bubbling, while awaiting the medal ceremony at the Livonia Churchill High School gym. “I’m so happy.”
“She wrestled fantastic,” said Will Carano, the Putnam Valley wrestling coach who first saw the potential in this athletic young woman and who accompanied her to the nationals. “She battled and battled and battled. Every other girl in her weight class had had four-five, up to 10 years’ experience. And here’s Jesse, with maybe nine months wrestling experience. "That’s what makes the accomplishment really amazing.”
No more amazing perhaps than what Jessica Kelvas had already accomplished on the mat in the last whirlwind few weeks.
Kelvas had never wrestled someone of her own sex before Carano entered her in the tough Kentucky State Championships. She won the 130-pound class. Next, she tried the New York girls state event. She won. Then 10 days ago Kelvas journeyed to Long Island for the East Coast Pre-Nationals. Again, she won.
Off these surprises, the little known Putnam Valley senior was seeded eighth for the Livonia competition, earning a first-round bye. She then wrestled the New England champion, Tierra Williams of Maine, and took a 5-4 decision.
Her final match Saturday was against the top seed and eventual national titlist, Tatiana Padilla of California. After frustrating Padilla in a scoreless first period, Kelvas made a mistake from the top position and was pinned in the second period. “One little error,” said Kelvas.
“A careless mistake,” said Carano. “That was inexperience showing.”
By contrast, Padilla, a three-time champion, won her title match Sunday in 1:07 of the first round.
Sunday, Kelvas started with a 10-5 decision over the local favorite, Michigan champ Callie Cutler. She then shut out Melissa Suderblom from wrestling-mad Iowa, 4-0. But with a top medal now in her grasp, she dropped a tight 4-3 decision to South Carolina’s Brianna Delgado. She then easily took the fifth-place wrestle-off from Brittany Dell of Ohio, 8-2.
“I wasn’t really worried at any time in Michigan,” Kelvas said. “I had done well in states competition against more experienced girls.”
Actually, getting to wrestle proved a lot harder for Kelvas than actually wrestling.
“I was working out when I was in the 10th grade,” said Kelvas, who also competes in swimming and track for her high school and plays outside ice hockey.
“I’m a really strong girl and Mr. Carano asked why I didn’t go out for wrestling.”
It was then she lost her first decision: Her parents said no way. “It was a boy-girl thing,” said Patti Kelvas, her mother, who with husband Andrew is a parent of seven children. “We were being protective, I guess.”
Son Andrew, who had wrestled in high school and is now in the Merchant Marine Academy, agreed. “But Jess simply had a desire to wrestle,” Mrs. Kelvas said. “So when she approached us again as a junior, my husband said, “If that‘s what you really want . . .
“And coach Carano said, ‘She has the drive. Let her.’”
There were no boy-girl problems. “I think everyone was surprised that I kept up in workouts and with weights,” said Kelvas, one of the few girls who can press her own weight. “I didn’t back down with anything. Even Andrew told me he regretted opposing my wrestling the year before. I’m pretty tough; I’m not a girly girl. I guess they respected me.” Some boys lost to her, too.
“I won some JV matches and then won on the varsity, too,” said Kelvas. “And this year I was competitive on the varsity.”
”It was a revelation seeing her compete as a junior,” Carano said, “and as a senior she improved several-fold. Remember, since she plays other sports, she’s actually been wrestling for about nine months. The thing you look for as a coach is an athlete who wants to battle In all my years of coaching, I’ve never had an athlete who battles harder.”
So how high is up when Kelvas gains experience? Even before the nationals she had two scholarship offers from colleges featuring women’s wrestling.
“She is so physically gifted,” Carano said. “She can take this sport as far as she wants to go with it. She caught a lot of people’s attention at the nationals.”
By: Chuck Slater
Related Article: Jessica Kelvas Wins State Wrestling Title
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