Lakewood Girl Earns Spot On Team USA

Walters completes the pin that earned her a spot on the U.S. national cadet freestyle wrestling team. Submitted Photo

Two months ago, Southwestern sophomore Mika Walters found herself in a tough spot on the wrestling mat in Fargo, North Dakota with an awful lot riding on the line.

The match was a battle for third place in the 138-pound cadet women’s division at the Fargo Freestyle Nationals, and only the winner would leave with All-American honors and a spot on the U.S. national team.

Up until that point, things weren’t going as planned, as Walters was fighting off her opponent from a less-than-ideal situation.

“I was just like, I can’t lose,” Walters recalled Tuesday evening when remembering the pivotal moment. “It was quick, I didn’t even feel it. She got two double-legs on me, two blast doubles. She just picked me up, she was really strong, then I just caught her and pinned her.”

Not a bad result for the fourth-year wrestler out of Lakewood, who didn’t even begin her career on the mat wrestling freestyle, the category in which she is now a New York All-American.

“It’s definitely been a journey for the entire family,” said Tim Walters, Mika’s father. “As a dad it’s been a little difficult. I do have a background in judo so I get the combat aspect of wrestling, but I didn’t realize how intense the wrestling is around here as far as competition.”

Much like her father, Walters started out her martial arts career wearing a gi, but the standard katas she found in local karate and kung fu classes left her wanting more.

Specifically, they left her wanting an opponent.

“It wasn’t combat with karate and kung fu, we just stayed still,” Walters said. “With wrestling it is more. You are working with other people.”

Her drive to continue pushing the limit led Walters to a spot on the Southwestern wrestling team, that is of course the boys team, because the New York State Public High School Athletic Association does not sanction girls wrestling.

From that moment on, Walters has been on a meteoric rise in the growing world of girls wrestling, one that has taken her all over the country and will soon take her to the Klippan Lady Open in February where she will represent the United States in Klippan, Sweden.

Aiding Walters in her rise through the wrestling ranks, along with her tenacity and dedication to improvement, have been some of the best coaches in the sport, including Jeff Prescott of Olean, who runs wrestling schools in his hometown as well as Depew.

A two-time NCAA Division I champion at Penn State and three-time NCAA All-American, Prescott has been a perfect fit for teaching the 138-pound Walters.

“Last summer she was doing a tournament, and she had to cut just a couple pounds. She wanted an extra practice in, and I knew that Prescott was having a school up there in Depew,” Tim Walters said. “And then when we met Jeff Prescott and the guy knew what he was doing.”

One of the best parts about Walters being introduced to Prescott is that she wrestles around the weight classes where he had so much success with the Nittany Lions.

“He’s like perfect for me to work with because he’s the same size,” she said, “and he knows the techniques that I should know, and he does freestyle.”

In addition to Prescott, Walters has also been under the tutelage of her women’s freestyle coaches, Jacque Davis and Julia Salata.

While Walters spends her high school season with the Trojans, and also works with the local Southern Tier Wrestling Club, the boys high school season uses folkstyle wrestling as opposed to the freestyle matches that she will be competing in on national and international stages.

Among many differences, freestyle wrestling involves more throws, easier technical falls and does not permit as much time-stalling as the wrestling found in the NCAA men’s game.

While most local wrestlers and coaches will be more familiar with the standard folkstyle, freestyle is king in international competition.

Before heading off to Sweden, Walters will take to the mat at the National United Wrestling Association for Youth Freak Show Tournament in Las Vegas, which takes place from Oct. 20-22.

“We’ve done a lot of tournaments. This year alone she’s been in training in Colorado Springs; Geneva Ohio; New York City; Fargo,” Tim said.

Walters’ training in Colorado took her to the Olympic Training center while her visit to Geneva coincided with a 10-day international training camp that included wrestlers from the national teams of Japan, Canada and China.

“Its cool to see the culture clashes, like languages and styles,” Walters said of the international camp. “The styles of wrestling were completely different, you could see what they were good at and what they weren’t good at as a country.”

Right now, Walters is not looking to emulate the style of any particular team or wrestler as she weaves her way to the top of the national field. Her sights are set on placing well as a representative for team USA and potentially earning a scholarship to one of the 33 NCAA schools that offer them to female wrestlers.

While her wrestling resume continues to grow exponentially, Walters is keeping an open mind as to what the future may hold. Could the Olympics or a UFC mixed-martial arts debut be in her future sometime down the road?

She hopes so.

“I wanna do more MMA, but I just don’t have time. I want to work in jui-jitsu and stuff but its just hard to fit it. I have aspirations to go into the UFC or MMA when I get done with wrestling.”

Considering her current trajectory, it could be a while before Walters has the time for her other interests in the martial arts.

As she continues to travel far and wide, the Southwestern sophomore also needs the funds to continue pursuing her dream. For her most recent trip to Fargo, Walters started an online go fund me campaign that raised more than enough money to help her earn All-American honors.

For her upcoming trip to Sweden, for which she will need upward of $3,000 dollars, Walters has kicked off another fundraiser. Those interested in helping can find her raising money at the Busti Apple Festival, which takes place on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is sponsored by the Busti Historical Society.