Article Credit: BY KALA IBARRA, USA WRESTLING | MARCH 31, 2017
Last weekend, the USMC Girls Folkstyle Nationals in Oklahoma City, Okla., welcomed a familiar face into the competition, 2015 Cadet World bronze medalist Kayla Marano of Georgia.
As her ninth-straight year competing in the tournament, this was far from Marano’s first rodeo.
In 2008, at the age of nine, Marano entered into her first Girls Folkstyle National Championships. She went home placing fourth out of four. This year, Marano displayed the effort and commitment wrestling takes to be successful by placing first at 152 pounds in the Junior division, wrestliing in her senior year of high school.
“It showed me that wrestling is really a process. You can’t just jump right in and be good, you have to really work if you want to be successful in it. It taught me to not to give up and just keep trying harder and learn from your mistakes,” she said.
Kayla did not have to travel far to enter that tournament in 2008, which was held at Oklahoma City University. Her mother Kristie Davis was a student there at the time, and her step-dad Link Davis was an assistant wrestling coach for OCU.
Since Marano’s first appearance, the tournament has more than doubled in size bringing in 945 female wrestlers this year. Marano has had the privilege to watch the sport and tournament grow through the years.
“It’s something I never really imagined. It’s great though, to have a lot more wrestlers. When you have more diversity in your competition it really helps you along the way,” she said
Marano spends every day after school grinding on the mat preparing for her next competition. Her practice environment is unique compared to other wrestlers.
Her mom Kristie Davis is the most decorated U.S. women’s wrestler with nine World medals and two World titles. Her mother is there to support her and give her tips, giving her a leg-up on her opponents. In addition, her step-dad Link Davis is now the head women’s wrestling coach at Emmanuel College in Georgia.
Marano spends a great deal of her time at Emmanuel, practicing with the team and constantly improving her skills as a wrestler. Emmanuel is where she plans on continuing with both her education and wrestling career next season.
Being able to put in time on the mat now with Emmanuel’s wrestlers has helped to give Marano a taste of what college wrestling will be like.
“It’s helped me to point out some of the things that I need work on in order to be successful at the college level. And be more directionally guided,” she said.
Having a mom who is a highly renowned wrestler can bring a load of pressure. Kristie Davis does a great job in helping Kayla calm down the nerves and the pressure she might feel before a match.
“I think there is always pressure before every tournament but my mom always tells me before the finals that no one is going to look back in 20 years at this level. She gives hard critique for this match and that helps me to wrestle better,” she said.
Marano has had the unique opportunity to wrestle during the same time frame as Kristie. Although the two have never competed at the same tournament, at the same time, Kristie has been an active wrestler during much of her daughter’s career.
With this type of situation, Kristie has been able to offer Marano and extensive amount of help on the sidelines.
“It’s always been cool to have someone there that knows how I’m feeling or what I’m thinking. She’s been able to calm me down and help me with whatever,” she said.
In 2016, Kristie Davis made a comeback at age 37, hoping to wrestle alongside Kayla, who was Senior eligible, at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City. However, Kayla fell just short of qualifying. Kristie decided to enter anyway, going 2-2 at the Olympic Trials, even without competing for a number of years. The dream of wrestling in the same tournament together may never happen, but there is a strong connection between mother and daughter through wrestling.
As Marano moves forward with mom and Link by her side, she is able to keep up to date with the frequent changes in wrestling. Learning how to defend new moves is something that the Davis’ are always helping Kayla with.
“Some of my competitors often try moves that they think I won’t know but with the help of mom and Link always watching the sport and knowing that moves come up every day, they’ve helped me to keep up with constant change of the sport,” she said.
Although, through the years Link and Kristie have played the biggest role in Marano’s wrestling career, she has also benefited from the boys she’s been able to practice with during her journey.
“The guys I’ve wrestled have always been a lot stronger than me. It’s been beneficial to wrestle them because I have to work harder and then when I go into a match with another girl, it makes it easier,” she said.
As Marano moves from folkstyle season over to freestyle season, she hopes to lean into what she has learned through the year and dominate her competition at Junior Nationals in Fargo, N.D. in July. Last year, Marano was a Junior National freestyle champion, edging Jayden Laurent of Wisconsin in the Fargo finals at 148 pounds by a 7-5 margin.
“I’m excited, with being able to just focus on freestyle, it helps me to push myself harder every day. Going into freestyle season, I’m setting the goal to win Fargo and hopefully do that by all techs and/or not being scored upon during the tournament,” she said.
Photo Credit: Kayla Marano of Georgia has her arm raised in victory in the finals of the 2016 Junior Nationals in Fargo, N.D. Photo by John Sachs, Tech-fall.com