Journie Rodriguez wrestles Jayleah Pletz during an Under Card match before the USA Senior World Team Wrestle-Off at McCaskey High School, Saturday, August 13, 2022.

HARRISBURG — For a long time, McCaskey’s Journie Rodriguez had been looking for that one breakthrough match of her career.

No stranger to wrestling mats — her father, Isaias, has transformed the school’s boys program into contenders as its head coach — she’s been around them since she was a youth. Rodriguez also has accumulated a ton of wins in a short period of time.

But the big one always seemed to elude her.

“I think in her mind, with some of these higher-level competitions, she’s been that bridesmaid, never the bride,” McCaskey girls wrestling coach Kevin Franklin said. “And it’s just one of those mental barriers she couldn’t break through,”

But on Sunday, at the 2023 My House Pennsylvania State Championships at Central Dauphin, that all ended.

The sophomore finally got validation for all the hard work and dedication she has put into her sport since her youth, and it came to fruition as a rematch she’d wanted all season yielded a gold-medal performance.

Rodriguez, who went 4-0 in the tourney, banged heads in the 112-pound final with Canon-McMillan’s Elizabeth Elliott, who in December had handed Rodriguez her only loss of the year, 4-3 in the Cumberland Valley Tournament.

This time the tide turned when Rodriguez used a pull-through with her leg to get Elliott down in the final minute, then utilized one of her favorite moves, an arm bar, to secure a 7-6 win.

“I just knew today I had a mission where I had to wrestle every match the same,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t let losing to her before get to me. I just went out there and gave everything I had. I knew I belonged here, didn’t stop wrestling. I knew I deserved to win, and for a long time dreamed of getting first at states. It feels amazing.”

Her path to victory was filled with grit and determination with two other matches against nationally ranked girls.

Rodriguez won her semifinal match by a slim 2-0 margin over Greenville’s Maddie Enterline, who was seeded fifth. Her quarterfinal match had been another nail-biter, a 7-4 decision over Conneaut Area’s Daylee Watson, who was a member of the Pennsylvania national team last year. Rodriguez did get a fall, in 5:40, in her first match of the day over Brashear’s Tamara Humphries. It was Rodriguez’s 11th pin in 17 matches this season.

“Overall it was a good finish for us,” Franklin said of his Red Tornado team, which was 12th out of 60 teams at the meet. “We had a lot of people here with some nerves, first year at states. But we had a first-year girl, Jureylys Peguero del Rosario, push through to get seventh. And Journie wrestled one of the best matches of her life to get that state championship.

“We are so proud of her; she is just an awesome kid, and I think the sky is the limit for her.”

At 190, Peguero del Rosario got her medal with a fall in 40 seconds over Columbia Montour Vo Tech’s Elizabeth Davidson.

“This is my first medal, and I am really happy and appreciate it,” Peguero del Rosario said. “I was so nervous, but I trusted myself, and look where it got me.”

Like McCaskey, Penn Manor had two wrestlers earn some hardware, but as they headed to the podium, both looked like they were part of a MASH unit. Kaitlyn Clawson injured a thumb, but still managed to place sixth at 100 pounds.

And Trinity Mowery, who last year had six teeth broken, had to injury default in the seventh-place match at 148, and received her eighth-place medal with a giant ice pack on her shoulder.

Clawson, who finished the year with a 13-7 slate, started her day with fall in 2:27 over Hanover’s Claire Gyle. She fought back through the blood rounds for her medal, getting two more falls before placing sixth after being pinned by Quakertown’s Ashley Stank in 31 seconds.

“It’s not what I was hoping for, I messed up my thumb a little bit, but I still placed,” a choked-up Clawson said after the final match of her high school career. “It’s been great to help grow the sport and see where it is at now.

Mowery earned her shot at a medal by downing Lampeter-Strasburg’s Rylin Cirrincione (who went 3-2 at state) via fall in 4:24 in consolations.

“Top eight in the state is not bad, when I came here last year and didn’t do anything,” Mowery said. “I came out strong with a 19-second pin (in the day’s opener against Parkland’s Zehra Saymaz), but knew my shoulder didn’t feel that nice. I don’t know how I even went back out there. But I am happy with the eighth. It’s a good feeling and good to go out with a bang when it’s still the My House event.”

As a team, Penn Manor finished 24th with 31 points.

“It was a very solid performance for us,” Comets coach Scott Shenk said. “It feels like we are building something fantastic here. I’m super-excited about where we are, and we want to keep building on this.”

Manheim Township’s Isabella Baccio, wrestling at 118 pounds, was the other placewinner from a school in the Lancaster-Lebanon League. She earned a seventh-place medal in style, knocking down her 17th fall of the year over Penn Wood’s Hawa Konate in 3:45. Baccio (22-4) also did it with a bruised elbow sustained earlier in the day.

“This is so amazing. When I saw my teammates sitting next to me before — they drove an hour out here just to see me — I think that is what kept me going.” Baccio said. “I was really trying to be careful in that last match, and I wanted to enjoy it. Throughout the season, I didn’t think I was going to make it this far, so I was trying to savor the entire moment.”

What to Read Next