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Sterling quartet ready to prove selves at state

Girl power

Sterling wrestlers (from left) Linda Montanez, MaKayla Lilly and Autumn Washok, along with teammate Gabi Diaz (not pictured), will compete in the girls state wrestling tournament Sunday in Yorkville.
Sterling wrestlers (from left) Linda Montanez, MaKayla Lilly and Autumn Washok, along with teammate Gabi Diaz (not pictured), will compete in the girls state wrestling tournament Sunday in Yorkville.

STERLING – The first time she beat a boy, he cried.

Autumn Washok wound up with a dozen wins in her first season as a Sterling High School wrestler, but that first one sticks out in her mind. The 106-pound sophomore went 12-8 as a member of the Warriors' junior varsity team, with only one of her bouts coming against another girl.

"I did better than I thought," said Washok, who grew up in Pennsylvania before moving to Sterling when she was in fourth grade. "I thought I would get the crap beaten out of me. I thought boys would be too muscular and strong, but some are tall and lanky. I ended up getting a lot of pins."

Washok is one of four Sterling girls who will compete in Sunday's Illinois Girls Folkstyle State Championships in Yorkville. The tourney, which is a qualifier for nationals, has elementary, middle and high-school divisions. Some 70 girls were preregistered through as of Friday evening.

The other Warrior girls who will compete include senior 120-pounder Gabi Diaz and freshmen MaKayla Lilly (126) and Linda Montanez (113).

Washok likes to be "girly" at times.

"I'm in between," she said. "At school, I dress like a girl, but once I'm in practice, I don't care about my hair or makeup. It gets old and boring being girly."

Diaz was a member of Sterling's wrestling team for all 4 years of high school. She was the only girl on the roster her freshman year before being joined her sophomore year by best friend and fellow senior Yessenia Cano, who only went out that one season.

Diaz remembers her humble beginnings.

"The first practice was overwhelming," she said. "It was Hell Week. I was throwing up. Everybody else was throwing up. I had to think about going back."

Hell Week is the team's first week of conditioning.

"We lose about 10 to 15 people every year that week," said Diaz, who suffered a broken nose in a match early this past season. "We do intensive running, live wrestling, stairs, lifting. The temperature in the wrestling room is about 90 degrees. We run the Bishop 7, which is a 7-mile run from the high school to both bridges in Rock Falls in back."

Diaz wrestled some 15 varsity matches as a freshman and sophomore. Though there haven't been a large amount of wins, she has one definite highlight to her career.

"Winning my Senior Night match," she said. "It was a pin against a Rock Falls boy."

Like Washok, Montanez was a wrestling stat girl before taking to the mat herself. It took a while for Montanez's dad to give her the go-ahead.

"He didn't agree with it," she said. "We got in an argument. He wouldn't let me do it last year, but this year I asked him again. He said if I really wanted to do it, I could."

A self-described tomboy, Montanez had ups and downs in her first season, with one of the downs including an injury scare.

"We were at a tournament in East Peoria, and I ended up getting nerve damage in my arm," she said. "I got a takedown, but ended up with my arm behind him, and he sat on my arm the wrong way."

Wrestling runs in the Lilly family. Lilly's older brothers, Bryant and Curtis, are both accomplished wrestlers, with Curtis, a senior, qualifying for state the past 2 years. Lilly's father, Bill, was a 4-year wrestler at Rock Falls in the early 1990s.

Though Bill tried to steer MaKayla toward wrestling, she resisted until eighth grade, when she went 2-6. This past season, she was 1-9 at the varsity level and 4-7 on the JV.

She's come a long way in a relatively short time.

"The first few weeks were really hard," Lilly said. "The conditioning was crazy hard, and I could barely do 10 pushups."

And now?

"I can do like 30," she said.

Warrior princesses

• Gabi Diaz, senior, 120 pounds

• Autumn Washok, sophomore, 106 pounds

• MaKayla Lilly, freshman, 126 pounds

• Linda Montanez, freshman, 113 pounds

Illinois Girls Folkstyle State Championship

When: 10 a.m. Sunday

Where: Yorkville Middle School

Divisions: Elementary school (grades K-5); middle school (grades 6-8); high school (grades 9-12)

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