Womens wrestling: a gold opportunity
• Tualatin's Samantha Lang is shooting for her Olympic dream
Samantha Lang is in the second half of her senior year at Tualatin High School and has no idea what she's going to do about college.
But college can wait.
She is more concerned about the U.S. Olympic Trials in women's wrestling, May 21 in Indianapolis.
She is more nervous about the Pacific-9 Conference district meet, which starts today in McMinnville.
Lang says just about every match makes her a little nervous.
'I worry about wrestling up to my potential, especially now,' she says. 'I really want to be a district champion. I've been waiting for this chance since my freshman year.
'College? I'll worry about that after the Olympics.'
In the last 10 years, Lang has wrestled her way into Olympic team contention by steadily defeating male and female competition. She has won three straight national titles in the fledgling U.S. Girls Wrestling Association. She is ranked second in the nation in women's wrestling.
Lang, who turns 18 on Feb. 20, is 22-2 and seeded third at 160 pounds heading into the Pac-9 district meet. If she finishes in the top three, she will be the second girl ever to qualify for the Class 4A state tournament.
Her wrestling coach, Bobo Umemoto, thinks she could finish in the top eight from among 27 entrants if she gets to state.
'She's been wrestling with guys all her life, and she's doing extremely well this year,' says Umemoto, who coaches the USA Cobra girls team. 'I think it would be absolutely great if she were to win a medal at state.'
And that would just be the start of what could be a spectacular year.
'If she can just get to the Olympics, she'll win the gold,' Umemoto says. 'The best wrestlers at her weight are here in the U.S. If she gets to the Olympics, she'll be a gold medal winner before she even gets to college.'
Lang fell into wrestling in elementary school after picking up a flier for a local camp. She blossomed quickly, winning every match for two years, she says, mostly against boys.
In the Tualatin High wrestling room her ability and work ethic have earned her plenty of respect.
'She knows pretty much everything about wrestling,' says junior Bret Voorhies, one of her most frequent sparring partners. 'I've learned a lot of things from her.'
Tualatin coach Matt Hamilton says Lang's background playing water polo and competing in judo helps her wrestle. Lang's two losses this season were by decision, not by pins.
'She's got a good shot, and she has great balance,' Hamilton says. 'Having that judo background gives her a lot of insight on how to throw people. A lot of guys just want to muscle her, but that's not a really good tactic.'
Voorhies says Lang uses wrestling strategy and the gender issue to her distinct -advantage during matches, which last for three, two-minute rounds.
'A lot of guys get tired in the first round because they think they have to pin her,' Voorhies says. 'That's when she moves in. She's very smart.'
Voorhies, a defensive end on the Tualatin football team, says when he beats Lang in practice, it's a big deal.
'One time I beat her and I was really pumped up,' he says. 'Then she let out that she wasn't feeling so well. I remember thinking, 'Why did you have to tell me that?' '
Bound for Athens?
Lang might be ranked second in the United States at 158.5 pounds, but there's not much difference between her and top-ranked Toccara Montgomery of Cumberland College in Cleveland. Lang rates her chances of beating Montgomery in the U.S. Trials at 50-50.
Montgomery is in Forest Grove this weekend for a college tournament at Pacific University. She has a slight edge in the series of nearly a dozen matches against Lang.
The U.S. women's team is coached by Terry Steiner, who was an assistant coach at Oregon State from 1994-96. This is the first time there will be a women's wrestling competition in the Olympic Games.
Lang says she's trying not to get too far ahead in the season. She doesn't want to overlook the district meet.
But her mother, Julie Lang, who works in accounting during the day, says she's thought many a night about going to Athens, Greece, for this year's Olympics. And that gives her goose bumps.
'It took me awhile to become a wrestling fan, but now I like it,' says Julie Lang, who has become an organizing force within girls wrestling. 'And the Olympics, that's so cool, it's unimaginable.'
Samantha Lang says she's just hoping the pressures of the year don't get the best of her. She can look forward to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, as well.
'It's just a matter of me stepping up at the right time,' she says. 'And waiting for that is a little nerve-racking.'