FARGO, N.D. – Vayle Baker is experienced enough to know not to panic when she was put on the shot clock in the 117-pound finals of the Girls Junior National Freestyle Tournament on Wednesday.
Instead, she stayed with her game plan against Phoenix Dubose of Washington. A few seconds after giving up a point for the shot clock violation, Baker unleashed a vicious headlock that put her in control of the match on her way to a 6-2 victory to become Pennsylvania’s lone Juniors champion.
“I felt that she was really strong,” Baker said. “When I was on the shot clock, I wasn’t trying to rush anything.
“The coaches had told me before that she likes the slide-by, and she likes upper body. I felt like the headlock was there.”
It certainly was. It looked like Baker, now a three-time Fargo champion and two-time World Team member, might pick up the fall, but Dubose managed to fight off her back.
“I felt like it was really tight,” said Baker, who is from Benton and will be a senior at Wyoming Seminary. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t tight enough, and she was really strong.”
With a 4-1 lead after the first period, Baker knew she was in a good position to close out the victory.
“I know that I have a really good Russian 2-on-1,” she said. “She was strong, but I felt up 4-1 I could control the match. I felt I could wrestle strategically to win it.”
Baker goes back-to-back
Baker won the 106-pound Junior title a year ago and the 88-pound Cadet crown in 2015, but that didn’t lessen the impact of this championship.
“It’s exciting every time that you get the opportunity to be on this stage and to be wrestling with the best in the nation,” she said. “It’s always exciting for me.”
Three other Team PA wrestlers placed in the Junior tournament.
Caitlyn Walker finished second at 106 while her sister Amanda was fourth at 122. Jillian Bruno placed sixth at 144. Pennsylvania finished in eighth place with 23 points – well behind champion California, which had 75 – but Baker sees reason for optimism in Pennsylvania wrestling. The Cadets finished fifth in the girls standings.
“I think we’re growing a lot in size, and I think that the girls are having amazing performances,” Baker said. “We’ve always been tough with the numbers that we have. Every year our girls have done great, placing in Cadets and Juniors. Now we have more numbers, so it’s looking a lot better.”
The addition of girls wrestling programs in high schools, such as the one at Wyoming Seminary, could lead to an even brighter future for the sport in Pennsylvania.
“It’s exciting,” Baker said of wrestling for Sem. “It was a first-year program, so it was really cool. It’s new for me to be on an all girls team. It’s cool to be in a room with a group that has the same goals.”
Baker has a busy schedule ahead of her. She said she’ll be home for a week, then off to Minnesota for training. From there, she’ll head to national team camp in California. After a few more days at home, she’ll leave for the Pan American Games in Brazil.
“I’m excited for that,” she said.