CHARLOTTE – Providence wrestling coach Scott Bosak has been around the sport since he was 4 years old and has gone on to an all-American career on the mat at Cornell and Belmont Abbey.
Two years ago, he got the Panther job fresh out of college and encountered one of the few situations in the sport that he didn’t immediately know how to handle.
That first year, Bosak saw he had a girl, Nikoly Dos Santos, who would be wrestling on his team as a junior.
He’d never coached a girl before. At first, Bosak wondered if he should treat Dos Santos differently or just like one of the guys. He decided upon the latter. If he wrestled his guys in practice, he’d wrestle her just as hard. If they did drills, so did she. If they lifted, Dos Santos was right there.
That turned out to be the best thing for Dos Santos, who improved to 37-5 during the season and became an individual champion in the inaugural NCHSAA women’s tournament, which was formed in conjunction with the North Carolina chapter of U.S.A. Wrestling on Feb. 1.
“She works harder than anyone in the room,” Bosak said. “She’s very coachable and she has a great attention to detail. She’s very easy to coach, and when you’re teaching a high school wrestler that’s not always an easy thing …When I tell her to do something, she does everything she can to adjust it. That’s why she’s improved so much from last year to this year.”
She went 22-21 on the mat as a junior, and it was during that season when Bosak remembers Dos Santos at her lowest.
Dos Santos was a 113-pound wrestler facing a team that didn’t have her weight counterpart, so she would have forfeited. The opposing team did have a 120-pounder, and Bosak decided to see what she wanted to do.
Dos Santos, like always, wanted to wrestle.
Bosak said she’s a small 113-pounder in general, and this was a bigger 120-pound boy who beat on her pretty good. In fact, Bosak remembered, the guy was a little over the top and excessive and even had rubbed his elbow maliciously in her back for good measure.
After the loss, Dos Santos took it gracefully as Bosak says she always does, head held high in defeat or in triumph.
But this one got to her. It wasn’t because of the loss or even the nature of how it had happened that was eating at her.
“About 20 minutes after the match, I saw her and could see she was distraught,” Bosak said. “She said, ‘I’m sick and tired of people coming up to me and telling me I’m doing a good job,’” implying she was doing a good job as a girl, Bosak added. “Well, I don’t want to do a good job for a girl. I want to be known as a good wrestler.”
Bosak laid out the plan for her to try to achieve that, but it was going to take more work than she’d ever put in, so she re-dedicated herself and stepped up her training regimen this season.
“I wanted to compete at the same level as the boys,” said Dos Santos, who grew up doing Jiu-Jitsu and has always been in male-dominated sporting environments. “I’m putting in the same effort and coming to practice … I felt like the time I was putting in was being degraded, so I put in a lot more time this summer.
“When I was a freshman, I thought I’d probably wrestle JV these four years and that I’d probably not be able to compete. I just thought that was going to be how it was, but I got some time in my sophomore year and from there, I thought I could compete. And that made me really want it.”
Dos Santos said her girls championship is wonderful but, as expected, she has bigger goals.
She’s seeded No. 3 in the 4A Western Regional that begins on Feb. 8. If she finishes top three in the region, she will be just the second girl to ever wrestle in the boys state tournament, Bosak said.
And, he thinks she can do it.
“She’s not 37-5 by beating wimps,” he said. “She’s 37-5 from beating tough kids.”
Colleges are taking notice, too. Dos Santos didn’t say which ones but said a school in Pennsylvania and one in Kansas are very interested in her. She’s weighing her best options, but she will continue to wrestle either way.
More importantly, as a state champion and the subject of a possible historical feat at the Feb. 15 NCHSAA boys wrestling tournament, Dos Santos isn’t just a really good girl wrestler anymore.
She a good wrestler.
And that’s the best compliment Dos Santos could ever hear.
“It’s really amazing,” she said. “I feel like this year I can say that I’m a wrestler and not just a girl wrestler. I have one of the best records on the team, and I’m able to work just as hard as the guys and you can see the results are paying off.
“To place would mean so much to me. This past year I set a new goal that I wanted to make it, and to do it would be amazing.”