CHARLOTTE – Just the fact that Nikoly Dos Santos was on the Providence High School wrestling team and competing against boys was a story.
Coaches and opponents would approach her and tell her how they thought it was great she was competing and say things like she was pretty good … for a girl.
It used to infuriate her.
But she kept working at it because Dos Santos used to tell her coach, Scott Bosak, that she wanted to be good not just for a girl. She wanted to become a good wrestler after posting a 22-21 record her junior season.
She worked tirelessly to do just that.
Dos Santos listened to as much of Bosak’s advice as possible, entered a number of tournaments and continued to get better.
This season ended with Dos Santos going 37-5 and winning the first-ever NCHSAA-sponsored women’s wrestling tournament at 106 pounds.
“She’s not 37-5 by beating wimps,” Bosak said earlier this year. “She’s 37-5 from beating tough kids.”
Dos Santos recently earned more hardware as she was named North Carolina’s 2019 Tricia Saunders Award winner.
The award recognizes the nation’s most outstanding high school senior female wrestlers for their excellence in wrestling, scholastic achievement, citizenship and community service.
“I didn’t think I’ve accomplished enough to deserve the award. I was just doing what my coach was telling me to do and I was following that. Somehow I ended up getting that recognition. I’m grateful that the hard work that I put in is getting recognized. It’s a really nice feeling to have.”
And Bosak said that despite all of her success, Dos Santos is not slowing down on the mat.
“She works harder than anyone in the room,” said Bosak, a former all-American at Cornell, earlier this season. “She’s very coachable and she has a great attention to detail. She’s very easy to coach. 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, and that’s why she’s improved so much from last year to this year.”
Dos Santos wrestled so well since this fall that she qualified for the Junior Freestyle National Championships in Fargo, N.D.
She breezed through her first three opponents to reach the quarterfinals, where she met Emily Shilson of Minnesota. Shilson defeated Dos Santos 10-0 dropping her to the consolation rounds, where she fell 4-0 to Julianne Moccia of Maryland to finish a more than respectable 3-2 for the tournament.
Shilson went on to win the 106-pound division’s national championship, so the defeat was far less of a sting, especially since the former Panthers star is new to the game of freestyle wrestling.
“I’ve been working a lot more on freestyle because that’s what I’m going to be doing in college,” Dos Santos said. “But I’m really behind on that because I just started freestyle training hard about a year ago. The big wrestlers start it from an early age, so I’m trying to hurry and catch up.”
It seems she’s done a good job of catching up and has made a name for herself on the national stage, something she hopes to continue next year.
Dos Santos will wrestle this fall at Gannon University, a private, co-educational Catholic university in Erie, Pa.
There she’ll be coached by Christen Dierken, a four-time all-American and one-time Olympic Trials competitor.
“We talked a little bit and she said that she liked how I come off as hard-working and ready to put in the effort,” Dos Santos said. “She was one match away from making it to the Olympics, so I’m excited to work with her and pick up some skills from her.”
Dos Santos said she’s excited to start wrestling in college, but also has plans to start a career one day in computer science and engineering.
That was one thing that drew her to Gannon. She can see herself getting better on the mat under Dierken and see herself prosper at the small-school feel.
Either way, it’s all been a roller coaster ride for Dos Santos who has gone from getting everyone’s “Good job, girl” reactions to becoming a state champion, winning a prestigious honor and now getting a chance to wrestle in college.
“I’m super excited,” she said. “I remember four years ago I didn’t think I was going to do very much with the sport, so going to college for it is a huge step for me. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I’m most proud of the confidence I’ve gained. Even now, I know they are girls in the weight class who can demolish me, but now I have the confidence to try moves on them and stuff. I didn’t have that confidence even as a junior last year to shoot for stuff, but now I do. That’s definitely the biggest thing.”