Preview of upcoming Women s National Team Wrestle Off

By Ted Witulski | Nov. 03, 2000, 12 a.m. (ET)
When I step on the mat, it's not a match in my mind---It's a fight. That's the way I approach it." Fans of wrestling are used to hearing this sort of tough talk but in the changing world of wrestling people are growing used to the sound of these hard-nosed quotes coming from a lady like Sandy Bacher. As the challenge match for a 149.75 pounds between draws near at the Sunkist Open in Phoenix Arizona, Sandy Bacher and Kristi Marano sat down to reflect on the world's oldest and greatest sport as grows to include more women wrestlers. Sandy Bacher and Kristi Marano are a contrast in style off the mat from their male counterparts. Before weigh-ins these ladies can hold a conversation with each other and joke about their long friendship; something most males who are preparing to battle for a number one ranking would rarely do. While the males take time to size each other up the girls are talking about old times. But make no mistake both of these girls are competitors and focused on gaining the number one ranking. Kristi Marano is the younger of the two at age 21, and her youth shows in her desire to not worry about her position as one of the groundbreaking women wrestlers in the country. When asked how things have changed as women wrestling has grown acceptance Kristi shakes the question off with a quick smile and an equally quick answer, "I don't care about that stuff, I just want to wrestle." Sandy Bacher on the other hand approaches the question with more reflection and more detail, "We are really doing a better job reaching out to women. I always tell girls that I'm recruiting for judo and wrestling to give it a try---the opportunity is there if we can get women to take it. I think it really is more acceptable for girls to be involved in a contact sport and when people can get around to wrestling they are just draw to the combat and contact." Bacher and Marano both came to the world of amateur wrestling by way of another combat sport, judo. Marano started out in the path of judo at a young age by her father, Conrad Stenglein. Her early days were formed by the experience she gained around long days at judo tournaments much the way young boys have been attending youth wrestling tournaments. Eventually as Marano moved to the high school level she tried out the new combat sport of wrestling. During her junior year she suffered a season-ending knee injury; however, her senior year she earned a varsity spot at 145 pounds and finished with a 12-12 record against male competition. Similarly, Bacher has a strong background in judo. She started out at a very young age competing in judo and has earned an Olympic berth on three teams. This past summer Bacher competed in Sydney losing a close decision by yuko (a relatively close match score, such as 3-1) to the eventual Olympic champion from Cuba. The difficult deal, as Bacher tells the story, was an MCL tear that kept her from training for 10 weeks. Unfortunately for Bacher she wasn't able to get back on the mats until mid-August, which she feels set her back in her preparation for the Olympics. For Bacher this knee injury was all-too-familiar ground. She has had both knees totally reconstructed from ACL and MCL tears. Of course, her latest knee injury, even though it did not require another round of surgery couldn't have happened at a worst time. Bacher's injuries though haven't kept her from her share of successes. She has been on five wrestling World Teams-winning it in '99. Marano also has world level experience and the competition for the notch of the ladder will be fierce. Marano and Bacher have wrestled three times with Bacher holding a 2-1 advantage over Marano. Both wrestlers know each other well and admit that they tend to rely on their judo background. For them, this means a little more upper body wrestling than what is typical for international women's matches. Marano says she's been working hard on learning some basic shooting technique but the adjustment has been tough. Bacher says that she often does well in a scramble because of her vast experience from judo. She clearly is impressed with her undersized training partner at the Dave Schultz Wrestling Club, Patricia Miranda, who in Sandy Bacher's mind is outstanding. Bacher says, "Her technique is so smooth---that's something I'm working to develop." Both wrestlers show the passion and love for this oldest of sports. Bacher even says that she's waiting for the announcement that women's wrestling will be included in the Olympics. "I don't see myself pursuing judo anymore if the door for women's wrestling opens up. I can't wait for that to happen." Marano also is looking forward to that day and notes that the field of competitive girls has grown much deeper in the U.S. "It's definitely not a cakewalk anymore as more and more girls beginning to wrestle." Her advice to girls that haven't wrestled is to definitely try it. "It opens up so many doors. I've gotten to travel the world to wrestle." The winter wrestling season is upon us, the kickoff is the venerated Sunkist Open. Times have changed, and the highlight of the competition will surely include the battle for the number one position between two experienced combatants from opposite coasts. Sandy Bacher from the west coast prepares to face Kristi Marano from the east coast. Look for the results right her on