To watch Arvada High School’s Elisha Allen compete in girls wrestling, it would be hard to see that the road to a potential college wrestling future wasn’t evenly paved.
First things first: Allen is the 11th-rated wrestler at 110 pounds, according to Tim Yount at On the Mat Magazine. The senior has drawn some interest from Hastings and York colleges, Mesa State University, Augsburg and Waldorf universities, places that are willing to pay her to come and wrestle.
Allen was the first female wrestler at Arvada High to compile a winning record. She was one of the first women to qualify for the state meet, and she is in the last class of women who had to wrestle against boys before the Colorado High School Activities Association sanctioned girls wrestling.
“My older brother got me interested in wrestling,” she said. “I have always looked up to him. I watched him wrestle and became inspired. I saw how fun and challenging this sport was.”
Allen was born premature, underweight and with a kidney issue. She had five surgeries before her first birthday. She also dealt with intestinal issues and faced four more surgeries between the ages of 10 and 12.
She joined the Bulldogs as a freshman. She also was interested in cheerleading and volleyball “and wanted to do it all.”
“I decided to split time between the three sports,” Allen said. “However, I quickly realized that I was a better wrestler than a cheerleader or volleyball player and felt myself leaning toward that wrestling room. I felt stronger there. Additionally, there weren’t any girls wrestling for my school at the time.”
Her brother’s coach, Anthony Sandoval (Allen’s coach the past four years) encouraged her to be on the girls team and to bring her friends.
“Once I decided to give it my all, I was quickly discouraged,” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t improving, I wasn’t winning. So many times, I wanted to quit. Instead, I pushed myself. I had to remind myself that I am not a quitter. I was committed to the team and I wasn’t going to stop doing what I loved. I also wanted to make an impact for women in this sport. I was wrestling at a time when women weren’t yet sanctioned and so was on the boys’ junior varsity squad.”
She had some chances to compete on the varsity team. Allen earned her varsity letter wrestling against boys on the varsity team.
“I had to win two varsity matches and didn’t feel confident that I could but wasn’t going to let my freshman year pass without it,” Allen said. “I knew I wanted to letter all four years. Once I got those wins though, things really changed for me. I did it and gained massive confidence.”
The next two years
In spite of COVID, Allen put together a winning record two years ago.
“This was extremely tough as the pandemic crushed my sport,” she said. “Wrestling carries the most germs and we are a winter sport. Each year, we work hard to keep the cold and flu away as it is. Practices were few and far between, and competition was very limited. We got through it, and I got more wins under my belt. In the off-season (summer before junior year), I was also wrestling with my club team, Elevated Wrestling, and qualified for the national tournament in Fargo.”
During that tournament, she sustained three partially torn menisci.
“I was immediately immobilized. I was angry and frustrated. This came just as I felt myself getting better and stronger,” Allen said. “I was not cleared to be on the mat or even run for more than four months. I was in rehab and had a team of four doctors and therapists keeping a close eye on me, communicating with my trainer and coaches about resting my knee. When I wanted to return, I wasn’t allowed.”
As a junior, she competed at camps, returned to the national tournament ... and was barely walking with a brace. CHSAA sanctioned girls wrestling last year, which meant Allen – and others – didn’t have to wrestle boys.
“My coach and athletic director struggled to get matches for our team; there were only four of us girls,” Allen said. “They had to find other schools that also had a girls’ team with matching weights. I finished the regular season having wrestled about 20 less matches than my competition. I kept my loss column in the single digits finishing at 19-8.” She finished third at the regional meet and advanced to state.
Last year of high school
There are six members of the girls wrestling team at Arvada. The pandemic restrictions are a piece of history, and Allen is healthy. She spent much of her summer at wrestling camps. She added a stint with the Mile High Wrestling Club; some days, she practiced with all three squads. As of the first part of February, her record is 29-6.
She’d like to become a pediatrician.
“Wrestling has taught me that nothing is given to you,” Allen said. “It takes hard work and discipline, and I have had to earn my place here. It taught me to set real goals and take action to get them. Dedication is required and it’s up to me, alone.”