Saturday, January 20, 2018

Gaither's Daisy Santos will continue her wrestling career in college


The Tampa Bay area is a wellspring of prep wrestling talent. From Pinellas to Hillsborough on through Pasco and Hernando counties, top-notch high school grapplers abound.

The area's most recent wrestler to sign a scholarship offer is a three-time regional qualifier with four years of varsity wrestling experience at Gaither High School.

Though plenty of area wrestlers are three-time regional qualifiers and have four years of varsity experience, perhaps none are also sopranos in the school choir. And none have won back-to-back girls state championships.

None of them are Daisy Santos.

Santos signed her letter of intent this month to wrestle at King University in Tennessee, which will continue a career that found success on the mat regardless of gender.

Such success was always around for the Santos family. Her father, Michael, was the Gaither wrestling coach for the duration of Santos' prep career, and the manager of the Evolution wrestling club, based in Northdale. He also won a Florida high school state title at 103 pounds and a national wrestling championship with the Army. He competed in three Olympic trials. Michael Santos also coached Daisy's stepmother, Ingrid Medrano, to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Daisy Santos' sister, Brenda, 13, just finished third at the Body Bar Women's Nationals, and her brother, Diogo, 7, is a state runner-up coming up through the ranks at Evolution.

"We have a huge family. Heck, if we did any other sport we'd be broke," she said.

Wrestling wasn't exactly Daisy Santos' first choice in high school. She and classmate Nereida Cardona tried out for the soccer team but didn't make it.

"Wrestling was sort of what we decided we would fall back on," Cardona said.

Cardona found the demands not exactly to her liking, but she realized Santos had a knack for it.

"She was always good, even from the beginning," Cardona said. "I would just roll on my back, but she would keep fighting."

"The biggest thing is to keep fighting," Santos said. "This sport teaches you to never give up, that if you really want it, you can get it."

She honed that strong will to razor sharpness during her high school career. It helped her cap her career in the best way imaginable, to repeat as a state champion.

But it did not come easy.

"To be honest, I was in a little bit of shock. The girl that wrestled right before me, who was a defending state champion (at 97 pounds), lost her match," Santos said. "It took me a little time to get focused on wrestling again."

Santos was able to refocus and repeat as state champion at 106 pounds.

When Santos would wrestle boys, she gave away advantages like upper body strength, but usually was more flexible and had a lower center of gravity. Plus, as a junior and senior, Santos was able to wrestle at 106 pounds, the lightest weight class in boys wrestling.

That meant usually wrestling boys who were freshmen and sophomores, which gave Santos a mental edge.

She finished her varsity career at Gaither with a record of 103-44.

"I've never seen an 18-year-old girl so mentally tough," Michael Santos said.

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