Women’s wrestling captain leads team into history

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Captain Jade Morales (left) stuffs a takedown in a match against Palomar on Feb 28. Geo Esparza / el Don

Jade Morales walks around the black-and-white mats of SAC’s wrestling room and takes charge at the beginning of her team’s practice. During warm-up drills, the women’s captain constantly yells and gives out instructions to her team on what to do next, such as stretching exercises for their hamstrings, abdominals, and backs. 

She makes sure everyone keeps up and doesn’t fall behind. In the humid and damp wrestling room, the team is already drenched in sweat before the drills are even finished.    

Morales, who only stands around 5-foot-5-inches and wraps her hair in a ponytail, looks around the room with an intense look as she gives out pointers to her teammates’ timing, pace, and movements. 

As the air conditioning kicks in, the cold air makes the humidity and odor of sweat go away. Morales ends the drills and calls for the team to gather around assistant coach Sadie Morales — who is also her father — for the day’s lesson. Despite her father being the assistant coach, it didn’t play a part in her being selected as captain. 

Las Doñas wanted Morales to be captain. And under her leadership, the women’s wrestling team operates more like an Amazonian battalion than a collegiate sports team. 

She does push you to work harder than you thought you could,” said her teammate Tonancin Martinez. 

Over time, Morales’ passion for wrestling has grown more and more. Morales now lives and breathes wrestling. “It has taught me overall how to be a stronger person, woman, and a role model to my sisters,” said Morales. 

The 128-lbs. captain didn’t grow up liking wrestling. Actually, Morales grew up hating the sport. 

“I hated it so much because my dad has been a coach for years,” said Morales, her voice rising. “I was dragged along to so many meets.” 

Things changed during her freshman year at Santa Ana High School. She had the option to choose between P.E. or playing a sport. To her parents’ surprise, she chose wrestling. 

“Jade never wanted to wrestle,” said her father, Sadie Morales. “I never pushed wrestling on her, I just introduced her to it.”

Morales’dislike for P.E. caused her to appreciate her dad and uncle’s grappling mastery. They went from people who dragged her along to meets to being inspirations. 

“They both wrestled in high school,” said Morales. “Both were state qualifiers and my dad was a two-time state placer.”

Morales actually started wrestling during her sophomore year at Santa Ana High School due to a technicality with her transferring schools; however, within a matter of months, she was a Southern Section Master’s qualifier for the state. Morales made it into the top 12 wrestlers in the tournament but didn’t qualify to state as only the top ten go. 

She fell short of qualifying her junior year too but was hoping to place in regionals and even state in her senior year, but her last season took place in spring 2020. Morales didn’t get the chance to wrestle at the state championship tournament because of COVID-19.  

After graduating from SAHS, Morales joined the women’s wrestling club at Santa Ana College. 

At first, she would compete in tournaments in Colorado, Las Vegas, and Arizona, but the wrestling team didn’t get recognition or support from SAC because at the time the women wrestlers weren’t a sanctioned team. 

That changed last year when SAC’s athletic director, Mary Hegarty, told Las Doñas that they were going to be an official team. 

“I was excited when I heard we are finally a team,” said Morales. “That had been a long time coming.”

In their official season opener, Las Doñas won in a thrilling match against Palomar 28-27.

Morales won a revenge match against Alexa Rosales who had beaten her 12-2 last year. Morales pinned her in 57 seconds after a successful takedown.

“If I’m going to be honest, I was sobbing before I came out here to wrestle,” said Morales. “I was super happy after I let out all of my tears, felt more confident.”

The season was off to a good start, but in their second match, a short-handed Doñas faced Mount San Antonio College.

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Morales, wrestling at 128 lbs, was the fourth Doña to face her opponent. She shot at her opponent with a high-C, a move that required the attacker to grab one of their opponent’s legs before swiftly moving to both. 

Morales had been patient and waiting for the right moment to attack, lunging and feigning, like a tiger with its prey. 

“I’m always seeing different angles and I’ll adjust myself,” said Morales. “I just look out for different opportunities during my matches.”

After taking her down, Morales quickly pinned her opponent.

Lesley Marroquin followed in Morales’s footsteps, winning her match by pinfall, but the rest of the team couldn’t overcome Mt. SAC’s tough wrestlers. Despite Morales and Marroquin winning their matches, Las Doñas had to forfeit four matches as they didn’t have wrestlers for some weight classes, losing the meet 48-12. 

Morales didn’t feel bad about how her team did as she knew Mt. SAC was second in their conference rankings. But Morales was proud of Marroquin because it was her first dual meet win and she knew how hard Marroquin had been training. 

Morales wants to turn the page and now has her sights on Bakersfield College. She believes that they can get a better result as Bakersfield is a newer team.

“Bakersfield is a newer team so we are excited to display what we have,” said Morales. “I don’t want to sound cocky, but I believe that we can win.”

In the meantime, Morales, who is a history major, still has to juggle a full load of classes while cutting weight. Even though it’s difficult, Morales doesn’t mess around.

“I make sacrifices like my snacking and stuff,” said Morales. “I’ll put off Hot Cheetos, banana bread, and everything.”

As the first-ever women’s wrestling captain in SAC’s history, Morales wants to set an example for any captain who comes after her by being on top of everyone and pushing them to reach their potential which she believes her team can achieve. 

“I want to make it a good time for everyone and make sure everyone is competing to the best of their abilities, win or lose,” said Morales. “If you put your best out there, the wins will come along with it.”

She wants her teammates to place in state tournaments either individually or as a team. 

“Last year, we chose someone to be captain but by the middle of the year, Jade was a leader to the team without being captain,” said Coach Donald Apodaca. “Jade inspires others by her work ethic, dedication, and wrestling.”

In addition to her classes, Morales helps coach the Mater Dei High School wrestling team. The coach, who had seen her wrestle with the Santa Ana High School team in her free time, was impressed with her performance. He offered her a job, and Morales has now been there coaching for three years.

“He came up to my father and said, ‘Is your daughter looking for a job to coach,’” said Morales. “He just picked me up and it has been really good.”

Morales has a lot on her plate among wrestling, coaching, and school. She still manages through it. Morales aspires to be a champion on and off the mat. 

“I really would like to achieve a 4.0 GPA,” said Morales. “If I want to be a state champion and my 4.0 GPA, I’ll find a way to make it happen.”

After the wrestling season is over, Morales wants to transfer to a university and eventually become a high school history teacher at her alma mater Santa Ana High School. 

Until then, Morales looks eager to step back on SAC’s black-and-white mats. She has unfinished business.

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