ATLANTIC CITY, NJ – All wrestlers have a different motivational tool that gets them hooked on one of the most grueling sports in the world.
For some, it's a family legacy, with parents and older siblings paving the way through previous success.
For others, it's the desire to stand on top of the world.
For Elizabeth’s Najee Cuevas, it was the desire to stay out of trouble.
The former Rahway student, who moved across the border to Elizabeth two years ago, admittedly was looking for a way to stop getting into fights. Wrestling solved that problem and created a completely different life that she never thought could happen.
“I started wrestling in middle school because I was too aggressive for my own good,” Cuevas said. “I needed to do something with it besides fighting in school. I got into wrestling and fell in love with it.”
From the moment she stepped on the mats, Cuevas felt something different. So much different, that even after breaking her elbow during her first season, she couldn’t wait to return.
Four years later, Cuevas’s work paid off, as the junior took third in the first-ever NJSIAA Individual Girls Wrestling Tournament at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
After losing her opening round match on Friday, Cuevas was visibly upset the rest of the day. However, that didn’t stop her. Instead, it fueled her adrenaline.
“I think my loss yesterday made me come back and wrestle harder than I did yesterday,” she said. “I was mad, all day I was upset. It stuck with me so much that I wanted to take third place because it's better than nothing.”
Elizabeth’s first-ever girls state qualifier has more than just third place on her mind. Cuevas is looking to grow a program where she is the lone girl on the team.
“I just want other girls to know that you can do it too,” she said. “This girl next to me, she wrestles in middle school. I’ve been the only girl on the team since I’ve been there. She’s coming up and she’s going to be wrestling with me. I like that she’s here now, watching me and I get to talk to her. She gets to know that you don’t have to be afraid to wrestle in front of a crowd like this or be afraid to be a girl in wrestling.”
With just one year to go in her high school career, the girl that once took her aggression out on others has one more goal to reach before grabbing her diploma next June…a state championship.
“Next year, I’ll be back,” she said. “I’m taking first place next year. I’m going to be a senior. I’m leaving everything here, everything here on every mat I’m on. Everything.”