Emerson Woods has successfully transferred her focus and flexibility from the gymnastics scene onto the wrestling mat.
The Islander Middle School (IMS) seventh-grader, who has been grappling against boys and girls for just over a year, will compete for the Washington State 14U Girls National Duals Wrestling Team at the 2023 Girls National Duals Tournament from June 13-17 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“It feels really good to accomplish stuff in a sport, especially not having been wrestling so long,” said 12-year-old Emerson, adding that in order to make an impact at the tourney, she’ll have to, “Just put my head down and not think, ‘Oh, these girls are really good because they got selected — maybe I don’t deserve this spot.’ And just think, like, ‘They invited me to be on this team, and that means that they have confidence in me to do well.’”
Emerson had attained a high level on the gymnastics stage after eight years in the sport when she opted to follow her brother, Mercer Island High School standout Lincoln, into the wrestling realm. Lincoln has coached Emerson in some of her matches and offered her many tips, including clearing her head before she enters the fray.
She describes wrestling as an aggressive, intense and fun sport that is less pressurized than gymnastics. Confidence usually reigns supreme for Emerson, but when doubts do creep into her mind, she thinks about the hard work she’s put in and goes for it, letting the adrenaline take over.
The Mat Demon Wrestling Club member notched a 4-0 record in the 14U girls 110-pound division at the Supreme Gladiator National Duals Tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada, on May 13-14 and helped her Kent-based team snag the championship. Emerson, who will wrestle at 105 pounds at nationals, said she enjoyed hearing her teammates’ cheers during the Vegas competition and watching the squad reap success as a whole.
Emerson and other girls’ performances at state and national competitions attracted the attention of the USA Wrestling coaches, who placed them on the team for not only their wrestling prowess, but how they handle themselves in a losing situation and how they fit into the whole team dynamic, according to Emerson’s mother, Natalie.
“She’s highly focused and quite dedicated, has been putting in a lot of time and effort in the gym, on the mat, and is super excited that she’s been able to make some goals — and she’s starting to accomplish them,” Natalie added.
During the middle school season, Emerson wrestled against boys and placed second in the conference final after losing to an eighth-grader.
Emerson reflected on the season and going head-to-head with the boys.
“Wrestling boys is kind of iffy because you don’t want them to go out there and be like, ‘Oh, it’s a girl,’ and then really try and beat you and almost try and hurt you. But at the same time, as long as you focus on doing your moves and what you’re confident with, it’s really fun to see the look on their faces when they just got beat by a girl,” Emerson said.
Off the mat, she likes the freedom of writing that comes with her language arts class at IMS. Emerson can also lean into the comedy sphere when it comes to sporting her lucky green socks that are dotted with doughnuts. After making fun of a teammate who wore funny socks to practice, he returned the joke by gifting her the doughnut socks to wear during a competition. She’s since worn them to every tournament.
“I think that definitely matches with me. I really like eating unhealthy and eating sweets, but I don’t really get the freedom to do that during the season,” laughed Emerson, noting that a maple bar is her doughnut of choice.