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Torrey Pines’ Emily Sway making her mark in wrestling, judo

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TPHS wrestler Emily Sway
(Michael Cava)

Sometimes, Emily Sway prefers the slower pace. She carves out time in her busy schedule for tranquil endeavors.

“I love to sew,” Sway said. “I’m a pretty crafty person. It’s really calming.”

Sway’s pursuits aren’t all quite so serene.

The Torrey Pines junior is a rising star in girls’ wrestling, by many accounts the nation’s fastest growing high school sport.

Sway earlier this month qualified for the state championships for a second straight year, becoming the first Torrey Pines wrestler (boys or girls) to do so in 10 years.

She also an accomplished martial artist too. Sway is ranked No. 3 in the nation in judo in the 48 kg weight division. She also competes in jiu-jitsu.

“Judo and wrestling are pretty similar,” Sway said. “In judo the purpose is to throw the person back and in wrestling you’re trying to take the person down, but you can also throw them.”

Sway’s rapid ascent to elite status on the high school wrestling circuit is nevertheless especially impressive because she doesn’t have much experience in the sport, said Falcons assistant coach Wes Lee Jr., who overseas her training.

“Usually you only see this from people who the only thing they do is wrestling,” Lee said. “It’s year-round, non-stop. You see them going to camps and all that other stuff. Emily’s only been to one camp.”

It is also impressive because Sway is undersized at just 5-feet tall. Last season Sway won the San Diego Section in the 101-pound weight division. This season she’s competing in the 106-pound division, where most of her opponents are at least a half foot taller.

Sway credits coaches with helping her learn to counter an inherent advantage some of the taller wrestlers have in being able to generate leverage with her athleticism and agility.

Sway has been competing in martial arts since she was 10 Her parents encouraged her to take up a sport after she’d given up soccer.

Her accomplishments are numerous, and all indications are that she’s just getting warmed up.

Sway will join elite company competing at the March 8-10 USA Judo Youth National Championships in Colorado Springs. She’ll be competing for a spot on the Judo Youth Cadet National team.

Sway is a two-time winner of the Winter National and Seattle Continental Championships, and a runner-up at the Dallas International Champion Presidents Cup, all USA Judo events.

She’s excelled in jiu-jitsu too. Sway is a two-time Kids Pan Am Champion, a three-time Kids World Champion in Gi and No Gi (with and without a traditional kimono) and a Kids International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation World Champion.

Wrestling seemed like a natural transition when she started high school.

“I wanted to do a sport for my school and I just felt wrestling would be a good fit,” Sway said.

She’s been an ambassador for the sport, encouraging others with some success to go out for the girls wrestling team.

Sway acknowledges it can be a tough sell. She believes stereotypes are an obstacle to women embracing a sport that has a lot to offer.

“I really take a lot of pride in it, I just love the sport,” she said. “I think they’re missing out on challenging themselves, being able to build confidence walking out on the street knowing how to defend yourself.”

Sway was the school’s only female wrestler her first two years at Torrey Pines. This year, she’s among four. Sophomore Autumn Bulibek, and freshmen Taylor Anderson and Ilinca Feliciano are the others.

“She’s doing amazing things and all the other girls are seeing that,” Lee said. “There are two eighth graders that told us they want to wrestle (at Torrey Pines) next year. They see how successful Emily has been and they want to come in here now.”

Falcons head coach Connor Nesseler said Sway has taken a leadership role.

“Her leadership comes from her performance and her hard work,” he said. “Other athletes see her working and want to achieve her status.”

Sway said she’d like to pursue collegiate wrestling, but her options are limited. Despite the sport’s meteoric growth, the National Collegiate Athletic Association hasn’t yet sanctioned women’s wrestling.

There are about 40 or so women’s programs that are part of the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association. Menlo College, Kings College and Southern Oregon are among a handful of programs on the West Coast.

“I hope it changes because wrestling in college would be a really cool thing to do,” Sway said. “I’ll see where it takes me.”

Sway said wrestling has already helped her step outside of her comfort zone.

“A couple of years ago I don’t think I’d have been able to stand in front of a class and be able to give a speech,” she said. “I definitely feel like with wrestling it really helps me to step out of my boundaries and be more open.”

Sway said she plans to major in business or marketing. She eventually hopes to open up a martial arts studio geared towards women.

“Maybe I could empower more women to go into martial arts,” she said. “I think it’d be really awesome to encourage women to compete in a male-dominated sport.”


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