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Paving the way for women in wrestling

Pirates duo leads way for women in sport

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A Wellington C. Mepham High School wrestler is paving the way for more women to join the sport.

Talia Robles, a ninth-grader, is one of two young ladies currently on the team. They are among the first girls to ever be Pirates wrestlers. One of their teammates is Talia’s brother, Nicholas Robles, a senior at Mepham.

“It’s really fun being on the team with [Nicholas], our friends and coaches,” Talia told the Herald.

She has been wrestling for roughly four years now. She represents the changing face of a sport that has for decades been dominated by men.

“I remember seeing Talia at tournaments [when Nick was younger], and I never put two and two together that Nick would be a senior and Talia would be a freshman,” Coach Kenneth Richards said. “So, when she came up, I kind of knew who she was already.”

“Just the way the sport is moving, it’s going to be like boys’ basketball and girls’ basketball most likely in the next ten years,” Richards added. “There’s going to be a girls’ sport and a guys’ sport for wrestling.”

Joining the team was natural for Talia and she was quickly accepted by her peers, Richards explained. Nick’s fellow seniors and friends began to look out for Talia as soon as she became a Pirate.

“The culture of the team came together a little bit more knowing that not only were there other sibling duos on the team, but there was that brother and sister combo there,” Richards said.

“Most wrestlers are the most respectful athletes,” Nick said, “because they know how much gusto it takes to step on that mat, put your foot in that line and go out there by yourself.”

Talia had watched her brother wrestle competitively for years. She started wrestling in sixth grade while Nick was going into 10th grade. Once she entered Mepham, she knew she wanted to join the Pirates, she said.

“It looked really fun to do,” Talia said, “and I’m really glad I did it. It’s a lot of exercise, I get to be on the team with Nick, and I meet a lot of friends along the way.”

“I was always supportive of her from the get-go,” Nick said. During his freshman year, he saw a girl win a wrestling tournament first-hand, showing him that women were just as capable as the boys.

“I’ve never had any problem with girls wrestling,” Nick explained. “It’s always been nice to see all the women stepping up and becoming a part of the sport — and it’s nice to see my sister as part of that movement,”

Nick surmised that women have been absent from wrestling because of its male-dominated nature. Like football, he said, wrestling is traditionally for the boys.

“Now it’s starting to shift the focus, because more and more women are getting interested and joining the sport,” Nick said. “It’s starting to actually become a movement.”

“In the beginning, I was a little nervous because I saw a bunch of guys and I was the only girl in the room at some point,” Talia said. “I was definitely a little scared to join the team at first.”

During one of the first days of practice, Richards pledged to maintain clear communication with Talia. “If something’s not right for you, just let me know,” Richards said. “We’re working through this together — we’re learning together here. As much as she maybe learned from me, I was learning from her.”

Nick was luckily able to enjoy his final season with Talia after Covid-19 restrictions were loosened in New York State and wrestling could proceed. Next year, he will be off to college, and Talia will carry on the Robles legacy.

“It was outstanding that Nick was able to have this one season with her, giving her a little boost into the program,” Richards said. “Then, once Nick goes off to college, it’ll just be Talia there, and we’re very excited to have another Robles for four years.”

“Wrestling is for everybody — it doesn’t matter what gender you are,” Talia said.