By JIM McCUE | SportStars
Strict training regimens and intense focus are necessary to achieve success in most sports, so it is a bit of a surprise that what started as a convenient babysitting activity yielded the Sac-Joaquin Section’s top wrestler.
Two-time CIF State Girls Wrestling champion Sariyah Jones of Enochs High took an unusual trip to the top of girls wrestling and is now enjoying an amazing journey to places far beyond Modesto where her athletic story began. As a toddler, Jones was brought along to wrestling dual meets and tournaments by her father, Ruben Jones, who was a referee.
“It started out as baby-sitting for me when I took my girls to wrestling tournaments and would sit them just off of the mat as I worked,” Said Ruben, who has coached Sariyah since she started wrestling at age 5. “I didn’t focus much on her wrestling at first, but then she went out in her first tournament and was just destroying little boys.”
Jones competed primarily against boys for the majority of her wrestling career, and then took her athletic talents to the next level when she began competing in regional and national wrestling tournaments in the girls divisions. She won the 2013 Body Bar Nationals which qualified her for the world junior and cadet finals in Serbia.
It was then that Ruben Jones knew their world would be changing drastically for wrestling. Sairyah has wrestled around the country and the world, including stops in Slovakia, Sweden, Austria, Germany, Brazil and Mexico in addition to more than half of the United States. The family also realized that fundraising to pay for world travel was going to be a new technique they would have to master.
Back home in Modesto, Jones placed fourth at the CIF State Wrestling Championships at 98 pounds as a freshman before competing abroad as a sophomore. Upon returning to high school wrestling, Sariyah has been nearly unbeatable, compiling a 65-1 record, including 48 pins in the last two years of high school competition. She is the two-time Section Masters and state champion at 106 pounds and received a scholarship to wrestle at Oklahoma City University, which is currently the No. 2 women’s wrestling program in the country.
“What has stood out in the last year or two is her discipline,” Ruben said. “She has always been very disciplined with her training and dieting, and this year it translated into the classroom and she raised her GPA.”
Jones’ hard work on the mat and in the classroom also netted the 2015 Fargo National Freestyle Championship and a realistic shot at competing to wrestle in Rio at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Just 17, Sariyah told her father earlier this year that she did not feel ready for the Olympics and instead would take on top collegiate and international opponents for 2-3 years to prepare for a serious run at qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
“I knew we had something special right away with Sariyah, but women’s wrestling has not always been an Olympic sport,” Ruben said. “She wants to go for it in 2020 when she feels that she will be in her prime and hopefully will have some national titles.”
The Olympic rings are a long way from the candy stripe rings that circled Sariyah’s first singlet, which prompted opponents and parents at tournaments to refer to Sariyah Jones as “candy cane.” Ruben and Sariyah embraced the nickname, but opponents soon stopped laughing when Candy Cane Jones took care of business on the mat.
Upon graduation, Sariyah will begin a new journey in college with new coaches, opponents and competition. The 2015-16 V Award Winner and Female Athlete of the Year has the focus to take this new trip to greater heights and the work ethic to continue to succeed with her father also graduated from the role of babysitter/referee and coach.
Said Ruben, “I am ready to take a step back and just be a Dad, fan and spectator, and to just relax and enjoy the journey.”
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