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One of Monterey County’s top wrestlers signs on to NAIA powerhouse Providence – The Californian

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Seven years ago, Kaelyn Siason went to wrestling practice for the first time. A cheerleader up to that point, she went with her parents to one of her brother’s practices with the Amateur Wrestling Academy (AWA).

“We were just sitting there watching,” she said. “I thought, ‘This might be better for me.’ I liked it better than cheer.”

Next time her brother Riley went to a practice, Siason went from sitting on the sidelines watching to participating on the mat.

“She started to practice and train with the other kids,” Armando Gonzalez Sr., one of the AWA coaches, remembers. “Eventually, she made the tough transition into the competition part of it.”

Since then, she’s become one of the most successful female wrestlers in Monterey County history. This week she made it official: Siason will be continuing her career with the University of Providence in Great Falls, Montana.

Early success

By the time she’d reached Everett Alvarez High School, Siason had multiple years of experience on the mat. She hit the ground running immediately and was the only freshman in the Central Coast Section (CCS) quarterfinals of her weight class (111 pounds).

Those early years with the Eagles remain some of her fondest memories, she said.

“I had this amazing group of girls,” she said. “We were a small group but we felt like a family. They showed me what it was like to be part of a girls’ team, something I didn’t really have to that point.”

That run to the quarterfinals was an early indicator of coming success.

The following season, she medaled in multiple tournaments before finishing fourth in the CCS tournament as a sophomore in the competitive 116-pound class.

“She has a very workmanlike demeanor,” Gonzalez Sr. said. “She’s a gritty, tough girl. Before she became a champion she was a wrestler, then a contender, then a champion.”

As a junior, the wins and medals piled up.

First-place finishes at the Menlo-Atherton Bear Bash, 10th Annual Overfelt High Lady Royals and 2nd Annual Lincoln High Rose Garden Rumble tournaments set the stage for another breakthrough: her first CCS title and a trip to the state championships in Bakersfield.

All the while, she was training and competing with the AWA outside of the school season.

“They gave me a really good foundation to start on,” Siason said. “We always have a really hands-on type of environment and control our positions so you move your opponents first. Then they have to adjust to you instead of you adjust to them.” 

AWA alums have won CCS, state and national tournament titles for years. Two-time NCAA champion and Salinas native Jesse Delgado worked with the club throughout his youth career.

There are multiple examples of success tied to the academy. Siason had to put in the work to stand out.

“(She’s) gotten this far and made it through all of the battles and traveling all over the country,” Gonzalez Sr. said. “Coming home with a 4-2 record but no medal and building it up to going 6-1, 7-0 and coming home with a medal is a journey. Everyone else is doing exactly what you are doing. Some never break out and are just contenders at best; they never get to the top like she has.”

A senior standout

Siason’s junior season was outstanding.

She had great competition in and outside of the Eagles’ practices, taking on some of the junior varsity boys — as well as her brother occasionally — to go against wrestlers close to her weight, and it paid off.

“I would be going with the boys to get a feel for stronger competition,” Siason said. “That prepared me well for CCS and states.”

Her senior year continued that upward trend.

She won four tournaments: the California Super 32 Early Entry Tournament, Menlo-Atherton Bear Bash, La Manzanita 2020 Lady’s Classic and 2020 San Benito Lady Baler Bash. 

Interspersed between those wins was medal-winning finishes at the Women’s West Coast High School Tournament of Champions and the 22nd Annual Napa Valley Girls’ Classic, two of the most competitive tournaments in the state.

She also took home first at the Flo Reno Worlds Tournament, one of the biggest championships in the country.

“There were a lot of hard-fought battles in tournaments in Fresno, Las Vegas and Reno,” Gonzalez Sr. said. “In a club with a lot of elite athletes, she represents the club very well.”

Another CCS title awaited her at the end of her senior season. Three pins, one major decision and one overtime win later, she stood on the top step of the podium a champion again in the 116-pound class.

It wouldn’t be the last time she made a podium, either — Siason took fourth place in the state championships this spring to cap off her career.

“It made me feel proud of where I’m from,” she said. “There’s other towns and schools that are known for having amazing wrestlers… it felt good to put my town on the map because this is where I grew up and learned everything I know.”

Next level attention

The University of Providence wrestling program kept tabs on Siason leading up to her signing. 

“Since state last year, they’ve been following me a little bit,” she said.

Argonauts head coach Carlene Sluberski viewed her strong postseason and tournament performances as an indicator she could make it at the next level.

“She was a multiple-time CIF qualifier and wrapped up her senior year with a fourth-place finish at state,” Sluberski said. “When you see consistent progression from an athlete, you know you have someone that is all in and isn’t afraid to put the work in.”

The AWA coaches weren’t surprised she got an offer from the University of Providence. 

“We texted her saying, ‘we knew you were going to do it,'” Gonzalez Sr. said. “When you’re in the midst of it, cutting weight and practicing hard, it hurts and you don’t want to do it. But when you place fourth in state, win the Reno Worlds, the work becomes worth it.”

The Argonauts wrapped up this past season ranked in the top five of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). The NAIA is comprised of smaller and fewer colleges than the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) — 251 versus 1,268 — and as such NAIA athletics are comparable to that of NCAA Division II.

Siason’s joining a prestigious program — the Argonauts had two wrestlers ranked first in their class in the Western Region and multiple in the top three.

But that’s not all she was taking into consideration.

“Being from Salinas and Monterey County, I really want to get into agriculture business,” Siason said. “I was really looking for a school that had a good program or work-study opportunities. They showed me that they had an amazing business administration program and work-study while still being able to maintain a good wrestling routine of practices, bonding with the team and study hall hours.” 

“Athletically and academically, she has had a great high school career,” Sluberski said. “I am very excited that we are the best fit.”

Though Siason’s plan to visit the campus fell through due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was able to get an extensive video tour with the Argonauts coaches. 

“They Facetimed me and showed me around the wrestling facility,” she said. “It meant a lot that they were doing their best to show me everything and give me the best virtual tour they could.”

In signing her letter of intent, Siason made it final. She’ll be suiting up for the NAIA power for her college career.

“As a coach, I want athletes that are invested in wholly bettering themselves,” Sluberski said. “(Siason) is that person… we couldn’t be more excited to welcome her to the Argo family.”

Ayrton Ostly peruses Twitter, fields, courts and tracks throughout Salinas looking for stories from the community. Have a tip? Drop an email to aostly@thecalifornian.com and subscribe for full access to all of The Californian’s local news coverage.