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Wonder girl: Sanchez paving the way for girls wrestling

By MARIO RENTERÍA, Sports Writer

Thursday, February 5, 2004 3:05 PM PST

Dateline: Holtville


Holtville High's Raven Sanchez poses in a file photo December. Sanchez will compete in the state championship finals of the California Women's Wrestling Association on Friday and Saturday after qualifying at the regionals in Valhalla High in El Cajon.CUAUHTEMOC BELTRAN PHOTO

The Imperial Valley has had its share of wrestling champions in different categories and levels, including CIF and state champs over the years.

What remains to be done in wrestling in the Imperial Valley is a state championship by a girl.

Holtville's Raven Sanchez, 14, is looking to be the first after finishing fourth at the 2004 Region IV Women's Wrestling Championships, qualifying for the state championships in the California Women's Wrestling Association. The CWWA is an association dedicated to promoting women's amateur wrestling at the high school and college level.

The 112-pound freshman qualified for the state tourney in the regionals last weekend at Valhalla High in El Cajon.

"I really wanted this," said Sanchez. "And I put a lot of effort in practice and worked on my moves to qualify ... and it paid off."

For Sanchez, this is what she has been working for all season. No tournament is bigger among high school girls wrestling in California.

"I'm kind of nervous because it's state," said Sanchez. "But I've worked really hard for this and whatever I learned this year, I've got to show it this weekend."

With only three years of wrestling experience under her belt, Sanchez was one of few underclassmen who qualified for the state championship.

"She was one of the few freshman that qualified," said Holtville High wrestling coach C.J. Johnston. "Most were juniors and seniors. I knew she had a good shot."

Only the second girl to wrestle at Holtville High, Sanchez started with the Holtville Junior Wrestling Take Down Club.

"I joined because I thought it would be a fun thing to do," she said.

In a sport dominated by boys, Sanchez is holding her own.

"She's very competitive," said Johnston. "Before the season started I found out she was coming out. I didn't know how long she would last, but I found out she is real competitive and wants to compete with the boys and be the best she can be.

"She works real hard in practice and doesn't take anything from the boys," added Johnston.

After three all-girl tournaments, including the regionals, Sanchez has an individual record of 9-3, not including matches against boys. At the regionals, she finished 3-2 in the 116-pound weight division.

In her first match at regionals, Sanchez dominated Ginny Jimenez from Big Bear High, beating her 14-0.

Sanchez pinned her second opponent in the second period. Her opponent's name or school was not available.

In her third match, Sanchez was pinned by Carla O'Connell of Redondo Union High in Redondo Beach, ending her chances of finishing in first or second at regionals. Sanchez said she lost the match because of an error.

"I made a mistake through the match and she just got me on my back and pinned me," said Sanchez. "It was pretty much even. ... I just made a mistake and she caught it.

"I was disappointed because I wasn't able to go for the first and second position," said Sanchez. "So I had to wrestle for third and fourth."

O'Connell went on to win the division.

Sanchez won her next match with a 15-7 decision over Lanae Reese of Orange Glen High of Escondido.

In the third-place match, Sanchez lost to an opponent she faced a week before, Stephanie Lopez of West Covina High.

"We had met before and she pinned me in the first period," said Sanchez. "I had worked really hard because I knew I was going to meet her again."

This time, although Lopez got the win, it wasn't a pin. Lopez won on a 15-1 decision.

The top five in each weight class qualified for the state championships.

In the other two tournaments, Sanchez finished fourth (116 pounds) at the Eisenhower High girls tournament Jan. 24 in Rialto and finished second (120 pounds) in the San Diego Invitational Dec. 20 at Ramona High in the San Diego area.

Champions at the state tournament will qualify for the national championships.

Sanchez praises her coaches and teammates for her success.

"I pretty much owe it to my coaches and teammates for making work so hard," she said.


Wrestling: Female grappler pins down respect

February 6, 2004

Click to enlarge

Lexey Swall/Staff

Ashley Dehnz, 17, puts Dustin Meneleym 14, into a headlock during practice Thursday at Gulf Coast High School. Dehnz’s junior varsity record this season is 12-1.

As quick as she's pinning her opponents, Gulf Coast High School's Ashley Dehnz is making a name for herself and her sport.

Last weekend at Osceola High School in Kissimmee, Dehnz didn't waste any time in capturing her second consecutive girls' wrestling state championship.

In winning the 119-pound title, Dehnz recorded three straight falls, including an amazing nine-second decision in the semifinals.

In the finals, the junior needed a little more time — but not much.

Dehnz pinned Jeannette Valentine of Quinciana in one minute and 51 seconds.

Dehnz, who captured the 107-pound title last year while attending Barron Collier, has reached the point in her young athletic career that her reputation already is preceding her.

"All the girls that are wrestling know each other, so if you have some success, that gives you an advantage," Dehnz says.

"I don't know if they're scared when they have to wrestle me, but I think pinning girls so fast gets them a little worried."

And while girls wrestling isn't sanctioned by the Florida High School Athletic Association, performances like Dehnz's has helped it become a legitimate sport.

Last week — in the sixth year of the event — 127 females competed. Dehnz competed against 16 girls in her weight class. And she had to win five matches to take home the championship, which is similar to a top boys wrestling event.

According to Jim Bird, the Osceola wrestling coach, there currently are 584 girls wres tling at the high school level.

But even though that seems like a big number, it's far from enough to be sanctioned by the FHSAA.

The FHSAA bylaws say that 32 two schools in two of the Florida's four sections must be participating before it can become a sanctioned sport. Even though other girls sports like flag football and weightlifting are recognized by the state's governing body, wrestling is having a tough time getting off the mat.

"Girls wrestling has grown enormously over the past six years but we all need to get on the same page if it's ever going to get any bigger," says Bird, who has 15 girls — a JV and varsity team — at his school.

Dehnz, 17, is the only one of two local girls currently participating in wrestling.

And since one person doesn't exactly make a team, she practices and is a member of the boys JV team at Gulf Coast.

Gulf Coast wrestling coach Mike DiGrigoli admits when Dehnz and her stepfather Don Thompson first approached him last summer about joining the team, he didn't know what to think.

DiGrigoli has quickly become a believer.

"At first I was reluctant, hesitant, and really didn't know what to say about it," DiGrigoli says. "Now, I have a totally different outlook about girls wrestling."

But it wasn't Dehnz's success that changed DiGrigoli's perspective. It was Dehnz's work habits that convinced him this was a great addition to the team.

"She has a work ethic second to none," DiGrigoli says. "She has never missed a practice.

She always gives 110 percent.

And there are many nights that I use her as an example, telling the boys if they worked half as hard as her, they might just accomplish something."

DiGrigoli also describes Dehnz as tougher than nails.

She says that's because she doesn't like to lose at anything.

Dehnz, who has been wrestling for five years, says this isn't a publicity stunt. She's serious about the sport and in it for the long haul. She plans on continuing her education and her wrestling career in college.

According to Bird, nine universities offer women's wrestling, with Missouri Valley in Marshall, Mo., being one of the top schools. It's also the one school Dehnz has her eye on.

Dehnz, who is 4-1 this season, says her goal of getting to college through wrestling is why she works so hard. And she doesn't care what anyone thinks.

"Sure, people think I'm a little crazy when they first hear that I wrestle, but when they see me they know I'm serious," Dehnz says. "I want to wrestle in college. That's my goal and that's what I'm working towards."


Rachel Roberts nearly takes state girls mat crown
Boys squad has stand out tourney wins

By Christie Phillips 2/7/04

One Key West wrestler, senior Rachel Roberts, reached the state championship match in the 160-pound class of the Girls State Tournament, held last weekend.

Roberts pinned her first-round opponent and followed it with a pin in the semifinals. She lost in the final by pin.

“She had limited mat time during the regular season but did manage a 3-3 record on the boy’s team,” said Conch wrestling coach Tont Ahlswede. “I’m very proud of her.

“She worked as hard as the guys did all season long and didn’t expect them to take it easy on her. She never backed down for being thrown in with the guys during practice matches.

“I have no doubt that if we were able to get her more real mat time during the season she would have had a better shot at winning the state final.”

Roberts may compete in women’s wrestling in college, he noted.


Several Key West High School wrestlers stood out individually in the recent Lightning Duals tournament, held at Dr. Krop High School in Broward County.

Conch senior Alex Esquinaldo racked up three pins in the 145-pound pool matches that pitched the Conchs against Dr. Krop, Braddock High School and Cooper City High School.

Senior Lavon Gunn at 119, junior Chad Rodriguez at 130 and sophomore James Ahlswede at 103 each recorded two match-winning pins.

Senior Rich Vandine earned one pin, along with junior Ian Lauritzen and sophomore Corey Peters.

“Our most experienced guys got top state-level matches, better preparing them for the upcoming state [playoff] series,” said Conch head coach Tony Ahlswede. His said his athletes “showed up ready to wrestle and get better.”

Vacant weight classes kept Key West from competing for team honors at the tournament.

Key West then faced fellow Class 1A, Region 4 competition Chaminade-Madonna, winning, 30-21.

“Both teams had a number of forfeits, Key West’s five to Chaminade’s four,” Ahlswede said. “In getting our wrestlers ready for the state tournament, we coaches shuffled lineups a bit to ensure our top kids got matches.”

Gunn at 119 pinned his competition. Rodriguez at 130 won, 9-8, in the last seconds of his match.

Esquinaldo at 145 won, 16-14, in overtime.

Key West then slammed Chaminade with three straight pins by Vandine at 160, Peters at 171 and Lauritzen at 189.

The Conchs compete in the Dr. Papa-Jupiter Invitational this weekend.


Girls put wrestling stereotype in headlock

By Jeremy D. Malamed, IJ reporter 2/6/04

For Kelly Coplin, it started with a sign, then a revelation.

Three years later, she's one of the top female wrestlers in the state.

It's been nearly 35 years since a Marin wrestler last won a state championship, but Coplin and five others will try to end that drought this weekend at the California Girls Wrestling Championships at Vallejo High.

It's the fourth year a state tournament has been held for girls in California, but the first time the participants had to qualify through regional tournaments.

"This is a really big step in moving girls programs closer to boys programs," said Coplin, who placed fourth at last year's open state tournament. "It definitely gives a lot more validation to winning a state title."

Coplin, a Redwood High junior, will be joined in Vallejo by teammates Karin Fisher, Emily Justus and Kristen Esterheld, along with Kristina Koenning of Novato and Anne Campbell of Tamalpais.

Campbell likely represents Marin's best chance at a state championship. Novato brothers Ken and Kirtis Donaldson were the last locals to win state titles, both achieving the feat in 1969.

Ranked second in the state in the 235-pound division by the California Women's Wrestling Association, Campbell is 8-2 on the year in girls tournaments, including a victory over No. 1 ranked Danielle Frietas of Castro Valley in the finals of last weekend's Region 1 state qualifying tournament in San Leandro. The most recent rankings were released prior to regionals.

"There's a lot smaller pool of competition (than with the boys), but it would still be pretty awesome if I could win state," Campbell said.

Coplin enters today's preliminary rounds ranked fourth in the state at 114 pounds. Three years ago, she was on the Redwood dance team when she saw a sign in a school hallway, inviting students to join the wrestling team.

"I dropped off the dance team and went out for wrestling," said Coplin, a 4.0 student who also does cross country and track at Redwood. "Part of our PE program at Del Mar Middle School involved wrestling and I really enjoyed it. I decided to try something different, something new."

Since then she has been an influential figure in promoting the growth of wrestling among girls in Marin. Not only did she recruit other girls at Redwood to come out for the team, but her efforts were also instrumental in getting Koenning to compete at last weekend's regionals.

Like all female wrestlers in Marin, Coplin practices and competes with boys throughout the season. Despite rapidly gaining interest in wrestling among girls - according to CWWA president Robert Redman, participation numbers have doubled in the past two years - the California Interscholastic Federation still views it as a sport in which boys and girls can compete on the same team, much like football. Therefore, there are no separate teams for girls and until recently, no separate tournaments.

This year saw an all-time high 12 tournaments on the girls schedule, plus regionals. Redwood coach Pavan Gulati has six girls on his team, the most of any Marin school, and has supported the girls at the tournaments.

Coplin was thrown into the fire her freshman season. Redwood didn't have enough wrestlers - male or female - to fill out a lineup card, so on many occasions, Coplin was forced to wrestle in varsity dual matches.

"That first year was very difficult," she said. "I didn't know about the girls tournaments so I only wrestled guys. My goal in most of the matches was really just not to get pinned, which happened a lot. It was a little bit discouraging, but I didn't want to quit."

It was during the summer before her sophomore school year that Coplin discovered her passion for the sport. She went to an all-girls wrestling camp in Pennsylvania that doubled as a training center for high school girls going to nationals, and received hands-on training from members of the United States women's World Cup team.

"That was when I had my revelation in wrestling," Coplin said. "My fundamentals were cemented during that summer."

Coplin returned not only more confident about her skills, but also more educated about the opportunities available to female wrestlers. She started attending some all-girls tournaments and for the first time, tasted success on the mat.

This season, Coplin is one of the most experienced wrestlers at Redwood. She was named a team co-captain and has garnered several medals with high finishes at girls tournaments, along with the respect of her male teammates.

"From what I've seen, girls don't get treated any differently than the boys," Coplin said. "Having six girls out of 18 wrestlers isn't that much of a minority, but the boys have been very supportive of us and even receptive to my help. We're treated just like anyone else."

Still, it's her victories against wrestlers of the opposite sex that she holds in the highest regard.

"It's great to win against girls, but there's something special about beating a guy," she said. "It's like all the odds are against you and no one is expecting it. You definitely get a different reaction from your teammates, your coach and the crowd."

Like Coplin, Campbell was first introduced to wrestling through a PE program in middle school. She has taken big strides in each of her first three seasons, going from one second-place finish as a freshman, to three seconds and a third last year, to four first-place finishes already this season.

One of her practice partners at Tam has been Ben Sherman, one of the league's top-ranked wrestlers in the 215-pound division.

"She's a good wrestler ... really dedicated, really motivated," Sherman said.

Local interest should be high in the 120-pound division this weekend, with Koenning and Justus vying for medals. The two faced off in a Marin County Athletic League dual match between Redwood and Novato last Thursday night with Justus pinning Koenning in the final seconds of the match. Two days later, Koenning, a freshman, returned the favor by pinning Justus, a junior, in the finals of the Region 1 tournament.

The top five finishers in each of the four regions qualified for the state tournament.

Fisher, a freshman 98-pounder, qualified by finishing third in San Leandro, while Esterheld was the only competitor at 195s, earning automatic qualification. A freshman first-year wrestler, Esterheld is ranked third in the state in her division. Redwood finished fourth in the team standings at the Region 1 tournament.

The top eight finishers in each weight class at the state meet will receive medals.

"We came up with the idea of having regionals to eliminate some of the kids that never really wrestled and also to get better matchups," Redman said. "It also gives the girls more leverage in the mat room of equality. Now the girls can come back next week and feel good that not only did they finish fifth in the state, but they had to qualify to get there."

Whatever happens to the Marin girls in Vallejo this weekend, it won't be an ending. For the first time, the North Coast Section will hold an all-girls division at its championship tournament on Feb. 27-28.

Looking further down the road, the sport is taking off across the world, creating new opportunities for girls who wish to pursue wrestling beyond high school. At least 10 universities offer women's wrestling, with some going so far as to offer athletic scholarships, and there will four weight classes of women's wrestling at the coming Summer Olympics in Athens.


Upsets are rare in first session of Dave Schultz Memorial International in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Gary Abbott/USA Wrestling

There were very few upsets in the first session of the Dave Schultz Memorial International Championships, held at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

There are 288 entries this year, including 102 men freestyle wrestlers, 95 men Greco-Roman wrestlers, and 91 women freestyle wrestlers.

The quality of the competition is also high. The field included five past World or Olympic champions, and a total of 20 past World or Olympic medallists.

Two rounds were held in women’s freestyle and men’s Greco-Roman, and one round was held in men’s freestyle in the morning round. The second session begins at 4:00 p.m. MST on Saturday.

The 120 kg/264.5 pound division in Greco-Roman features a pair of gold medalists: 2000 Olympic and 2001 World champion Rulon Gardner (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) and 2002 World Champion Dremiel Byers (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army). Both won two matches on Saturday morning, and have captured their pool competition, moving on to the semifinals.

The most loaded weight class in the field is the 63 kg/138.75 lbs. women’s division. It features a pair of multiple World Champions, Nikola Hartmann-Dunser of Austria and Kristie Marano (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC). Past World medalists in the division are Sara McMann (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids), Lene Aanes of Norway and Viola Yanik of Canada. All of these medalists were unbeaten in the morning session, except for Hartmann-Dunser, who lost to Yanik by pin.

The other past World champion in the field is Brigitte Wagner of Germany in the women’s 48 kg/105.5 lbs. division. Wagner’s top challenger could be Patricia Miranda (Colorado Springs, Colo./Dave Schultz WC), who was a World silver medalist in 2003.

Perhaps the biggest upset of a U.S. wrestler was the defeat of No. 2 ranked Mike Mena (Bloomington, Ind./New York AC), who was defeated by Matt Azevedo (San Luis Obispo, Calif./Sunkist Kids), 4-1 at 55 kg/121 lbs.

Another tough match in that division came in the second round, when No. 1 Stephen Abas (Fresno, Calif./Sunkist Kids) needed to come from behind to defeat Enkhtur Badamsaikhan, a Mongolian competing in the USA, by an 8-4 margin. Badamsaikhan led 4-2 in the second period, but Abas scored a takedown and an ankle lace to grab a 5-4 lead, then closed out the match with three more points.

The Dave Schultz International marked the return of 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Garrett Lowney (Appleton, Wis./Minnesota Storm), who has been injured since last year. Lowney pinned Brandon Ruiz (Colorado Springs, Colo./Elite) in 1:10 in his first bout.


World champions Byers and Gardner among semifinalists at Dave Schultz Memorial International in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Gary Abbott/USA Wrestling

The semifinal pairings have been determined after the first day at the Dave Schultz Memorial International Championships, held at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., Feb. 7

The quality of the semifinalists at 63 kg/138.75 lbs. women’s division is outstanding. Two-time World Champion Kristie Marano (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) will battle 2003 World bronze medalist Viola Yanik of Canada. In the other semifinal, 2003 World silver medalist Sara McMann (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) will face. 2002 World bronze medalist Lene Aanes of Norway

At this division, multiple World Champion Nikola Hartmann-Dunser of Austria was defeated by Yanik and did not advance.

Among the semifinalists at 48 kg/105.5 lbs. in the women’s draw are 2002 World champion Brigitte Wagner of Germany and 2003 World silver medalist Patricia Miranda (Colorado Springs, Colo./Dave Schultz WC). Wagner faces Clarrisa Chun (Colorado Springs, Colo./Gator WC), while Miranda will battle Lindsay Belisle of Canada.

Women’s freestyle
48 kg/105.5 lbs.
Lindsay Belisle CAN vs. Patricia Miranda USA
Clarissa Chun USA vs. Brigitte Wagner GER

51 kg/112.25 lbs.
Malinda Ripley USA vs. Carol Huyhn CAN
Melina Hutchison USA vs. Debbi Sakai USA

55 kg/121 lbs.
Tina George USA vs. Erica Sharp CAN
Jen Ryz CAN vs. Christina Oertli GER

59 kg/130 lbs.
Erin Tomeo USA vs Brandy Rosenbrock USA
Othella Lucas USA vs.Lauren Lamb USA

63 kg/138.75 lbs.
Sara McMann USA vs. Lene Aanes NOR
Viola Yanik USA vs. Kristie Marano USA

67 kg/147.5 lbs.
Gold medal match – Shannon Samler CAN vs. Kelly Branham USA
Bronze medal match – Randi Miller USA vs. Malissa Sherwood USA

72 kg/158.5 lbs.
Toccara Montgomery USA vs. Anita Schaetzle GER
Ohenowa Akuffo CAN vs. Stephany Lee USA


Semifinals wrapup in all three styles at Dave Schultz Memorial International in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Gary Abbott/USA Wrestling

All of the semifinals have been held, and the finalists determined at the Dave Schultz Memorial International Championships, held at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., Feb. 8.

The semifinal round saw as well as a scary moment for Olympic champion Rulon Gardner (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids), who was thrown to his back by Sweden’s Eddy Bengtsson. Gardner rebounded for a 5-4 victory.


Women’s freestyle
48 kg/105.5 lbs.
Patricia Miranda USA dec. Lindsay Belisle CAN, 4-2
Brigitte Wagner GER dec. Clarissa Chun USA, 5-2

Miranda and Belisle were tied at 1-1 in the first period, and Belisle jumped to a 2-1 lead in the second period. However, a takedown and exposure put Miranda ahead 3-2, and another takedown late in the match sealed the win. Miranda and Belisle have met many times in recent years, both World-caliber competitors.

Chun scored first, and a Wagner takedown tied it at 1-1 at break. However, in the second period, Wagner, a 2002 World champion, opened up her offense and started scoring takedowns with regularity.

51 kg/112.25 lbs.
Carol Huyhn CAN dec. Malinda Ripley USA, 5-3
Melina Hutchison USA pin Debbi Sakai USA, 1:11

A close bout between talents, Huyhn, a past World medalist, led 2-1 in the first, but Ripley came back for a 3-2 lead at break. Early in the second period, Huyhn jumped to a 5-3 lead, and held on for a 5-3 victory.

Hutchison, who has missed a year on the national circuit due to injury, has come back strong. She has gone down in weight, and is wrestling with energy and confidence. She took Sakai down and scored the fall in just 1:11.

55 kg/121 lbs.
Tina George USA dec. Erica Sharp CAN, 4-1
Jen Ryz CAN dec. Christina Oertli GER, 6-1

George jumped to a 4-0 lead in the first period, looking good on her feet and in the scramble positions. Sharp came back with a spin behind takedown in the second, but George did not gie up any more points. Both are past World medalists, a good showdown of talents.

In a battle of international contenders, Ryz, a former World medalist, had the upper hand the entire match. Ryz started off at 3-0, then extended the lead to 6-0 before Oertli scored her only point in the closing seconds.

59 kg/130 lbs.
Erin Tomeo USA dec. Brandy Rosenbrock USA, 7-0
Lauren Lamb USA tech. fall Othella Lucas USA, 12-1, 5:11

With no points in the first period, the athletes went to the clinch. Tomeo executed a sweet body lock inside trip to score three points, and one for the hold on the back, for a 4-0 lead. Tomeo closed the match out with another three-pointer later in the second period.

A battle of experience against young talent went to the veteran Lamb, who has been on five U.S. World teams. Lamb led 6-1 at the break, then added another six unanswered points in the second period, including a sweet three-point arm throw to exposure.

63 kg/138.75 lbs.
Lene Aanes NOR dec. Sara McMann USA, 5-2
Kristie Marano USA dec. Viola Yanik USA, 5-2

In a battle of World medalists, McMann scored the first point on a leg attack. In the second period, Aanes opened up the score on counter techniques, first scoring two points on a counter, then another point for a 3-1 lead. When McMann was on top after a takedown, trailing 3-2, she tried to lift and turn Aanes, who scored a reversal with exposure and the final 5-2 score.

Marano, a reigning World champion, had too much for World bronze medalist Yanik, scoring most of her points off counter offense. Marano led 3-1 at break, and maintained her edge in the second period. Yanik’s two takedowns came on leg attacks.

67 kg/147.5 lbs.
No semifinals here, because the gold-medal and bronze medal bouts are already determined.

72 kg/158.5 lbs.
Anita Schaetzle GER dec. Toccara Montgomery USA, 9-8, ot, 6:19
Stephany Lee USA, pin Ohenowa Akuffo CAN, 1:00

In a mild upset, veteran Schaetzle kept the pressure on Montgomery all match, and finally emerged in overtime with the win. The lead see-sawed throughout. Schaetzle took an 8-5 lead on an arm throw, but Montgomery tied it with a reversal to exposure and an additional back point for an 8-8 tie at the end of regulation. In overtime, a scramble off of a leg shot had Montgomery almost behind for the score, but Schaetzle smartly countered again and got on top for the winning takedown.

Lee, a college student with a strong judo background, make quick work of Akuffo, a veteran who has extensive World-level experience. Lee executed a high amplitude throw to the back, then pressed Akuffo for the fall.