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She takes on the boys... and wins
Looks can be deceiving as Jessica Essad owns the mat for Cougars

Bel Willem RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL
9/20/2004 06:15 pm

Liz Margerum/RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL

LOOK OF A CHAMP: Jessica Essad has quite a record, having taken 23 out of 34 matches against boys in her 103 pound weight class. Essad's goal this season is to go to the State Championships.

Like a classic comic book superhero, hiding secret powers behind a standard exterior, Spanish Springs High senior Jessica Essad is not what she seems.

Look at her and you see a petite, pretty, smart high school student. She stands just 4-feet-11, weighs 90 pounds, and speaks in a girlie, bubbly voice.

But get her on a wrestling mat, and she unleashes forces to be reckoned with.

Last year, Essad won 23 out of 34 matches against boys in her 103-pound weight class. At the 2002 Reno Tournament of Champions, she pinned boys with more muscles than she and sent one away crying. This year, she hopes to make it to the state tournament.

But even her family will tell you that wrestling was the last thing they ever expected from Essad.

“I was like, ‘What? She’s so little!’” was the reaction of Essad’s older sister, Tamra Snyder, the mother-of-two with whom Essad lives. “She’s going to get her butt kicked, is what I thought.”

“She’s girlie, very girlie, very cute,” said her father, Dan Essad. “When little kids would go out and play, Jessica would stay in and draw things. She never got athletic. Her hand-eye coordination is way off.”

Which may have been one reason Essad didn’t make it when she tried out for basketball at Mendive Middle School. Her diminutive size was probably another reason, but the rejection turned out to be fateful. Essad was determined to find a sport to play, even if she didn’t join the teams her friends were joining.

She gave wrestling a try and discovered she loved it.

“I really liked beating up people, boys in particular,” Essad said, “All my family thought it was a phase.”

Dan Essad said he hoped the phase would pass quickly.

“I was concerned when I find out she was wrestling boys,” he said. “I didn’t know they did that. It would be like girls playing high school football.”

Except that in middle school, most girls are actually bigger than the boys their age, which worked to Essad’s advantage. She also found that, at that age, the sport required little athletic talent.

“In middle school, there isn’t really any skill, you just roll around,” Essad said.

She ended up winning more matches than she lost and felt confident enough to go out for the high school team her freshman year. Then everything changed. “It was a wake-up call,” she said. “I only won two matches.”

Unlike some, who might have taken repeated failure as their cue to quit, Essad redoubled her efforts. She joined the Sierra Morning Star wrestling club to train during the off season. By junior year at Spanish Springs High, she had turned her record around.

“She’s a hard worker,” said her coach, Art Anderson. “She’s had a lot of obstacles to overcome. The males that she wrestles are obviously stronger than she is, so she has a lot to overcome.”

Essad has learned to compensate for her lesser strength and smaller size with speed and skill, and admits bigger hips can also be an advantage against boys.

“You can hold them down (with your hips) or maneuver them, or there’s different moves you can do with your hips,” she said.

For those who wonder if she worries about her breasts, Essad insists it isn’t even a consideration.

“Wrestling is a sweaty, mean, physical sport,” she said. “Nobody cares if you get hurt. Nobody cares if you get touched wrong.” She also doesn’t worry about males going easier on her, just because she’s a girl. “They go 100 times harder because they don’t want to lose,” she said. “I’m like a menace. None of them want to be beat by me.”

Like it or not, most of her opponents get beat anyway. Her strongest move is called a single leg sweep. With it, Essad takes opponents down by sweeping one leg out from under them.

In retrospect, she thinks she might have become an even stronger wrestler if she hadn’t had so many competing interests. A devoted student who makes straight A’s, Essad is also an accomplished artist and writes poetry. She rides on the Reno Rodeo flag team and spends a lot of time on her horse training her English Pointer pooch how to hunt.

Today, she dreams of a career in advertising and isn’t sure she’ll continue wrestling in college.

“I don’t know if wrestling would be too much of an interference,” she said.

She does know that she’s learned more from her years on the mat than she ever thought she would.

“It’s taught me so much as a person, about determination, about heart,” she said. “If you want something so bad, no one can take it from you. I don’t care how much stronger they are, I don’t care how much faster they are, I don’t care how much smarter they are. If you have more heart, you can beat them.”