After getting the privilege to be able to view and spectate the Battle at the Bay tournament I got the chance to speak to 114 pound senior varsity wrestler for Bayonne High School Somaia Elokda about her passion for the sport, her pioneership for Women’s wrestling in the state of New Jersey, and her feelings on the NJSIA and women’s sports in a full length interview.
How did you get into women’s wrestling?
“My Freshman year I was in gym class, and I actually made a bet with one of my friends that if I miss this shot I have to join the wrestling team this year. So, obviously, I missed the shot. I ended up going to the interest meeting, he didn’t show up and I ended up being the only one there. When I had first joined there was only one other girl on the team. I kind of just stayed with her during that time. She was basically my practice partner when I first started.”
How do you feel about the recent Women’s wrestling boom, especially in the state of New Jersey?
“Honestly, it has probably been one of the craziest things to see. Starting off my Freshman year, I remember I only wrestled boys. My first match against a girl was in the regional tournament. I started wrestling the first year they sanctioned girls wrestling in New Jersey. Wrestling my first match against a girl in the regional tournament was completely different from any of my other boy matches. To see where it is four years later is crazy to me, to see how much things have changed and how it has opened up for girls. Just seeing how colleges are having more division one programs opening up for girls wrestling, I am honestly so proud of it and how we have come this far in such a short amount of time. I’m very glad and I’m trying to do everything I can to help get more girls in the sport and expand it.”
How has your experience on the Bayonne Women’s wrestling team been thus far in the four years?
“My first year was tough. I remember people hating me, I remember there were practices where boys didn’t want to practice with me, I remember just a lot of my teammates weren’t that supportive and nice, but coming back my Sophomore year we were able to build up a girls team. We had eight girls and I managed to gain respect from the boys team. Ever since it has been a really good experience. I have such a good relationship with all the girls on my team, I love them to death and they are basically like sisters to me. The boys on my team are people I couldn’t be closer with. My relationship with them dramatically changed from my Freshman and Sophomore year. I was able to gain their respect through the sport, and they got to know me as a person. It has been a little up and down, but it has been worth it.”
What are some of the reactions you get in what was a predominantly male run sport in years past?
“For me it has been a little different. When I first started it was very negative energy, especially from the boys. A lot of the times, I still feel this way, when I wrestle a boy either they are terrified to wrestle me because they think I am fragile or they are ready to kill me and want to injure me, make me bleed, or make me cry. It’s kind of difficult for me. I have also gotten very positive reactions where whenever I wrestle people are saying how great of a job I am doing for being a girl in the sport. It is a little different depending on where I am, but I feel like throughout the years, it is being better known and there is more exposure in the sport, there are more positive reactions compared to negative reactions.”
What do you think the toughest part of wrestling is to you?
I would say probably, the emotional side of it can be draining sometimes. It is very difficult for me, I struggled a lot with me wanting to be as good as a boy (wrestler). I practiced more than boys, I had better technique than the boys, I ran more than the boys I did it all, and I would still get beat by a boy. I didn’t understand why. I thought no matter how hard I worked, I was saying why am I still losing to a boy? I felt like I deserved more. I deserved to win. It was so frustrating for me to lose just because someone was stronger than me, it was something I couldn’t control. No matter how much I worked out and no matter what I did, I wouldn’t have that same level of strength that they did, or that same body type that they did, and that is why it was so difficult for me to win matches, so I think that is one of the hardest parts. Along with that comes having to make weight, having to eat healthy. For wrestling you have to be either one-hundred percent in or you’re one-hundred percent out. Making that switch was difficult.”
What are your biggest goals for not only your season, but your career in wrestling?
“What I really want to do is I want to make sure when I leave my senior season, I want to know that my hometown’s varsity team is in a good place. I want them to be strong, have a lot of culture, I just want them to be a tight knit group. I want everyone to support each other and be supportive of the people joining the team. For me personally, my ultimate goal is to go to the state tournament. I’ve placed fifth two years in a row, it has been difficult for me to get in there. I just want to go to the state tournament, and I just want to have fun this season and make it the most memorable one.”
After some off the record bounter between Somaia and I, she wanted to include one last thing about an issue important to her for girls wrestling and the state tournament coming up at the end of the season.
“I don’t know if everyone is aware of this, since the 2019 season when girls wrestling was sanctioned, we wrestled at Atlantic City on the boardwalk alongside the boys. During COVID, they had to shut that down, so they had the girls wrestling at Phillipsburg High School. This year the NJSIA decided that the boys will be wrestling at Atlantic City and the girls will remain at Phillipsburg High School. I wanted to bring attention to this because the most important thing for the sport is to keep building it up, and by the NJSIA taking this step, for them to put us in Phillipsburg High School honestly has such a negative impact on the sport and I feel like I can not go through this interview without bringing this up. Wrestling alongside the boys we get to have the same dreams as them, we’re on the same level as them, we get to have that same experience of being a state champion. Wrestling at Boardwalk Hall is every boys dream if you ask them, and for them not giving the girls that after giving it to them for two years and then taking it away is honestly the most heartbreaking thing they can do. Especially for the girls who have wrestled there already, and I hope by the time state’s come around they can change their minds, I feel like I need to bring attention to this. I’m actively trying to work on something right now to bring attention, like a petition. A state champion wrestler started something over the summer, but it didn’t go anywhere. I am trying to find a way to bring attention to this and bring the girls back in Atlantic City. It is honestly just awful they are taking away the dream from the girls.”
Bumping into Somaia and others at the Battle at the Bay tournament was amazing because talking on a sport that doesn’t have much coverage is eye opening. Somaia is very passionate and well spoken for her age, and her Senior season is expected to be a huge one.