Buffalo News

Wrestling star Fredonia’s Carlene Sluberski holds her own in a male-dominated sport

Fredonia High School’s 96-pound senior Carlene Sluberski to the world is recognized as the first woman ever to place in New York State wrestling finals, recently capturing a second-place Section VI title.

However, to those who know her best, she’s just another one of the guys.

Sluberski has been around the sport of wrestling since fifth grade and actually got involved when her dad signed up her little brother for a wrestling program at Fredonia. “At first I didn’t even like wrestling, but once I spent some time, I grew to like it a lot and with the help of my coaches, I’m grateful to have made it this far,” Sluberski said.

She wasn’t the only girl, either; three other girls were enrolled in the fifth-grade wrestling at that time.

Over the years, Sluberski stuck with it, competing on the junior varsity team in middle school and wrestling all four years of high school, reaching a shared record for second-most pins in Fredonia with an overall high school career record of 50-5, which previously only the top male wrestlers at the high school had acquired.

While Sluberski face challenges as a girl in a boys sport, it never stopped her. At home wrestling matches, Sluberski would change in the girls’ locker room while the rest of her teammates were in the boys’ locker room. For away matches, she would often change before getting on the bus. “It never really bothered me that much having to change in a different locker room from the guys. I was still part of the team, I just got ready differently,” she said.

This past season, Sluberski was not the only girl on the team. Junior Carisse Thompson practiced with the team as a way to be fit, but chose not to compete in matches, according to Fredonia head wrestling coach Alex Conti.

“There are a few key reasons Carlene has acquired success: she listens, she does everything that is asked of her without complaint, and she puts in the extra time that most athletes don’t dedicate themselves to do,” Conti said.

As a freshman, Sluberski had a record of 6-4; as a sophomore, 24-17; as a junior, she was 36-10 and also became sectional champion, but rather than participate in the state championship, she opted to participate in a world-class event in Sweden, winning the Klippen tournament. All wins combined, Sluberski finished her varsity record at 117-36.
At this year’s recent state championship final, Sluberski broke a finger on her left hand 15 seconds into the match and dropped a 7-2 decision to Jacob Goddeau from Peru (section VII).

“Mentally, the injury didn’t affect Carlene, but physically I could see her having difficulty pulling off the moves I usually see her do because of it,” Conti said.

Phys. ed. teacher Lisa Johnston sees Carlene “as a quiet achiever, extremely modest about her success. She makes her wrestling season not four months, but a yearlong lifestyle. I even see her here early on snow days working out, keeping up with her conditioning.”

Four years ago, there were 480 girls registered at all levels of wrestling around the nation, compared to about 7,000 girls registered now, according to Conti.

“To any girls looking to take up wrestling, I want to tell them that there are a lot of ups and downs, but it’s worth it if you really want it and have supportive coaches and people around you,” Sluberski said.

Wrestlers are matched by weight class, and competitors have been known to try to quickly lose or gain pounds before a match. Fredonia supports an “Eat to Win” program, which is a healthy lifestyle program, not diet program, according to Fredonia wrestling coach Gregory Betts.

Sluberski says all through high school, she has been easily able to maintain her weight around 96 pounds and never had to drop or pack on pounds. In addition to wrestling, Sluberski went to states for cross-country this past season as part of her conditioning program to get ready for wrestling.

Sluberski plans to attend Northern Michigan University on a full wrestling scholarship – a fact she did not mention during an interview. Conti, with father-like pride, noted she would be getting the distinction. And Johnston said, “I look forward to seeing Carlene’s success at the college level and then eventually at the Olympics, so I’m very proud of her and I wish her the best of luck.”

People unfamiliar with wrestling “see her as just a woman wrestler, but those who follow the sport can see she’s a wrestler first, and then secondly important a woman wrestler,” Betts said.

“To the guys who she never wrestled, she was probably just seen as a girl,” said Conti. “Whereas those 50 guys who she beat throughout her high school career, who knew how well she trained, understood why they got beat by a wrestler.”

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