ROCKLIN – Alyvia Fiske is getting used to a lot of new things these days.
She’s adjusting to life in Canada, for starters, attending Simon Fraser University on a wrestling scholarship. The school is north of Vancouver in Burnaby, British Columbia, more than 900 miles away from her hometown of Napa.
Fiske is also getting used to losing again after going 82-1 her final two years at Vintage High School, pitching a yearlong shutout – if you will – as a senior. In the 160-pound weight class, she was a back-to-back CIF State champion and dubbed the No. 1 wrestler in the country in the 164 division by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. They also gave her the 2017 Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award.
But, as expected, the collegiate level has been a welcome return to reality as a member of the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association’s No. 1 ranked team. Still, Fiske has gone 15-5 since the 2017-18 campaign began in October.
“I’ve tried to kind of prepare myself for that,” Fiske said, “because obviously I get beat up in practice sometimes. I still try to obviously do my best, but I know if I’m wrestling older, bigger girls I just have to try my best (and accept the outcome) … I’m at the bottom of the food chain again.”
That’s been a positive, though. Fiske, who has slimmed down to the 155-pound weight class, has felt much lighter with the stress of success somewhat lifted.
“There isn’t as much pressure as like last year after I’d already won state once,” she said. “(Back then) it’s like, ‘Alright, you have to win again. If you don’t, everyone’s going to be shocked and shame you.’”
Of course, there was no shock and shame, and the two-time All-Napa County Female Athlete of the Year capped her prep career with a signature finish, winning the USA Wrestling girls folkstyle national championship after falling short the year before.
Now, she’s part of an 11-member freshmen class at SFU, filled with girls with similar accolades from their respective region. “Amazing” was the word Fiske kept repeating when she described them.
It’s a tight group that leans on each other off the mat, too, since most of the athletes are far from home.
“I definitely miss my family and everyone a lot, especially during Thanksgiving. I didn’t get to come home, so that was hard,” she said. “But it does help having other girls in the same situation – other freshmen girls. They understand and I spend time with them whenever I’m missing my family a lot.”
Fiske had a small homecoming of sorts on Dec. 16, with family and friends cheering from the stands of the Hardwood Palace in Rocklin.
In a lower weight class, with her strength and athleticism on full display, the SFU rookie won four freestyle matchups to secure the 155-pound individual title at the Women’s West Cost Tournament of Champions. She also received the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler Award.
The title win was made even sweeter by her opponent in the finals, too. Fiske secured a 5-1 decision over Menlo College’s Iman Kazem, avenging multiple losses her sophomore year of high school against the former Merrill F. West High standout.
“It felt so good,” Fiske said after the win. “It’s been three years since I wrestled her and that’s one of the … matches I’ve been like, ‘Ugh, I want a rematch.’ It felt really good.”
Freestyle wrestling is outside Fiske’s comfort zone, forcing more action from a standing position. Referees direct the wrestlers to stand back up if the jostling after a takedown stalls. Aggressive point-scoring is encouraged, which means defensive wrestlers are leaning forward more than they’re used to.
But the Napa native showed her versatility throughout Saturday’s matches, besting a variety of opponents with different approaches and skillsets.
In the first round Saturday morning, she notched her first of three consecutive technical fall victories, defeating Alexis Cavero from Eastern Oregon University 12-2. In her next match, Fiske had her way with a smaller Pamela Beans from Umpqua Community College, breezing to a 10-0 win.
In the semis, as competition got tougher, she overcame a bigger Evonne Evien of Menlo College, who is ranked No. 6 in the country in the 170-pound division. Fiske avoided a takedown in the second round, staying upright with one leg in Evien’s arms and the other balancing on her toes.
She went on to win 10-0, scoring in bunches once she wrapped up Evien’s legs on the mat and rolled her over multiple times.
“I felt a lot stronger,” Fiske said. “I think my defense is a lot better now, too. I think that was a big thing, especially with her shooting a lot. Just growing more, being a wrestler at SFU helped a lot.”
In her corner this season has been Justina Di Stasio, one of SFU’s young-but-seasoned assistant coaches. Di Stasio said Fiske has had one of the better transitions to the collegiate competition compared to her freshmen peers, and much of that is thanks to the effectiveness of her moves and the good habits baked into her foundation.
“Athletically and just natural ability-wise, it’s a pretty awesome person to be able to work with because she has no weight issues – I don’t have to teach her to run properly or anything or lift weights,” Di Stasio said. “All the basics are there. (In terms of) wrestling … there’s no really, really bad habits we’ve got to change. It’s easier when they’re not a blank slate but you don’t have to go back and un-learn something. She listens.”
The last few years, coaches and wrestling experts constantly weighed in on Fiske’s potential. Di Stasio thinks international competitions are “not an unrealistic thing for her.”
That image gained a little color earlier this season when Fiske competed against Danielle Lappage, a former SFU wrestler and assistant coach that recruited her in high school. Lappage was a member of the Canadian Olympic team and competed in Rio last summer until an injury in her first match forced her to cut the trip short.
In the SFU Open last month, when the two faced off, Lappage beat her in the first round but left her with some encouraging feedback.
“She (told me) my defense is the best that she’s had to go against all year,” Fiske recalled. “She gave me some good reinforcement after that, so that feels good. My coaches are super supportive and tell me that they think I’ll do well, so that’s encouraging.”
It was one of those moments when all the talk about international competition that has surrounded Fiske for years finally planted a few roots in her own mind.
“It’s hard to put yourself in that situation – I don’t know – to really believe it’s going to happen,” she said. “It’s one thing hearing it … and it’s another actually doing it.”