Wrestler Spotlight

sponsored by Asics and Schuylkill Valley Sports

Written by Bill Rudick; published on January 1, 2020

Angel Garcia - Mariana Bracetti Academy

This past summer, Angel Garcia, a senior at Mariana Bracetti in District 12, etched his name in the record books as the first Beat the Streets Philly athlete to win a Fargo championship, taking home the stop sign as the national champ in Greco-Roman in the 170-pound class in the junior division. Garcia made it to the top of the podium a mere five years after a suggestion that he find a new way to channel his aggressions.

"Once I saw it, I knew I wanted to be involved."

Back when he was 12, Garcia found himself in a fight, and using his best WWE moves, body slammed the other boy, getting himself in all sorts of trouble. But the middle school wrestling coach, Ben Greer, saw an opportunity to take Garcia in a different direction and suggested he check out wrestling.

Photo courtesy Angel Garcia

"Once I saw it, I knew I wanted to be involved," said Garcia. "I always loved challenging myself, and once I learned how competitive it was, I knew I wanted to learn how to wrestle. By the end of seventh grade, I was already getting into freestyle and Greco in addition to folk."

Since he started all three styles at virtually the same stage of his development, he quickly learned the mutual benefits each style had on the other styles.

"Most people think that freestyle doesn't teach you anything that would help you on bottom," said Garcia. "But I learned pretty quickly that you have to keep moving on bottom in freestyle—if you just try to stay stiff, you're going to get turned. So in folk, I just turn all that movement into escapes and reversals. And Greco just teaches you all about angles and positioning."

Though he likes and excels in all three styles, Greco is his favorite, and it harkens back to a reason he got into the sport to begin with.

"I still like to throw people," joked Garcia. "I really don't like to shoot much. I'd rather use the height advantages I have and work upper body, and that is Greco."

2019 proved to be a big year for Garcia, at least as far as wrestling goes. In addition to winning state championships in freestyle and Greco, Garcia made it to the podium in Hershey. Garcia's run to the sixth place medal included a 7-6 upset over top-seeded Luke Nichter of Chambersburg, a returning runner-up. Fittingly, that match had the interesting quirk of an Angel coming out victorious in bout number 666.

"2019 certainly came with its share of obstacles for me and my family," said Garcia. "But we were able to overcome them with the support of one another, and the year really ended on a high note."

So far on this season, Garcia is 13-2 with 10 wins coming by fall. The lone losses came at the Beast of the East tourney, where he finished fourth. Garcia closed out 2019 with four straight wins--three pins and a tech--to win the Bethlehem Catholic Christmas City tournament, where he was named Outstanding Wrestler.

Oh, and there was also his signing of a national letter of intent to continue his academic and athletic careers at Rider University in nearby Lawrenceville, NJ.

Photo by Nate Heckenberger

"I plan to major in pre-law," said Garcia. "I'd like to become a Medicaid attorney. I want to be able to help people who really need the help."

Garcia is acutely aware of, and truly appreciates all those who have helped him along the way, from family and friends to coaches.

"Beat the Streets is an incredible organization," said Garcia. "Everyone there has gone through some ups and downs, and the coaches there are amazing with their support. From coaching and mentoring, to making sure we keep up our academics to ensuring we all have the needed equipment—headgear, singlets, shoes, whatever."

That isn't to say there wasn't an adjustment period.

"At first, I thought the coaches were kind of overly strict and mean," said Garcia. "But it didn't take long to realize that they only had our best interests in mind—they wanted to get us motivated to reach our potential and be the best we could be."

Coming with his freestyle and Greco success was an opportunity to train with some of the top wrestlers around, with coaching from an Olympic gold medallist, Brandon Slay, at the Penn Regional Olympic Training Center.

"Who wouldn't want a chance to work with Brandon Slay?" Garcia asked. "He is an amazing coach, and all the coaches there are so committed to the sport of wrestling. Everyone who trains there is a national level talent, and totally committed to being the best. It has been an amazing experience."

Garcia saves his biggest praise for his high school and his coaches and teammates there, including his older brother, Leo Garcia, the head wrestling coach.

"Everyone at Mariana Bracetti—teachers, administration and coaches--are dedicated and supporting," said Garcia. "The academics are top notch. It is really home for me. Everyone is dedicated to making sure all kids know they can shoot for their dreams with their heads up and a smile on their face. We make it a hashtag, #phillyontop."