First, it was Mya Lamboy who displayed her love for the sport of wrestling.
After all, Lamboy’s older brother, Juan, was a member of the Kearny High School wrestling team for the last four years, graduating last year.
“I watched him for four years,” said Mya Lamboy, currently a sophomore at Kearny High. “I knew the rules and I knew quite a bit more, compared to beginners.”
Mya Lamboy also became a manager and scorekeeper for the Kardinals while her brother competed. She was also a bit of an athlete, trying her hand in softball and becoming an expert at tae kwon do and karate, reaching the rank of purple belt.
Then, the idea hit her.
“My brother encouraged me and told me I should give wrestling a try,” Mya Lamboy said. “Why not have another Lamboy on the team and keep the name going? I was quite nervous about it. I thought the guys would be all stronger than me.”
At the same time, Bianca Pagan, a fellow sophomore, started having thoughts about trying out for the wrestling team as well. Pagan is a former softball player who has a back ground in the martial art of jiu-jitsu.
“It’s a lot like wrestling,” Pagan said. “A lot of the moves are the same. You just can’t go onto your back in wrestling.”
Pagan said that she always tried to learn about wrestling while learning about jiu-jitsu, a martial art form that her entire family was involved in.
“I think it was always a plan for me to go out for wrestling,” Pagan said. “My Dad told me to go for it. He thought I’d be good at it. My family was actually quite happy for me.”
Kearny wrestling coach Brian McDonnell said that he had no problem with the girls coming out for the team. There was only one requirement: That both Lamboy and Pagan performed all the same training, the same practice regimen that the boys did.
“We’ve always had at least one girl on the team,” McDonnell said. “This year, we had five or six that expressed early interest, but Mya and Bianca stuck it out. They’re both doing pretty well.”
In fact, Lamboy had a brief opportunity to be the Kardinals’ regular 106-pounder while Steven Silva was nursing an injury.
“She’s tough,” McDonnell said of Lamboy. “She’s actually lighter than 106 pounds and she handled it well. She did our stats for the last two years, so she knew all the rules. It was like sort of having an assistant coach.”
“I talked with Brian early on and he said that he expected me to come out,” Lamboy said. “He said to me, ‘Let’s try this out and see what happens.’ I was encouraged by him.”
Pagan had a bit of a tougher route, having to wrestle at 132 pounds, so she has strictly competed at the junior varsity level this year.
“Bianca’s been there every day,” McDonnell said. “She comes to practice and works hard every day. She knows she’s not going to get varsity matches because her options are limited, but that doesn’t change a thing about her effort.”
So the Kearny wrestling team, which owns an 11-9 record overall and just missed qualifying for the state tournament, heads to the NJSIAA District 16 tourney this weekend with two females as active members.
“They’re members of the team just like anyone else,” McDonnell said. “They do everything that everyone else does. They enjoy the sport and they like the work.”
Although Lamboy and Pagan do not drill together because of their weight differences, they do help each other.
“I think it helps a lot having Bianca there,” Lamboy said. “She tells me I can do it and I do the same for her.”
Lamboy said that she likes the competition she receives from the boys.
“When I have to wrestle, I get that look, ‘Oh, I have to wrestle a girl,’” Lamboy said. “Then I give them a tough time. When I get that look, it gives me confidence that I can beat him. It’s a ton of fun. I just love doing what I’m doing.”
Lamboy said that she always felt like just one of the boys.
“My teammates actually push me,” Lamboy said. “I get a lot of support from the guys. They know my limits, know what I can and can’t do. I’ve proven that I can do it after all.”
Pagan loves the encouragement she receives from Lamboy and the rest of her male teammates.
“When I first joined wrestling, I was a little embarrassed, because I thought they were all going to make fun of me,” Pagan said. “I also thought that I was in trouble, that I’d get jumped in like 30 seconds. But everyone has been really cool. They’ve all been helpful, teaching me moves. If I have trouble with a move, someone will stop and work with me on it. It’s been a big help. The whole team helps me out.”
Pagan especially likes the motivation she gets from Lamboy.
“She’s gotten me going,” Pagan said. “If she can do it, then I can do it.”
Lamboy actually won two early varsity matches, including an 11-10 thriller against Alexandra Phillips of Lyndhurst, 11-10, a match where two girls actually faced each other in boys’ varsity action, quite a rarity.
“I pretty much go wing it,” Lamboy said. “I go out there like I’m one of the guys on the team.”
Pagan has yet to wrestle any varsity matches, but the time will come _ and she will be ready.
“I’m still learning,” Pagan said. “I just do what everyone else does. It’s been a lot of fun and I plan on wrestling for my whole high school career.”
Pagan said that she plans on trying out for the Kearny softball team next month.
“I think wrestling has helped me control my emotions,” Pagan said. “I’m really enjoying it a lot. It’s not a tough sport.”
But Pagan can be somewhat of a regular girl as well. Just recently she celebrated her 16th birthday and had a Sweet 16 party.
“I got all dolled up with a dress and everything,” Pagan said.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.