Lyndhurst-North Arlington’s Ava Krzykalski didn’t feel like a “true wrestler” her freshman year when she first gave the sport a try for the first time after growing up as a jiu jitsu competitor.
While Krzykalski admits that the transformation is still a work in progress, there’s no denying that the sophomore is now one of state’s top girl wrestlers.
Krzykalski affirmed that status and made some history in process, on Feb. 26 when she placed sixth place at 114 pounds in the NJSIAA Girls Wrestling Championships in Phillipsburg. She is the first Lyndhurst-North Arlington girl to ever earn a medal.
Krzykalski went 26-8 on the season, a marked improvement from the year prior. She credits Lyndhurst-North Arlington assistant coach Matt Fusco for the improvements as the two have “put in the work since the end of my freshman season and then all the way through last week.”
“(Finishing in sixth), especially considering falling short my freshman year and not not making it to states to now, it really is just an accomplishment,” Krzykalski said. “I’m really proud of the progress I’ve made and I can’t wait for the progress that’s going to come in the next two years of high school.”
“Ava has been an amazing, committed athlete for the past 13 months,” head coach Scot Weaver said. “To think, 13 months ago, she was placing third place in local small tournaments. To be standing on the New Jersey State podium is truly amazing.”
Krzykalski arrived at Lyndhurst with an accomplished jiu jitsu. In the last year-and-a-half leading up to high school, Krzykalski went 35-3 in jiu jitsu, including a Pan-American championship.
Initially, Krzykalski didn’t intend to wrestle in high school, but decided to give it a shot after running cross country in the fall of her freshman year.
“It’s still an adjustment because I grew up doing jujitsu. I started when I was 3 and there’s some disadvantages because they’re so different,” said Krzykalski. “There are advantages. I had mat awareness, which I think pushed me freshman year. My biggest adjustment going into my sophomore year was becoming a true wrestler.”
In Phillipsburg, Krzykalski won her first two matches, defeating Hailey Beck of Lenape by major decision, then pinned Ramsey’s Paige Kirk in the quarterfinals. The victory over Kirk was especially meaningful since she had defeated Krzykalski in the North 1 Regional final. The two Bergen County competitors squared off five times this season with Krzykalski winning three of them, ensuring she will get First Team All-Bergen County honors.
Krzykalski’s run ended when she was pinned by eventual state champion Ava Rose of Princeton in the semifinals. Two losses followed in the wrestleback rounds.
Now Krzykalski has set her sights on continuing to improve and eventually wrestle in college. A few schools have already reached out to her about that possibility. While Krzykalski’s spring and summer schedule is yet to be determined, she said she hopes to enter some freestyle tournaments as well.
Fusco and Krzykalski agreed to take a two week break after the conclusion of the state tournament before returning to training and focusing on the next season. But Krzykalski already can’t wait.
“I’m trying to wrestle 12 months a year right now,” said Krzykalski. “Eventually, I want to get back into (jujitsu) and back on those mats. I had a long, successful career on the mats with jujitsu, but right now my focus is on wrestling.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)