The Sun One-on-One … with Williamstown senior Paige Colucci
How do you go from never competing in a sport to mastering it in three months, on the cusp of a state championship? We asked the undefeated Colucci, the first female regional champ in South Jersey wrestling history
The high school sports calendar is barely halfway over and some of the winter season’s premier teams and players have yet to compete for championships.
But it’s going to be very difficult to find a better story than the one Williamstown High School senior Paige Colucci is writing in 2018–19.
The 18-year-old Colucci made history on Feb. 17 when she became the first female from South Jersey to win a wrestling regional title. She’ll wrestle for the opportunity to become the area’s first female state champion, too, on March 2 in Atlantic City.
Colucci pinned Kingsway’s Olivia Heyer in a mere 26 seconds in the 147-pound bout to collect the South Jersey regional crown. Millville’s Diane Johnson and Lower Cape May’s Joelle Klein joined Colucci as South Jersey region champs later the same afternoon.
Why is Colucci’s story especially inspiring? She’s dominating a sport she hadn’t even began participating in until three months ago.
The abbreviated story: Colucci began participating in jujitsu a couple of years ago and was talking about it with John DeAngelis, her photography teacher at Williamstown High. DeAngelis, also an assistant coach for Williamstown’s wrestling team, encouraged her to come out for wrestling and, literally, the rest is history.
“The more I talked to her, I said this girl has the mentality to have a lot of success,” DeAngelis said. “(I told her), I think you could actually make history in this school.”
The NJSIAA (New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association) only made girls wrestling an officially sanctioned sport this fall. Colucci has made the most of it, taking an undefeated record (17–0) with 15 pins into the state’s first-ever female state tournament.
“She stays after practice, lifts weights and works out with the coaches,” DeAngelis said. “She has this word in jujitsu: ‘Kumite.’ Fight to the death. … She will go at anybody, she’s not afraid of anyone.”
Wiliamstown’s wrestling coaches are proud and downright ecstatic over Colucci’s success. But they also realize her season isn’t over yet.
“I told her, you have a bigger mountain to climb than anyone else in this room, but once you get to the top of that mountain, you’ll be remembered,” DeAngelis said. “I don’t want her to think she’s got at the top of the mountain yet. I think she’s got more to do.”
A day after she collected her historic region title, Colucci made time to take part in the latest edition of The Sun One-on-One.
The Sun: What have the last 24 hours been like?
Colucci: A lot of people have been messaging me, congratulating me. It’s been a lot of excitement from everyone. It’s been a lot.
The Sun: What were you up to this time last year? Obviously you weren’t wrestling.
Colucci: Oh my goodness, probably just chill-axing in school, doing jujitsu maybe? It’s been a lot different than last year. [laughs]
The Sun: How did this whole wrestling thing start? I know the state made it an official sport for girls this year. So did they make an announcement in school or something?
Colucci: OK, so I knew nothing about girls wrestling being a thing, I knew nothing about the girls having their own state tournament or anything like that when I went out for this. I just, I’ve been doing jujitsu for a few years, and my photography teacher (John DeAngelis) is one of the wrestling coaches so me and him would always chat back and forth about it. And one day, I just asked my jujitsu coach if it would be a problem if I wrestled and he said no. So I went right up to my teacher and asked. I began going to the workouts, and bam, that was that.
The Sun: Are you the only girl in the wrestling room?
Colucci: Yeah. There was one other girl but she quit a couple of weeks in.
The Sun: How do you describe this, is the jujitsu background the best explanation for picking up a sport so quickly?
Colucci: I think having a jujitsu background has been very beneficial, but wrestling and jujitsu are very different. It was kind of hard for me at first to transition into wrestling. I mean, I spent a lot of time on the mat already, I’ve competed already, so I feel like that also gives me an upper hand. .. being in that kind of environment before.
The Sun: So you did jujitsu for two years? How did that begin?
Colucci: My mom took me to a UFC gym and I’d always do the cardio kickboxing classes. But it was so boring to me…
The Sun: [Laughs]
Colucci: [Laughs] I know. I wanted something more interactive and I would see all the people like strangling each other and I was like, ‘That looks like fun.’
The Sun: [Laughs hysterically]
Colucci: [Laughs] So I went and tried that. And I just fell in love.
The Sun: That’s the best quote I’ve ever heard.
The Sun: How proud are your parents of what you’ve been able to do?
Colucci: My actual parents aren’t involved, but my jujitsu coach (Bruce Quinn) is kind of like my dad, he took me under his wing. (At regions) he was literally crying.
The Sun: That’s awesome.
The Sun: What were your expectations when you started this? Could you have imagined being undefeated going into state tournament?
Colucci: So when I started this I didn’t even know if I’d be wrestling girls. When I first started, I’d just wrestle boys unless a team had a girl. But even teams that had girls, some girls would duck me. I wrestled this one girl and then another girl said she didn’t want to wrestle me because she saw I threw the first girl. I was like, “What the heck?” I’ve only trained and competed against grown men and grown women, and then wrestled with boys, so I didn’t know. I knew a lot of these girls would be first-year girls. So I didn’t think I’d be undefeated but … I might have a little bit of an advantage over the other girls.
The Sun: So, grown men in jujitsu? Who are you sparring against?
Colucci: When you compete, there are weight classes. But in my gym? [Laughs]. No, there are just grown men. So I get beat up all the time.
The Sun: That’s great, builds character and makes you tougher.
Colucci: Yeah, absolutely. And so I like being the only girl on our team. It was really hard in the beginning, being accepted, all of the comments and everything. But it really helped me, because they pushed me and really worked with me.
The Sun: Now they respect you.
Colucci: [Laughs] Now they love me.
The Sun: I bet. So you’re a senior, right?
Colucci: Yes sir.
The Sun: Do you have college plans?
Colucci: I have no idea what I’m going to do.
The Sun: Figure it out as you go.
Colucci: Pretty much.
The Sun: Are there wrestling scholarships? Has anyone talked to you about that?
Colucci: This kid on my team, his dad so he knew someone from Maryland and he was going to talk to them about me wrestling for them, but, other than that, not really. I think I’m at a little bit of a disadvantage this not becoming (a sanctioned sport) until my senior year.
The Sun: But if you’re good, you’re good. Maybe there’s an opportunity.
Colucci: Maybe, I’m not sure.
The Sun: OK, let’s run through a speed round. Do you have a favorite teacher at Williamstown? John I’m assuming?
Colucci: Absolutely, I love Mr. D. [laughs]
The Sun: That was easy. Do you have a favorite class?
Colucci: Yeah, ceramics is fun.
The Sun: What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
Colucci: Oh, jeez Louise …
The Sun: OK, we can skip that one. How about a favorite TV show or movie you’ve watched or liked lately?
Colucci: I’m sorry, I don’t really watch a lot of TV.
The Sun: That’s alright. You have a lot of stuff to do, you have to beat up grown men. [laughs]
Colucci: Yeah. [laughs]
The Sun: If they were to make a movie of your senior year, who would play you?
Colucci: Like an actor? Jeez Louise, I have no idea! These questions are hard!
The Sun: [Laughs] That’s OK, if you said you don’t watch a lot of TV or movies, I get it.
How about a pre-match ritual or superstitions?
Colucci: Yes, so before every match I have to wear either my unicorn socks or dog socks. I have to wear my unicorn slippers. And I have to listen to Biggie Smalls.
The Sun: That’s amazing. How did that work, did all of that for first match and stuck with it?
Colucci: Pretty much. I figured I should keep these.
The Sun: Do you keep up with pro sports, have any favorite athletes to watch?
Colucci: Honestly, no, you’re going to think I’m so boring. I don’t even watch the sports I compete in, like jujitsu.
The Sun: So what are you doing?? Playing video games or something? [Laughs]
Colucci: [Laughs] No, I don’t know, dude! I just train and then I’m so tired.
The Sun: No, that’s fine, you’re a finely-tuned machine. If you’re 17–0 with 15 pins I’m not questioning your methods.
But you did mention music, so if they announce your name at the state finals and put a song with it, what are you coming out to?
Colucci: Oh my gosh, that’s such a good question. I think H20’s “One Life, One Chance.”
The Sun: Last question. Since this is the first year of official wrestling for girls in the state you’ve already made history, just in competing. Now you can put a cherry on top. But what do you want to be remembered for? Like, 20 years from now, your picture is there at Williamstown, in the gym or trophy case, and someone mentions you, what do you want them to say?
Colucci: I would hope they would remember my work ethic. I don’t know.
The Sun: That’s good.
Colucci: I didn’t really expect anything out of this. I feel like I’m a little bit too humble because I don’t like when people brag about me. If anything, I’d hope that they remember that I’m a good person. [Laughs]. I’ve only done this for fun. I think having fun is one of the most important parts, becuase, if not, like what the heck is the point? We only have one life, you know what I mean? I hope they remember me as a happy, bubbly person.
The Sun: You’ve got life figured out.