Breaking barriers: Delran’s Emma Matera eager for encore

As a freshman, Delran’s Emma Matera was among the first wave of girls in the state to compete for a wrestling state title. The Bears sophomore is ready to make more history in 2020.

A year ago, Delran’s Emma Matera was one of South Jersey’s trailblazers as a member of the first group of female wrestlers to compete at the state tournament under the new NJSIAA format. This year the sophomore has helped usher more girls into a Bears’ program on the rise. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

The highlight of the season didn’t come in her first match, nor in advancing to the first-ever Girls Regional Tournament Championship match, nor in walking into Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall for the premiere event of the NJSIAA wrestling season.

For Emma Matera, the top moment of her memorable, historic freshman season was on the team bus following a holiday tournament at Hunterdon Central. Delran High School wrestling Coach Nathan Marter congratulated the Bears’ two first-place finishers, Bryan Miraglia (the winningest wrestler in school history) and Matera.

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“Everyone started chanting my name,” Matera said. “That was pretty cool.”

Her season was remarkable. The only female wrestler at Delran last year, when the sport became officially sanctioned for girls to wrestle for individual postseason titles, Matera was a runner-up at regions and placed fourth in the state. When the season ended she continued to work, in the weight room and on the recruiting trail.

“We have 10-12 girls in the room right now, we’re hoping to fill out a whole lineup — it’s pretty exciting,” Marter said. 

With three years of high school wrestling still in front of her, maybe Matera will make more history and become the school’s first female state champ, too.

“She definitely deserves it; she’s devoted to it, committed in the off-season, works her butt off and puts the time in,” Marter said of Matera, who went out for soccer in the fall to keep up her athleticism. 

Prior to the start of the season, Matera spoke with South Jersey Sports Weekly.

SJSW: How long have you been wrestling?

Matera: This will be my fourth season. 

SJSW: How did you get into it?

Matera: I’ve done martial arts for almost all of my life and some of the guys I train with we’re like, yeah, you’re great, but if you had wrestling, that would make you so much better. So when I was in seventh grade, I walked in the room (at Delran Middle School) and I was the only female on the team.

SJSW: Intimidating?

Matera: A little bit. I was always taught just because you’re the only one doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.

SJSW: What did your parents think?

Matera: My dad (Mark) was a little hesitant but my mom (Cheryl) was like, “Of course.” She loved the idea of me doing it. 

SJSW: So martial arts was your first sport?

Matera: I’ve been around it all my life and started (training) when I was 8. Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai. 

SJSW: What did it mean to make history as Delran’s first female wrestler to compete for states?

Matera: It’s cool. I feel like it hasn’t hit me yet. I’ve met a lot of girls who are like, “Oh I’ve heard about you, fourth in the state.” I’m like, yeah, cool. All my life I’ve been expected to do great things. My mom always holds a high standard with academics, everything. She’s always pushing me. So it’s just another thing to work at.

SJSW: Do you have any role models, whether inside or outside wrestling?

Matera: My mom. She’s one of my biggest role models. And I got to meet one of my favorite wrestlers, Jordan Burroughs. He’s an amazing person and an amazing wrestler. He had a clinic (in September) and I saved up the money and went up to see him. 

SJSW: Let’s talk about your teammates. Who is the toughest person on your team?

Matera: We’re all tough in our own way. But I’d say Eren Ibas is one of the toughest people. He’s always pushing me. Even last year I felt like he was a little rough, but I realized that came from (a good place). 

SJSW: Who is the funniest?

Matera: That’s hard. They all like their jokes. But Malachi (McNeil) and Mark (Harrison).

SJSW: What is your favorite thing to do outside of wrestling?

Matera: I like spending time with my friends, taking walks. It’s one of the highlights. The time that’s not spent here.

SJSW: It’s a good way to unwind from sports. Do you have a favorite teacher at Delran?

Matera: Mr. (Phillip) Palumbo — he teaches photography and video production. 

SJSW: Best movie you’ve seen recently?

Matera: “Ford vs. Ferrari” was good. 

SJSW: Any TV show your bingeing?

Matera: Right now, not really, but one of my favorite shows is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

SJSW: Do you have a favorite book?

Matera: “All the Bright Places.” It’s about this guy with bipolar disorder and he’s on the brink of losing it all. He finds a girl who is also not in a great place and they kind of help each other. 

SJSW: It’s March and we’re at the state championship in Atlantic City and you’re wrestling for a state title. What would your entrance music be?

Matera: “Welcome to the Jungle” (by Guns and Roses) would be a good one. 

Delran sophomore Emma Matera. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)
Ryan is a veteran journalist of 20 years. He’s worked at the Courier-Post, Philadelphia Daily News, Delaware County Daily Times, primarily as a sportswriter, and is currently a sports editor at Newspaper Media Group and an adjunct journalism instructor at Rowan University.
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