Coming off another individual state title victory earlier this month, Delran junior Emma Matera already has goals for next year. And while defending her back-to-back state titles during her senior year is certainly something she hopes to accomplish, Matera has a much greater goal in mind as well.
Along with her coach, she wants to leave behind a strong program that wasn’t there when she first got to Delran High School.
“I know one of the goals that both of us have … is to build the program more and more,” said coach Nathan Marter. “We talk about her leaving a legacy, not just in terms of her wins, but also in terms of her being a trailblazer in really helping build the program and getting the girls that are going to stay behind after she graduates to carry on that tradition that is Delran wrestling.”
According to Marter, his junior girls wrestling captain is 51-4 thus far in girls only matches, with the four losses all occurring during her freshman year.
Ironically enough, Matera started wrestling in middle school as a way to get better at jiu-jitsu, something she’d been doing since she was 8 years old. With jiu-jitsu being a year ‘round sport, she spent plenty of time practicing and competing in the gym.
Eventually, two brothers she practiced with continued to beat her again and again. Matera, being very serious about her sports, tried endlessly to get better and beat them, without success, until the males recommended wrestling.
“They just put a whooping on me every day,” Matera recalled with a chuckle. “They said I should try to go out for the wrestling team as a way to get better.”
Matera was apprehensive at first. She didn’t know any girls who wrestled and the idea of joining the team seemed a bit off. But after a year of pondering the idea, she went out for the team in seventh grade and has loved it ever since.
When she reached high school, Marter knew Matera was special.
“We had heard about her through the middle school, and when she came in her freshman year, she was the only girl on the team,” said Marter. “We always run our practices together, with the boys and girls, and she was always the first one to jump up and get going.
“It was never like we had a girl on the team,” added Marter. “It was just like we had another wrestler. But we kind of knew she was special that first year.”
Marter said at first, it was difficult to find girls matches for Matera, as the sport was more popular in North Jersey than it was in the south. That often led Matera to wrestle in JV matches against boys.
Girls wrestling is now growing across the state. And while her career accolades include being a two time individual state champion, Matera attributes her success and accomplishments to the hard work and effort she put in with teammates over the years.
“It’s insane to think about where I’m at right now,” said Matera. “I tell my teammates all the time, especially when we get new girls on the team, they’re always so much better than me when I first started out.
“When I first started wrestling, I felt like I was probably the worst in the room.”
With one final year ahead, Matera and her coach want to continue building the girls program next year, with the former helping to recruit players.
“I would love to have a full lineup and more next year. I think that anyone can benefit from wrestling, especially girls,” said Matera. “A lot of girls are hesitant at first, which I understand, but as soon as they get in the ring, it’s usually a different story.”
“I think she sort of knows that she’s been one of the leaders and is an extension of our coaching staff to help us grow this girls program,” Marter said. “She kind of takes that upon herself to be a leader by preparing the way that she does and leading by example.”