Milford's Kayla Batres at 13 making name on wrestling mat

Kayla Batres at the 2021 USA women's freestyle nationals (Irving, TX) with coach Brandon Fulco.

Kayla Batres at the 2021 USA women’s freestyle nationals (Irving, TX) with coach Brandon Fulco.

South Side Wrestling Club / Contributed photo

Milford’s Kayla Batres took up wrestling at age 8 to improve her Brazilian Jiu-Jitzu skills in the martial arts field. Now the rising 8th grader at West Shore Middle School has visions of one day representing the United States on the mat.

“I got to meet Olympic champion Helen Maroulis,” said Batres, who wrestles with South Side Wrestling Club and did her research on the three-time World champion. “She was the first women to win an Olympic gold medal (in Brazil, 2016). She was young (age 7) when she started.”

Batres trains with the South Side Wrestling Club. She captured the 82-pound division title in the 12-and-under division with a 4-0 record before a crowd of 2,500 at the 66th annual Tulsa (OK) Nationals youth wrestling tournament in January.

Batres, now 13, placed third in the 90-pound weight class at the recent 15U Nationals in Irving (TX).

“Kayla dominated her way to the semifinals before running into the eventual champion,” said Steve Fulco, South Side director and assistant coach. “Kayla fought her way to two technical falls (winning by 10 points) to take third. She was second at the 15U Nationals, one match away from representing the US at the Pan Am games.”

Batres practices five days a week. She doesn’t tire from the grind.

“I love it,” said Batres who said her classmates were surprised with her choice of sports. “I work mostly with coach Brandon Fulco. I like going every day. It is a chance to work on my moves.”

Her dad Eli and mom Katey get to ferry her to and from the events.

“Kayla puts in a lot of hard work. It is a way to bring down the barrier of girls wrestling in general,” Eli said. “Boys underestimate her. They see her as quiet. They don’t think she can do it. They can’t see inside.”

Batres said: “There aren’t a lot of girls, so I train mostly with boys. I’ve gotten stronger and I’m better with my takedown. Getting to travel with my parents is my favorite part. We get to visit so many places. Its great hanging around with my teammates.”

Kayla isn’t the only Batres working with South Side.

“All my siblings wrestle, two sisters (age 11, 9) and three brothers (5, 6, 7). They all do well,” she said.

Her dad said he and his brother wrestled some in high school.

“We weren’t as good as Kayla. She is someone special,” he said. “She takes losing well. Then she goes back to training and correcting what she messed up in that match.”

Deep dive

If Kayla Batres looked deep enough into Helen Maroulis’ history, she would find the now 29-year-old Maryland native had a rough start to her career. According to Olympic Talk NBC Sports, Maroulis bet her dad that if she won her first match, she could continue. It turned out to be her only victory all year. She went 1-30 at age 7.

Shea sparkles

South Side’s C.J. Shea from Milford, who wrestles at Greens Farms Academy, placed in the 138-pound weight class at both the National High School Association (NHSCA) and Prep Nationals to become a two time All American.

Retaking the mat

"It was extremely hard to not wrestle this winter. We followed all guidelines throughout the pandemic,” said Steve Fulco, whose club opened a new facility in the Black Rock area of Bridgeport/Fairfield. “The program is all about the kids. With the guidelines relaxed over the past few months, we were ready to get back on the national stage immediately and start competing.”

Head coach Jack Conroy and assistant head coach Brandon Fulco put together a large coaching staff consisting of local high school coaches and former D1 wrestlers.

"Each coach had their own small group of wrestlers to limit the exposure and keep everyone safe," Conroy said. "We did it the right way and made sure the kids were distanced enough during practice but able to get a solid workout during the pandemic.”

South Side produced 16 All Americans and two national champions since getting back on the mat.

Green Farms Academy senior and Stratford native Nico Provo won a NHSCA National title (public and private school combined) and a National Prep title in back to back weeks. Provo took seven straight matches against Division 1 National qualifiers to place third in the U23 division at the college-based tournament in Lincoln (NE). The former Pan American freestyle champion, Provo will wrestle at Cornell University.

Dom Rossetti (Glastonbury) won a Prep National title.

Chris Murphy (Guilford) became an NHSCA All American at 195 pounds along with training partner Mikey Bartush (Norwalk), who placed third at NHSCA and fifth at National Preps to become an All American in back to back weeks.

Justin Mastriani (New Canaan) was a 152-pound finalist at the NHSCA and Prep Nationals. He lost both matches by one point.

Aiden Hebert (Bethany) became a National Prep All American at 132 pounds.

Peter Kane (Fairfield) took fourth at 145 pounds to become a Prep All American.

Caleb Seyfried (Westport), a two-time Prep All American, placed seventh at 126 pounds.

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354