Phoenix Military Academy girls win Chicago Public League championship

By Patrick Z. McGavin – for the IWCOA

Fittingly the girls city championship of the Chicago Public League saved their best for last.

Aaliyah Grandberry and Jasmine Meja have signified the best and the brightest of the nascent girls wrestling programs throughout the city.

Both are two-time state qualifiers and Grandberry is a two-time IHSA finalist. Curie Metro’s Grandberry defeated Rickover Naval Academy’s Meja in the state semifinals last year en route to her second-place finish at 235 pounds.

The two also dueled at the city final last season. They were also two of the nine state qualifiers to come out of Public League. Grandberry had the best state placement with her runner-up finish while Bowen’s Monica Griffin was third at 126 pounds and Meja was fifth at 235 pounds.

“She has been my biggest rival in the city,” Meja said. “This year I’d gotten a lot better, but so has she. I felt I’m not as disappointed by the end. I’ve been thinking about this match for a while.

“We also had some great matches last year. I think she beat me by one point in the championship. it didn’t go overtime like today.”

In a matchup of unbeatens, Grandberry (13-0) survived Meja (20-1) 3-2 in a tiebreaker to capture the 235-pound championship on Saturday at Curie.

“That was one of my favorite matches so far,” Grandberry said. “It really pushed me to the test.

“Triple overtime, okay. I thought it was really fun. Honestly it was amazing. I loved the fight, I loved the struggle.”

Grandberry and Meja brought down the curtain, but the larger show belonged to the developing and emerging programs were the major story.

In girls sports in the Public League, schools such as Lane Tech, Whitney Young Magnet, Walter Payton College Prep and Jones College Prep tend to dominate.

In wrestling, the field has been leveled, giving a rise to smaller programs eager to have a chance at the ring.

“I’ve coached girls in volleyball, swimming, hockey and now wrestling,” Phoenix Military Academy coach Daniel Curin said. 

“I have found if you give girls a fair opportunity and a decent program to compete in whatever sport it is, that’s all they want, something that they could be proud of. Give these kids something that they could actually work towards.”

Phoenix Military Academy ran away with the team championship by producing seven finalists and three individual champions to help it score 226 points.

The Firebirds lived up to their name with 12 place finishers, winning three championships as well as having four runners-up, one third, two fourths and two fifths.

A year ago, Phoenix Military Academy was one of the new programs looking to make a statement. The team had just four wrestlers, two of them won and all four showed great promise. Now that number has ballooned to 17.

“More impressively the whole program has about 45 kids, if you include the boys side,” Curin said. 

“We’re a school of less than 400 kids, so we have more than 10 percent of the student population on the wrestling team. “

The 110-pound champion, Diana Lopez, and the 145-pound winner, AJ Grant, repeated as CPL champions. Both wrestlers parlayed the city championship into qualifying berths at state.

“I told all the other girls, with these core girls, we could win the city,” Curin said. 

“That was our message out of the game. We’ll win the city title if you keep this together.”

Rickover Naval Academy, coached by Guillermo Mejia, finished second with 170.5 points. The Lady Sea Dragons had two great bookends in 100-pound champion Mia Vazquez and Meja. Vazquez also was a CPL champion in 2023.

“We started our program four or five years ago, and we’ve had girls on the team from the beginning,” Meja said. 

“I feel like we have been a leader in that. We had the most girls of any team in the city. I think with girls city and state now being a thing in Illinois, I think that really helps with growing girls wrestling.”

Like the rest of the state, the city is now the nerve center underscoring the growing popularity.

”Even last year, when girls teams weren’t as big, the girls teams were treated as side parts,” Meja said. 

“Now it is its own main thing. The level of competition has gone up, the number of girls has gone up,and it’s a great thing.”

Kelly College Prep (132) finished third, Back of the Yards College Prep (131) took fourth, host Curie Metro (100) placed fifth and Lane Tech (86) claimed sixth place. Kelly College Prep and Lane Tech were the other two programs with multiple champions with two apiece.

Winning titles for coach Stephan Kunca’s third-place Kelly College Prep Lady Trojans were Jaqueline Dimas (115), who also was a CPL champion last season, and Sara Martinez Lopera (155). Capturing firsts for coach Matthew Yan’s Lane Tech Champions were Nyah Lovis (120) and Lily Cohen (170).

Other Chicago Public League champions were Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences’ Carmen Jackson (105), Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville’s Tyhesia Goss (125), Back of the Yards College Prep’s Yesenia DePaz (130), King’s Harmoni Puckett (140) and South Shore International College Prep’s Nadia Johnson (190).

There was a five-way tie for the most team points with 30 between Lily Cohen, Yesenia DePaz, Tyhesia Goss, Nadia Johnson and Harmoni Puckett while Carmen Jackson and Sara Martinez Lopera were next-best with 28 points. Lane Tech’s Sofia Guerrero had the most match points with 49. Taft’s Jennifer Arenas and George Washington’s Beyonca Rodriguez both had five falls.

Phoenix Military Academy has the most total match points with 166 while Rickover Naval Academy was second with 154. Those two teams also had the most falls with the champion Firebirds recording 25 and the runner-up Lady Sea Dragons having 22 pins.

Some of the top records of CPL finalists include Carmen Jackson at 105 (20-0, 1.000), Aaliyah Grandberry at 235 (13-0, 1.000), Harmoni Puckett at 140 (10-0, 1,000), AJ Grant at 145 (23-1, .958), Jasmine Meja at 235 (20-1, .952), Nyah Lovis at 120 (25-2, .926), Tyhesia Goss at 125 (11-1, .917), Diana Lopez at 110 (18-2, .900), Mia Vazquez at 100 (26-3, .897), Sara Martinez Lopera at 155 (17-2, .895), Jaqueline Dimas at 115 (16-2, .889), Ariel Foreman at 135 (7-1, .875), Nadia Johnson at 190 (7-1, .875) and Jailynn Milam at 170 (14-2, .875). 

Here’s a look at the Chicago Public League Girls Championship title winners and weights

100 – Mia Vazquez, Rickover Naval Academy

Rickover Naval Academy junior Mia Vazquez put on a display of technique, speed and quickness to claim a win by technical fall in 2:44 over Michele Clark Academic Prep’s Asia Boss in the 100 championship match to improve to 26-3.

Curie Metro’s Evelin Martinez defeated Phoenix Military Academy’s Jitzel Aranda by fall in 0:42 for third place and Phoenix Military Academy’s Miles Gonzalez won 13-8 in sudden victory over Crane Medical Prep’s Katherine Gonzalez on the fifth-place mat.

105 – Carmen Jackson, Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences

Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences’ Carmen Jackson defeated Westinghouse College Prep’s Kimani Glasper with a fall in 2:57 in the 105 championship match. Jackson, a sophomore, extended her unbeaten season to 20-0.

Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville’s Melany Corona won by fall in 5:12 over Curie Metro’s Melani Martinez for third place. And Curie Metro’s Giselle Arambula won by fall in 3:10 over Lane Tech’s Sofia Guerrero on the fifth-place mat. 

110 – Diana Lopez, Phoenix Military Academy

Phoenix Military Academy’s Diana Lopez punctuated her standout performance with a fall in 1:43 over Back of the Yards College Prep’s Hida Thomas in the 110 championship match.

“I never wrestled until last year,” Lopez said, who improved to 18-2. ”I go out there and look to have fun and show what I can. I think I’m really quick and I’m good at shooting.

“Even though I won last year, I was still very nervous about today. I thought back to the success I had before. I wanted to try something new and I just showed up and I really liked it. Now the big thing is to do even better at state.”

Rickover Naval Academy’s Litzy Estrada won an 11-8 decision over Taft’s Alyssa Martel for third place and Hancock College Prep’s Ashley Lopez won by fall in 1:06 over Little Village Lawndale’s Julitza Marquez in the fifth-place match.

115 – Jaqueline Dimas, Kelly College Prep

Kelly College Prep’s Jaqueline Dimas used two takedowns to win a 5-3 decision over Phoenix Military Academy’s Mia Thomas in the 115 championship match. Dimas, a sophomore, improved to 16-2 while Thomas, a junior, fell to 18-5.

Taft’s Jennifer Arenas won by fall in 0:37 over Curie Metro’s Natalie Guzman for third place and Lindblom Math and Science Academy’s Danita Pallmore recorded a pin in 4:33 over Morgan Park’s Angelica Gutierrez on the fifth-place mat.

120 – Nyah Lovis, Lane Tech

Lane Tech’s Nyah Lovis showed why she is one of the city’s top wrestlers with a 7-0 decision over Phoenix Military Academy’s Marisol Castro in the 120 championship match.

Both juniors are returning state qualifiers. Lovis improved to 25-2 and Castro fell to 19-4.

Lake View’s Raynisha Sims recorded a fall in 1:39 over George Washington’s Elani Alvarez for third place and Taft’s Michaela Yu won by medial forfeit over Chicago Academy’s Isabella Thompson for fifth place. 

125 – Tyhesia Goss, Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville

Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville’s Tyhesia Goss improved to 11-1 after capturing the 125 championship with a fall in 1:04 over Back of the Yards College Prep’s Joseline Rodriguez.

George Washington’s Beyonca Rodriguez won by fall in 3:06 over Phoenix Military Academy’s Adrianna Tanguma for third place and Rickover Naval Academy’s Paulette Olson won by fall in 1:26 over Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville’s Lillianna Viramontes on the fifth-place mat.

130 – Yesenia DePaz, Back of the Yards College Prep

Back of the Yards College Prep’s Yesenia DePaz captured the 130 championship with a fall in 5:24 over George Washington’s Itzel Jimenez. DePaz, a senior, improved to 13-3.

Phoenix Military Academy’s Jocelyn Quirox won by fall in 1:46 over Clemente’s Catalina Pacheco for third place and Hancock College Prep’s Cristin Moreno prevailed over Taft’s Jazmin Avila for fifth place.

135 – Ariel Foreman, Phoenix Military Academy

Phoenix Military Academy’s Ariel Foreman recorded a fall in 2:37 over Lane Tech’s Zabby Badru in the 135 championship match. Foreman is in her first year wrestling. She has shown a highly natural and intuitive talent.

“I can’t really explain why I’ve been so successful, but I really like the commitment,” Foreman said. “I practice a lot, and I listen to my coaches and follow what they say.”

Fenger’s Theresa Sewell won by fall in 3:40 over Hancock College Prep’s Mia Luecht for third place and Mather’s Dana Mikhail won with a pin in 5:31 over Wendell Phillips Academy’s Kayla Nolan for fifth.

140 – Harmoni Puckett, King College Prep

King College Prep’s Harmoni Puckett staked her claim to being the CPL’s outstanding wrestler following her fall in 2:21 over Phoenix Military Academy’s Alexia Ramos in the 140 title match.

The sophomore (10-0) extended her unbeaten start to the season. 

Kelly’s Leylani Bahena won by fall in 2:30 over Rickover Naval Academy’s Natalia Ribeiro for third place and Back of the Yards College Prep’s’ Evelyna Perez won by forfeit over South Shore International College Prep’s Ava Woods for fifth place.

145 – AJ Grant, Phoenix Military Academy

Phoenix Military Academy’s AJ Grant was dominant in the finals at 145 after recording a fall in 0:27 over Kenwood’s Nymeia Massenat. Grant went 32-4 last season and qualified for state.

Her blend of speed, power, grace and toughness sets her apart. The wild part is that she never stepped on any kind of mat until a year ago.

“What made me want to do it is that I wanted to get some work in and I wanted to get in shape,” Grant said. “My coach ended up believing in me, and that made me believe in myself.  I didn’t know what wrestling was. I was physical. There were times when I felt as though I didn’t want to continue, but the support was great.”

Grant (23–1), a junior, has been virtually untouchable this season. She has parlayed the confidence into an unstoppable force.

“I’m going to keep going, and I’m going to do better than this,” Grant said. “Winning the city last year in my first season was a boost. These are girls from all over the city and I just told myself I wanted this. I am working to actually get on the state podium this year.”

Rickover Naval Academy’s Jocelyn Quillay won by fall in 0:27 over Curie Metro’s Yaretzi Avila for third place and Back of the Yards College Prep’s Abigail Dominguez recorded a pin in 1:27 over Rickover Naval Academy’s Alisa Burk in the fifth-place match.

155 – Sara Martinez Lopera, Kelly College Prep

Kelly College Prep’s Sara Martinez Lopera emerged as a top freshman with her fall in 5:40 over Phoenix Military Academy’s America Cabrera in the 155 title match.

Martinez Lopera improved to 17-2 while Cabrera, a sophomore, fell to 19-4.

Rickover Naval Academy’s Camila Martinez won by fall in 1:52 over Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville’s Mia Johnson for third place. And Marshall’s Cecilia Colon claimed a 9-8 decision over Back of the Yards College Prep’s’ Ayatzary Villegas on the fifth-place mat. 

170 – Lily Cohen, Lane Tech

Lane Tech’s Lily Cohen captured the 170 championship with a fall in 3:16 over Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences’ Jailynn Milam.

Rickover Naval Academy’s Clara Biela won by fall in 1:00 over Back of the Yards College Prep’s Nyomi Ascensio for third place. And Phoenix Military Academy’s Annie Johnson won with a pin in 5:12 over Kelly College Prep’s Liana Andrade for fifth place. 

190 – Nadia Johnson, South Shore International College Prep

South Shore International College Prep’s Nadia Johnson made short work of ITW David Speer Academy’s Aileen Galvez, recording a fall 0:35 in the 190 championship match.

Johnson, a junior, is another first-time wrestler who has demonstrated remarkable progress.

“My style is really freestyle and I also listen to my coaches’ advice,” Johnson said. “This is my first year. I don’t know much, but I know some things about wrestling that I have to go in very aggressive.

“I never wrestled before, but I knew I had a lot of strength, and I should put it to good use.”

Kelly College Prep’s N’Dyia Mahon-Godfrey won by fall in 1:02 over Mather’s Julissa Az for third place. And Rickover Naval Academy’s Julia Aguello recorded a fall in 1:17 over Morgan Park’s Denali Luna in the fifth-place bout.

235 – Aaliyah Grandberry, Curie Metro

Curie Metro’s Aaliyah Grandberry made the encore something special, defeating Rickover Naval Academy’s Jasmine Meja 3-2 in a tiebreaker.

Grandberry (13-0), a senior who won her third straight city championship, placed second at 235 in the IHSA Finals in both 2023 and 22 to Belleville East’s Kiara Ganey.

“One big difference from the last time we wrestled is that I lost a lot of weight, and a lot other heavyweights are not really used to my quickness,” Grandberry said.

“I feel like I also lost some strength, and I can’t necessarily always do the same mass like before. I have to use my speed.”

The moment was bittersweet though illuminating for Meja (20-1), who suffered her first defeat.

“You learn more from losses, and a lot of my previous matches were not all that challenging, with most of them first or second period falls,” Meja said. “I can take my lessons from this match and know what I have to work on.”

Kelly College Prep’s Milan Montgomery won a 7-5 decision over her teammate, Laura Sofia Martinez Lopera for third place. And Taft’s Rim Ayouchi defeated Hancock’s Ariana Gutierrez-Soria by fall in 2:35 in the fifth-place match.

Title matches for the Chicago Public League Girls Championship

100 – Mia Vazquez (Rickover Naval Academy) TF 2:44 Asia Boss (Michele Clark Academic Prep)

105 – Carmen Jackson (Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences) F 2:57 Kimani Glasper (Westinghouse College Prep)

110 – Diana Lopez (Phoenix Military Academy) F 1:43 Hida Thomas (Back of the Yards College Prep) 

115 – Jaqueline Dimas (Kelly College Prep) D 5-3 Mia Thomas (Phoenix Military Academy)

120 –  Nyah Lovis (Lane Tech) D 7-0 Marisol Castro (Phoenix Military Academy)

125 – Tyhesia Goss (Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville) F 1:04 Joseline Rodriguez (Back of the Yards College Prep) 

130 – Yesenia DePaz (Back of the Yards College Prep) F 5:24 Itzel Jimenez (George Washington) 

135 – Ariel Foreman (Phoenix Military Academy) F 2:37 Zabby Badru (Lane Tech)

140 – Harmoni Puckett (King College Prep) F 2:21 Alexia Ramos (Phoenix Military Academy) 

145 – AJ Grant (Phoenix Military Academy) F 0:27 Nymeia Massenat (Kenwood) 

155 – Sara Martinez Lopera (Kelly College Prep) F 5:40 America Cabrera (Phoenix Military Academy)

170 – Lily Cohen (Lane Tech) F 3:16 Jailynn Milam (Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences)

190 – Nadia Johnson (South Shore International College Prep) F 0:35 Aileen Galvez (ITW David Speer Academy)

235 – Aaliyah Grandberry (Curie Metro) TB 3-2 Jasmine Meja (Rickover Naval Academy)

Third-place matches for the Chicago Public League Girls Championship

100 – Evelin Martinez (Curie Metro) F 0:42 Jitzel Aranda (Phoenix Military Academy)

105 – Melany Corona (Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville) F 5:12 Melani Martinez (Curie Metro)

110 – Litzy Estrada (Rickover Naval Academy) D 11-8 Alyssa Martel (Taft)

115 – Jennifer Arenas (Taft) F 0:37 Natalie Guzman (Curie Metro)

120 – Raynisha Sims (Lake View) F 1:39 Elani Alvarez (George Washington)

125 – Beyonca Rodriguez (George Washington) F 3:06 Adrianna Tanguma (Phoenix Military Academy)

130 – Jocelyn Quiroz (Phoenix Military Academy) F 1:46 Catalina Pacheco (Clemente)

135 – Theresa Sewell (Fenger) F 3:40 Mia Luecht (Hancock College Prep)

140 – Leylani Bahena (Kelly College Prep) F 2:30 Natalia Ribeiro (Rickover Naval Academy)

145 – Joceyln Quillay (Rickover Naval Academy) F 0:27 Yaretzi Avila (Curie Metro)

155 – Camila Martinez (Rickover Naval Academy) F 1:52 Mia Johnson (Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville)

170 – Clara Biela (Rickover Naval Academy) F 1:00 Nyomi Ascencio (Back of the Yards College Prep)

190 – N’Dyia Mahon-Godfrey (Kelly College Prep) F 1:02 Julissa Az (Mather)

235 – Milan Montgomery (Kelly College Prep) D 7-5 Laura Sofia Martinez Lopera (Kelly College Prep)

Team scores for the Chicago Public League Girls Championship

1. Phoenix Military Academy 226, 2. Rickover Naval Academy 170.5, 3. Kelly College Prep 132, 4. Back of the Yards College Prep 131, 5. Curie Metro 100, 6. Lane Tech 86, 7. Taft 75, 8. Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville 71, 9. George Washington 65, 10. Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences 56, 11. Mather 42, 12. Hancock College Prep 40, 12. Westinghouse College Prep 40, 14. ITW David Speer Academy 34, 14. South Shore International College Prep 34, 16. King College Prep 30, 17. Morgan Park 26, 18. Lake View 22, 19. Michele Clark Academic Prep 20, 20. Clemente 18, 20. Kenwood 18, 22 Little Village Lawndale 17, 23. Chicago Academy 16, 24. Fenger Academy 15, 24. Lindblom Math and Science Academy 15, 26. Marshall 14, 27. Crane Medical Prep 6, 27. Wendell Phillips Academy 6,  29. Schurz 2, 30. Eric Solorio Academy 0, 30. Hubbard 0.

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