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Down But Not Out - Decorated Bruin Wrestler Determined To Return
The best female wrestlers in the state will converge on Lemoore High School on Feb. 22 to take on the California Interscholastic Federation Girls State Invitational Championships.

That is - the best female wrestlers minus Riverbank talent Melissa Garcia.

Riverbank's first ever girls state qualifier was forced to withdraw from expected entry in Friday's Sac-Joaquin/Northern Section Regional (a state tourney qualifier) after a devastating midseason injury.

Garcia was unbeaten against girls this year and favored to leave girls state with a medal after missing tournament hardware by just one match and one point in 2012.

The injury removes all hope of a 2013 medal, but has done little to eliminate the resolve of a heavily recruited Bruin grappler with aspirations of securing a college scholarship and professional career in MMA.

"I shed a lot of tears over this injury because I love wrestling so much and it's so hard to not be able to come back to state," Garcia said outside the Ray Fauria Memorial gymnasium in Riverbank on Monday. "But it's not going to stop me because I am going to heal and get back into things this summer or sooner."

Garcia was state-bound before a difficult match at the Lloyd C. Engel Tournament in Escalon turned her career upside-down. She missed the 170-pound weight class by just nine ounces, but opted to wrestle in the 182-pound bracket against some of the best male wrestlers in the section. The decision left her with a first-round meeting with Reggie Bland, the section-ranked cousin of three-time state-champion Louis Bland.

From the start, the match was bad news for Riverbank's most accomplished female wrestler.

"He hit me in the face early in the match and we had to call injury time because he hit me so hard my teeth moved out of their socket into my top gums and filled my mouth with blood," Garcia said. "He poked me in the eye at the same time, but we kept wrestling and it was very intense."

Garcia says the match got drastically worse when Bland wrenched her to her back in a hard collision to the mat. The move resulted in a pin, but left Garcia writhing on the mat and desperate to breathe after a sudden pain in her ribs. She was whisked to the emergency room, where doctors conveyed a concern she had punctured her lung.

Three hospital visits later doctors determined she had badly bruised her ribs and forced the outside of her lungs to swell to an abnormal size. The prognosis was simple - no wrestling anytime soon.

"It hurts the most because I really wanted to come back and represent Riverbank again," Garcia said. "I had so much ambition for wrestling and spent so many hours dedicating myself to the sport.

"I was really looking forward to going to state and I was looking to place top three there."

In Garcia's absence, the regional tourney was a breeze for other competitors near her weight. A wrestler she put out of last year's state-qualifier won the 165-pound bracket. At 189, all four state qualifiers were wrestlers Garcia placed higher than a year ago.

"It's such a disappointment because she worked so hard and I think she had the potential to get a medal at state," Bruin coach Gilbert Bargas said. "The injury was very serious, and she is tough as nails, so you know if she could wrestle with the injury, she would have."

Absence from the state meet certainly won't help Garcia's college aspirations, but the senior says she is being recruited by the University of Kentucky and schools in North and South Dakota. Since women's college wrestling is fast growing sport, an offer isn't out of the question if Garcia can heal and do big things during the freestyle season this summer.

Garcia said she will try to return to the mat for freestyle, but may end up at Modesto Junior College before entertaining offers from a four-year program. She is also considering a career in mixed martial arts, where a wrestling background can help fighters transition into application of Brazilian Jujitsu. Garcia said she has an offer to train at an academy in Modesto with all classes paid for.

Garcia is also an accomplished shot-put specialist on Riverbank's track team, and hopes to return to prep competition at some point during the spring season.

"I'm not going to give up on my dreams," Garcia maintained. "I just need to heal so I can compete again."