Athlete of the Week: Samantha Calkins

When the high school wrestling season gets underway, Liberty’s team will be able to tout something that not many schools can -- the top-ranked wrestler in the country.

USA Wrestling recently came out with its high school rankings. In them, Samantha Calkins, a senior for the Lions, was ranked as the top wrestler in her weight class (200 pounds).

The rankings weren’t exactly a surprise to Calkins. In July, she finished first at the U.S. Marine Corps 16U & Junior Nationals wrestling tournament in Fargo, ND. Calkins defeated Riley Dempewolf from Lafayette, Ind. in the final. The USA Wrestling rankings followed those results, with Dempewolf coming in at No. 2 and Calkins at No. 1.

“I was expecting to be first but with rankings, you never really know,” Calkins said. “It was kind of surreal. I’m a hometown wrestler. After all the hard work of countless hours and extra practices, it kind of paid off. It still doesn’t feel real, though. I still just feel like a random wrestler from Brentwood.”

Beyond being ranked No. 1 in her weight class, Calkins was also ranked as the No. 16 pound-for-pound wrestler.

Top pound-for-pound honors are generally reserved for wrestlers in the lower weight classes and for the most part, these rankings were no different. Calkins and Dempewolf (who was No. 23) were the only wrestlers at 200 pounds in the top 25. Michigan’s Eliana Bommarito (No. 12) was the only wrestler at a heavier weight class (225 pounds) in the top 25 and Michigan’s Sabriana Nauss (180 pounds) was the only other wrestler in the top 25 at more than 164 pounds.

One potential side effect of being ranked so high is that it will make potential opponents even more aware of Calkins and perhaps even train harder for their matches with her.

Calkins said she is aware of that and feels that the work she’s put in has made her ready for any extra challenges that may come up.

“I think I’m prepared for it,” she said. “It’s what I’ve been working for for the past eight years and I have this spot for a reason. So I’m not going to give it up too easily.”

Calkins thanked a number of people for their help in achieving the number 1 ranking. One is Liberty coach Alex Encarnacion-Strand, who has been working with her since freshman year and, as Calkins put it, holding her accountable. She also thanked her parents, David and Jackie, as well her brother and training partner, David and longtime Lions coach, Greg Chappel. Calkins additionally expressed gratitude to her Liberty teammates.

“They’re the best,” she said. “We might not be known as the greatest wrestling school but they’re always there for me, backing me up, supporting me and cheering me on.”

And the high ranking hasn’t done much to change Calkins’ expectations for her senior season. A big reason for that is, the expectations were already extremely high.

“They’re still the same,” Calkins said. “I’ve got to go through state first. Hopefully we can win that. After that, it’s getting prepped for college and hopefully make a world team. They’re the same goals.”

That was an opinion shared by her coach.

"This is a well deserved honor, but the job isn't finished yet,” he said. “We are here to earn the No. 1 position when nationals come around again, and prove she is truly the No. 1 person.”