Sports

Payten finding her place on mat

Payten Smith during practice at Maple Ridge secondary. She is the unbeaten captain of the wrestling team. - Colleen Flanagan
Payten Smith during practice at Maple Ridge secondary. She is the unbeaten captain of the wrestling team.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan

Three years ago, when she was in Grade 9, Payten Smith fought a Grade 12 student for a provincial championship in wrestling.

She had to settle for silver, but that’s the last match she lost.

It could be the one of her high school career.

Maple Ridge wrestling coach Bill McCrae runs a good program – one which generally graduates an athlete on to post-secondary wrestling every year.

He sees Payten as the most dominant wrestler he’s had on the Ramblers team in 23 years at the high school.

Last year, in Grade 10, Payten won her first provincial gold.

This year, no opponent has even scored a point against her, so there is no reason for McCrae to think she won’t win two more gold medals – this year and in her grad year.

“I’ve had 20 provincial champions, but not one that’s going to win three times in a row,” said the coach.

“She won’t even get a point scored on her, unless she does something silly.”

En route to winning at the B.C. Age Class Championships in Kamloops earlier this month, Payten had her fastest-ever victory – seven seconds.

“I did a fireman’s throw, and then I pinned her,” she explained.

Before that she was at the Port Alberni tournament, where she jumped up several weight classes and took on girls in the 120 kg class.

She still found more easy wins.

“A lot of the bigger girls don’t have much stamina,” she points out.

McCrae calls her the complete package, and has a long list of reasons why she has become virtually unbeatable.

“Will to win, tenacity, support from home, intelligence ... ”

McCrae says she picks up moves faster than other kids, and retains them.

Last year, Payten also took up judo. She loves the new challenge – the flips and throwing.

She has been to two judo tournaments, in Richmond and Abbotsford, and won gold medals in both.

Already, she is being recruited to be part of the Team B.C. judo team for the Canada Winter Games in her Grade 12 year.

“Just when you thought she couldn’t get any better, now she can throw,” said McCrae, smiling.

Where does this golden haired, straight-A student, concert pianist, soft-spoken young woman get her yen for hand to hand combat?

Maybe it’s in the genes.

Her father was a professional wrestler, known as The Hangman and also Black Jack Smith.

He fought on All-Star Wrestling, Stampede Wrestling and most of the small circuits.

Now Bill Smith is a local welder.

He gave up the ring when his daughter was born.

But she has seen a long-haired, leather-pants version of her father stamping around the ring on Youtube.

He is her biggest fan, but never twisted her arm to wrestle.

“He didn’t originally encourage me to wrestle – I just wanted to do it.”

She has never enjoyed team sports, but loves the social side to being part of the wrestling team.

“I like how our team is like a family, and we all get to know each other.”

She has been the captain since last year.

The provincial championships are coming up in Cowichan at the end of February, and Payten will be a favourite to win.

Then she will attend the 2013 Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Que. as part of Team B.C.

With competition in B.C. running out, she is anxious to test herself against the best from across Canada.

“I want to take wrestling to university, and one day compete in the Olympics.”

Part of Payten’s edge is in coaching, she said, with a literal nod to McCrae.

And the other part is desire.

“A lot of the other girls want to win, but not as much as I do.”

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