One of the most dominant athletes ever to graduate from Maple Ridge secondary was back for a visit on Wednesday – and for a workout.
Payten Smith has started her promising collegiate wrestling career with the Simon Fraser University Clan, and after a slow start by her stellar standards, she’s once again hitting her stride.
Smith was unbeatable.
At the national championships in Ontario as a Rambler last spring, she won all four off her matches by pin, without having a point scored against her. No fight took more than a minute.
Then she entered the Greco competition, which is more about throwing than ground fighting, and won that, too.
It was her second straight national title, and Smith won provincial silver medals in grades 8 and 9, then went on to three straight provincial championships.
She also won at the Canada Summer Games.
Her first-ever college match was at Wayland Baptist University in Texas, and she won it by pin in two rounds.
“It felt pretty good. I loved wrestling with my team,” she said. “Dual meets are pretty intense. You have the whole team cheering you on, and you’re not just trying to win for yourself.”
From that single match at the Texas meet, the SFU team next went to Oklahoma, where Smith had a grueling nine matches in two days. It was more wrestling in two days than she had ever done. She suffered two losses – something that hasn’t happened once in three seasons.
“In one, I just got caught – I tried a move that I don’t do very often, and I got pinned,” she said.
“You forget about it, and keep moving.”
The freshman is up against women from across the U.S., NCAA competitors, and many have been wrestling for years. Their experience shows. But she thinks the losses will make her better.
“I’m glad it did happen – I know what to improve on.”
In the seven wins in Oklahoma, two went to full time, and she won on points, and the other five were by pin.
“Some of them were really tough matches,” she said. “It’s a different atmosphere than high school.”
It didn’t take long for Smith to get her high school swagger back.
SFU hosted a meet that she won, and then last week she won at Pacific University, in Forest Grove, Oregon. She took four matches with no points being scored against her. One of her opponents had been a national judo champion.
“I feel like I’ve improved a tremendous amount since Texas,” she said. “The intensity of my wrestling has picked up quite a bit.”
Smith also feels the “flow” of her wrestling has improved. If she tries a move and it doesn’t work, she can efficiently move into something else. Or she can fake a move, and surprise her opponent with a different one.
The health sciences are also going well, and Smith is on her way to becoming a family doctor.
It has only been a few months with her new teammates, but they are fast becoming a close-knit group.
“We’re a family. We see ourselves at our weakest moments and at our strongest moments. It creates bonds.”
SFU will be one of the best wrestling programs in North America, she predicts. Next up is a trip to California, in two weeks.
Going back to her alma mater, Smith wanted to show the Ramblers some throws and turning techniques. “And I’ll definitely give them a workout.”