Sisters pin it to win it Sisters win state titles, boys capture Battle of the Axe againMar 30, 2023 03:37PM ● By Julie Slama
Sisters freshman Eva and sophomore Eliza Zimmerman both won Hillcrest’s first state titles in girls wrestling as they each won their individual weight classes. (Nick Pappas/Hillcrest High)
In one Hillcrest High family, two sisters take it all out fighting—on the mat.
The two self-described best friends—sophomore Eliza and freshman Eva Zimmerman—each took 5A individual state titles in wrestling.
“I had tears because I was so happy when I watched Eva win,” Eliza said. “It was extreme happiness. It was Hillcrest’s first title for girls wrestling.”
Eliza couldn’t celebrate the rest of the meet with her. She had to get in her mindset for her own moment on the mat—“and that was difficult to do.”
Coming off a hurt shoulder and elbow injury, Eliza biked and ran and didn’t wrestle.
“I hadn’t been on the mat in the two weeks since divisionals. It was hard; I wanted to be in the room,” she said.
Eliza, at 120 pounds, followed her sister, pinning all four of her opponents.
“It is way cooler to be sharing this moment with my sister,” Eliza said.
Eva cheered on her sister.
“We’re both state champs and we’re celebrating,” said the 100-pound wrestler.
The two were also excited for their brother.
Senior Ezekiel “Zeke” Zimmerman had his own success at state, placing sixth in the 113-pound classification.
Zeke, who wrestled in club before he took the mat as a 78-pound freshman four years ago, introduced the sport to Eliza, who passed it along to Eva. Wrestling is becoming a family affair in the Zimmerman family as they hope their younger siblings will take it up. They grew up learning jiu jitsu, a self-defense martial art.
“I was hesitant at first, thinking I’d be the only girl in the room, and I’d get beat up,” Eliza said. “Once I got there, there were more girls there than I thought and I got into it.”
Eliza, who finished fourth in the state last year, told Eva to wrestle.
“Both my brother and sister competed at state, so I knew I had a lot to live up to,” said Eva, who also won the multi-state Rockwell Rumble championship earlier this season. “That was a bigger tournament than state and I learned a lot about all the different ways girls wrestle. This season has been so much fun. It’s a lot of work and mentally it’s challenging, but I wanted to do it. We were always wrestling around as kids in the living room, but I became good in the sport because of my sister. She would drill me and correct me on how to do it better and faster until I got it down.”
Despite the weight differences and genders, Hillcrest wrestlers can take each other on the mats at practice. The sisters said that has helped them learn good technique and be able to beat stronger opponents. They give credit to their coach Nick Pappas.
“Our coach always pushes us against anyone so we can be the best,” Eliza said. “He instills in us a work ethic and integrity to lead the team.”
Pappas said they are “ultra-competitive.”
“They work hard,” he said. “They are constantly working to improve and be pushing everybody else in the room. They are awesome athletes, they’re smart and patient, and come from an athletic and supportive family. I think anyone would be lucky to have one athlete coming from those elements, but I’m fortunate to have three Zimmermans this year.”
In fact, the Zimmermans and the team celebrated earlier this year when in front of a packed house on their home floor, the Huskies beat rival Brighton High for the second straight time to win the Battle of the Axe. Winning twice in a row is a first in the 54-year history of the rivalry.
“Our whole team worked for it; it was so awesome,” Eva said.
Her coach agreed: “It was super cool. The kids were pretty confident going into it and it was just an amazing environment. It’s fun for the kids to win it a second time and make history in the process.”
This year, Hillcrest’s girls wrestling took sixth at state, with only nine girls wrestling in the meet.
Sophomore Antonia Ingabire placed third; sophomore Emilie Mower placed fifth; and senior Briona Love, placed fifth.
The boys placed 12th, moving up from last year’s finish at 24th.
Three wrestlers placing—the first time more than one grappler has placed in the boys state tournament in more than 20 years, the coach said.
In addition to Zeke Zimmerman, senior Isaiah Rayco and junior Cooper Limb also placed sixth.
Hillcrest High athletic director Scott Carrell said that more athletes qualified for the second day of the tournament than the school has had in the past 10 years.
Of the 10 girls and 30 boys on the team, Hillcrest graduates one girl and six boys, so Pappas is optimistic about next year when they compete in 4A.
“We’ll grow next year from here. We’ll still have Stansbury (High) so that’s tough and Tooele (High) has a lot of kids, but we won’t have Uintah or Payson (high schools),” he said. “I think a lot of our success this year, and will next year as well, comes from the culture that when their buddies are winning, they want to do so too. It’s contagious. They don’t want to accept being mediocre, so they put in a lot of hard work and drive each other to be better every day. I’m proud of their determination and of their hard work and the successes that come from it. It’s been a heck of a year for the boys and the girls.”