CALDWELL — Marissa Jimenez is one of few words. But one with many, ribbons, medals and trophies, including a 17-inch tall eagle statue that she earned three months ago at the Reno World Championships.
The soon-to-be Caldwell 138-pound sophomore wrestler lets her skills on the mat do all the talking. She is a Jaybird Memorial Wrestling Tournament winner, a multiple time state champion and just a few girls All-American wrestlers in Idaho history.
“I like it because it’s just her staying humble,” mother, Yennita Desantiago, said. “It’s her not getting big-headed by staying level and taking it all in.”
Jimenez, 14, didn’t start wrestling until the sixth grade. It would have been sooner if it were up to her. She was a cheerleader and ballerina before a cousin’s Senior Night at Nampa High School brought her in front of a wrestling mat for the first time in the fourth grade.
She was sold.
“I think someone did a throw and I remember thinking, ‘This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,’” Jimenez said. “I also think beating someone up and getting away with it is just naturally appealing to a kid.”
Her mother, on the other hand — not so much.
She finally gave in when Jimenez brought home a flyer for middle school wrestling sign ups.
“I thought she was going to go to practice and throw up and be done,” Desantiago said. “But unfortunately it backfired on me.”
Not even an MCL sprain, a rolled ankle, a hyperextended elbow and a broken collarbone within her first two years were enough to deter her.
Jimenez placed at districts in middle school — against the boys, was runner-up at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas and won consecutive state titles in freestyle and Greco-Roman all before entering high school this past year.
“People usually just want to prove something, but I’m not here to prove anything,” Jimenez said. “I just like the sport. I really like the hard work and improving myself past the point that I ever thought I could be.”
But her freshman year was almost over before it even began.
Jimenez had soreness in her right shoulder for months last summer. But the pain always subsided. That was until a former state champion threw her. While grappling with Christian Hudson, the 2018 4A 145-pound state champion out of Caldwell, Jimenez landed squarely on the tender shoulder. She didn’t pop back up like usual. Jimenez laid on the mat with tears filling her eyes before going to the hospital.
A five-hour exploratory surgery on Aug. 1, 2018, finally revealed the problem. It was a completely torn labrum and a 12-to-7 o’clock tear on her bicep.
Doctors said Jimenez would be out for sixth months.
“I was worried because in the seventh grade I heard about Rollie Lane (Invitational),” Jimenez said. “My goal freshman year was to go to Rollie Lane and place. So when I hurt my shoulder I thought, ‘This can’t happen. I’m going to Rollie Lane.’”
She missed the first month of the season but was still at every practice. Jimenez went through warmups and motion drills before having to be on an exercise bike for the rest of practice.
“It was boring,” Jimenez said.
Jimenez was cleared in four months. She returned two weeks before Rollie Lane in mid December. She lost 5-4 in an ultimate tiebreaker one match away from placing.
“After the third round, my shoulder really started hurting again, so it felt like I had nothing left from then on,” Jimenez said.
But Jimenez was back to her old self a few weeks later. She won the Jaybird Memorial Tournament (Jan. 26) before taking second at the first ever unofficial state tournament in February at Pocatello. Jimenez was also on the junior varsity team where she went 7-3 against boys in duals.
She then became an All-American for the first time with a runner-up finish at the Reno Worlds (April 5-7), earning that eagle statue before winning for a third straight year in freestyle and Greco-Roman at the state championships at Columbia High School on April 19-20.
Her crowning achievement came at the 2019 USMC Cadet and Junior National Championships in Fargo, North Dakota, on July 14. Despite losing her first match in the double-elimination style tournament, Jimenez came all the way back through the consolation round. She won her next four matches on the way to finishing sixth in the 24-girl bracket for another All-American honor.
Jimenez joins Post Falls senior Brelane Huber as one of the few girls All-American in Idaho history.
“The girls coming up today are going to look back on her as a pioneer,” Caldwell assistant wrestling coach Adam Freeman said. “She’s paving the way and raising the bar for what girls in this state can do.
“It’s because she is what in basketball you call a gym rat, we just call them mat rats. She is the kind of kid that will call you up and say, ‘Hey, is there time to get in the room today? Can I get in and work out? Is there anybody working out?’”
The amount of success in such a short time for Jimenez stems from the dedication to her craft. She practices six days a week year-round with not only Caldwell, but Suples Wrestling in Boise. That schedule will continue until the high school season officially gets underway in November. She plans on placing at Rollie Lane, going to districts and the IHSAA-sponsored state tournament.
But Jimenez probably won’t have much to say about it.
“Hey, deep down I’ll be happy,” Jimenez said while laughing.