Avallone Coaches MHS Lady Wrestlers to Regional TitleFeb 10, 2021
Moore High wrestling coach Karissa Avallone remembers watching her father coach youth wrestling as a four-year-old. Avallone had been signed up for soccer by her parents, but as she watched the little boys struggle to learn a fundamental wrestling move, she could no longer restrain herself.
"I jumped up, ran out onto the mat, and threw someone down the very first try," said Avallone. "For me, that was it—end of story. I didn't want to play soccer. I wanted to wrestle."
It's hard to imagine a decision made at four-years of age could impact the rest of your life, but it did precisely that for Avallone. Wrestling became her passion and has led her to her current position as Moore High School's first girl's wrestling coach.
"There's so much I love about wrestling," said Avallone. "I think the biggest thing is that it really is the most inclusive sport there is. Age, gender, weight, skin color, mental capacity, background…none of those things matter. If you want to wrestle, there's a place for you. Even special needs kids can wrestle and be successful."
Avallone's path to the Moore Lion wrestling room began that day in Newkirk, Oklahoma, as a four-year old. She wrestled at Newkirk through middle school and on the varsity boys team her first two years of high school. The family moved to Pawhuska, where she received a full ride to wrestle at Missouri Baptist University. After two years at MBU, she moved to Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska, where she became a student assistant coach. After a family emergency forced her to return home to Oklahoma, Avallone coached the national girl's team for Oklahoma in 2018 and 2019. Her first high school wrestling job was as the first girls wrestling coach at Norman High School in 2019. That's when the Lions came knocking.
"Robert Washington and Tim Thomas started talking to me after a wrestling tournament," said Avallone. "Basically, they just recruited me and talked me into coming over here."
The move has been everything Avallone hoped for. She's been tasked with building the Moore Lions girls wrestling program while working as a paraprofessional with special needs students.
"My educational training has been with special needs kids," said Avallone. "I think my love for those kids has been with me since high school. I have a special needs cousin, and she's probably my favorite person in the world. These kids have such a special place in my heart."
Avallone is excited about the growth potential for girls wrestling in Oklahoma, a state long noted for vital high school wrestling programs. She says coming on board during a year when everyone is dealing with a global pandemic has been challenging.
"The pandemic really has had a major impact," said Avallone. "We've had a lot of tournaments canceled, and there are also a lot of kids whose parents didn't want them to wrestle this year because of COVID. But we've also had some success, and some girls who have embraced the challenge, and that gives us some high hopes headed into next year."
According to Avallone, coaching girls wrestling isn't all that much different than coaching boys when it comes to the techniques. But she believes girls have at least one advantage over their male counterparts.
"The great thing is that in my experience, girls really listen to you," said Avallone. "They might not get that move right on the first try, but they'll come back and tell you what they did wrong, and that shows me they're paying attention."
Bridgette Morales and Nadia Alejandre's are two Moore High seniors who decided to take the plunge and embrace the sport this year. Morales was already playing softball when she joined the wrestling team. She plans to continue playing softball in college but felt that wrestling would make her a better all-around athlete.
"I chose to be involved in wrestling for the conditioning and the athletic ability that comes with learning the sport," said Morales. "What I like most about wrestling is the family bond you have with your teammates and coaches. The biggest challenge for me was adapting from 'softball condition' to 'wrestling condition.'"
Alejandre is a soccer player who followed Avallone from soccer to wrestling. She had a background in martial arts that also played a role in her decision to try the sport.
"The thing I love most about wrestling is the adrenaline rush I get from it," said Alejandre. "Being a female wrestler is an amazing title to have. The biggest challenge I've faced is being too hard on myself."
Avallone has confidence that once the pandemic is over and life returns to normal, the Moore Lions girls wrestling program will take off, filled with more student-athletes like Morales and Alejandres.
"We're definitely going to have a better season next year," said Avallone. "I tell the girls, 'Just try this for one year, and I guarantee you're gonna end up loving it.' That's what happened for them this year, and I'm sure we'll have more kids participate next year."
The support she's received from the Moore High and MPS community has also been encouraging.
"Moore Public Schools are setting such a wonderful standard with their support," said Avallone. "We have new singlets and warm-ups, and people are always stopping me in the hall to ask how the girls are doing. It's a great feeling to have that kind of support."