It’s positivity, hustle and camaraderie over everything for Phoenix Dubose right now.
As she hopefully enters her second season wrestling with the King University Tornados, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a new spin on training for the nationally-ranked grappler.
“We’ve been training full time until we left campus full time in March, and I feel like we’ve had a really great regiment” since we got back, said Dubose, a 2019 Yelm High School graduate, via a recent phone call from Bristol, Tennessee.
King University is a private university located near the Tennessee-Virginia border. Dubose was awarded a full-ride scholarship.
Hard at work, her program has been busy training in small pods since returning to the mat just last month. Training has looked fairly normal, though the King athletics department has implemented training restrictions and social distancing requirements, of course.
But there’s still some questions as to what the fate of their season, set to start January in the Division 2 Conference Carolinas, will be this year. Dubose said she and her teammates are hopeful for some time on the mat.
“I do enjoy it here. It’s a lot like home,” said the two-time WIAA 3A state champ.
Although tournaments seem to be cancelling left and right since the start of the pandemic, Dubose, who wrestles at 130 pounds, was able to compete in the U23 and UWW Junior Nationals championship tournament, which took place Nov. 12 to 14 in Omaha.
The sophomore ultimately placed fifth in the junior division, starting first with back-to-back technical falls and ultimately clawing her way out of the consolation bracket with a 3-0 win to place. She placed sixth in the U23 bracket, according to posts from the women’s program.
It was her measured approach to matches and wrestling prowess that gave her the edge in later competition.
“She has a unique style when it comes to wrestling … It’s interesting and exciting to see her take some of the areas that we cover. She adapts them to her own styles and how she wrestles,” said King University head women’s coach Jason Moorman, who started the women’s program about a decade ago.
He also noted her love for a select number of moves to pull on the offense, such as the Russian tie and the two-on-one technique.
Yelmites knew Dubose as a calculated and light-footed grappler on the high school mat, and the same seems to be true 2,600 miles and more than half a dozen states away.
Her freshman year with King, Dubose finished fourth at the WCWC National Championship tournament, going 3-2, and was named all-American at 123 pounds. Her first year with the women’s Tornado program, she went 19-7 overall with two pins and 11 technical falls, according to the program.
She also helped King finish third at the NWCA National Duals tournament and at the WCWC National Championships in 2019.
Last April, Dubose was also named King’s rookie of the year.
“I wasn’t really expecting it because I know there are a lot of other really great athletes who did a great job this year, and I didn’t really place as high at nationals that I had hoped. But I think that I’ve had a lot of improvement since I’ve started, and that’s really all thanks to my coaches and my teammates so far,” she said in a recent video interview with King’s athletics program.
Speaking with the Nisqually Valley News, Dubose added: “Last year, with us having constant competition, I felt like I proved that I was rookie of the year.”
The goal with the upcoming season is to best last year’s effort while also building on the team’s chemistry, the sophomore said.
“What’s been great about Phoenix, and everybody else, is the positivity toward that … There’s a lot of mindsets you can have when faced with (the pandemic). She just has the best attitude toward it than anybody,” Moorman said. “She’s a great representative of our program and she’s a fantastic person. We’re super proud to have her on our team.”
Yelm High School head girls wrestling coach Amy Earley was one of the many digital audience members who watched Dubose compete in Omaha. Speaking with the Nisqually Valley News, Earley said she was surprised with how much she’d bulked up and how confident she looked in her matches.
“I’m super proud with how far she’s gone with (wrestling),” Earley said.
During her high school years, Dubose was able to help lead the Lady Tornados to win the 3A state championship both her sophomore and junior years.
In March 2018, after helping her team to its second consecutive state title and after winning her first state title, it was revealed through a data crunch conducted by USA Wrestling, FloWrestling and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Museum that Dubose had been ranked as the 15th best female wrestler in the 117-pound category nationwide, according to a previous NVN article.
Earley remembers Dubose not so much as a quick, off-the-top wrestler, but as someone who was cool, calculated and collected.
“Everything she did was for a purpose,” Earley said. “You have some wrestlers who wrestle from the gut … and Phoenix is not that wrestler. She wrestles with a strategy, she observes her opponents, and I’m sure she still does that.”
During the 2018 Mat Classic tournament, Dubose was out for a win, and after her first individual state title in the 115-pound bracket. She fought her way up to the final championship mat and ultimately came face to face against Granger’s Viktorya Torres.
It was a nail-biter, but she won. And today, Dubose wrestles alongside Torres, who is a freshman at King.
“That was a crazy match, and Phoenix was not expected to win that match,” Earley said, adding of King University: “Some of the best competition is on her team. She’s on the best team in the nation.”
“Phoenix might be our first recruit that we’ve gotten from Washington, and now we follow that up with Viktorya Torres … We’re starting to branch out and hopefully try and get more wrestlers from that state,” Moorman said.
Dubose was practically untouchable her senior year, Earley recalls, with her eyes set primarily on that second state title — and everyone seemed to know it.
“Everyone kind of ignored that weight class cause they knew they couldn’t beat her,” Earley said.
Earley told the Nisqually Valley News that Dubose’s successes are something to be celebrated. She hopes that her story will serve as a model that there are opportunities for women to go on from high school and wrestle on big collegiate stages — especially now, seeing as how COVID-19 dwindles the likelihood for high school wrestling seasons in Washington state.
“These kids that are seniors should not give up on their dreams to wrestle in colleges,” Earley said.