Raelie Hernandez will continue wrestling career at Bluefield State

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 14, 2023

By David Shaw


CHINA GROVE — There’s a wave of excitement swelling in women’s wresting — and Raelie Hernandez has caught it.

Raelie Hernandez

The 120-pound Carson senior is more than just another feel-good story after signing a scholarship offer from Bluefield State University this week. Hernandez has etched her name in local history, becoming Rowan County’s first female wrestler to earn a partial ride.

“They’re building a new program with a new coach (Brooke Richards),” said Hernandez — a demonstrated leader with something to prove. “They were looking for someone who is strong in the classroom with good, overall character. The environment there was really comfortable and Coach Richards seemed very sincere. She has a vision, a plan, and so do I. That’s what drew me in. She’s trying to make a name for the school and the women’s wrestling program. I’d prefer to have a coach who loves what she does and goes after it, rather than just recruiting people to fill a roster. The way she’s talking, she’s looking for character over stats.”

Hernandez will fit in nicely at BSU, a Division II school with about 1,300 undergraduates nestled in the Appalachians. She’ll become a key member of the Big Blue’s first competitive team later this year.

“I tried to support her along the way, but Raelie basically did all the work herself,” noted Brad Kluttz, Carson’s second-year head coach. “She did the visit. She did the communicating. And she got what she was hoping for.”

She got it by navigating an obstacle course through four varsity seasons on Kress Venture Drive, finishing with a 45-47 career record against mostly male opponents. She went 22-16 this past season, wrestling her way into the final girls’ state invitational, where she captured four of six matches but failed to place. It helped burnish a resume that includes a number of JCHS distinctions worth celebrating: first win by a Carson female wrestler (2019); first female named all-conference (2020); two-time all-county selection (2020, 2022); two-time Midwest region qualifier (boy’s division); and a two-time state qualifier (girl’s division). In March she participated in the East-West All-Star Classic in Asheboro.

“It’s just the dedication you have to have in this sport,” Hernandez said matter-of-factly. “The persistence you need to be successful. When I started wrestling in middle school, there weren’t any other girls, so it was a little intimidating. The boys were all bigger and stronger than me. There was a lot of losing, but it was all for fun. When I got to high school, to varsity, it started to matter. I realized I needed to be better — and I needed help.”

Support arrived in the form of encouragement and advice from coaches, teammates and family members — including older brother Damian, a former West Rowan grappler.

“That’s what got me through it,” explained Hernandez, owner of a 3.7 grade-point-average. “My teammates were great. The coaches were great. They all wanted me to improve and do my best, but it took a lot of work.”

A telling testimony came from freshman teammate Joseph Little, her season-long partner in Carson’s practice room. “She’s just good at everything,” he imparted. “She works hard and obviously loves the sport, but it’s definitely not easy. She pushes me, she pushes all of us to be better. This season Raelie was one of the best wrestlers in our room, boys or girls.”

Hernandez, who drew interest from Greensboro College and a handful of northern schools, even saw her natural leadership skills come into play.

“In wrestling, you’ve got to push yourself and your teammates as hard as possible,” she said. “And at practice, there were times I needed to step in and say something because, you know, boys are going to be boys and play around. I took a more motherly approach, sort of like, ‘We didn’t get to practice something we needed to work on because we were busy doing something else.’ That’s not how you succeed. And that’s what’s most important.”

It’s that driving quest for success that inspires Hernandez. At Bluefield State she’ll transition from traditional folkstyle wrestling to freestyle, where speed and leg strength play a greater role.

“It’s more like the Olympic style,” said Kluttz, a 1995 West Rowan grad and three-time state qualifier for legendary coach Ralph Shatterly. “Folkstyle is about top, bottom and neutral. You can excel at one of those and be successful. In freestyle, you’re on your feet a lot more and the pace is faster. Shouldn’t be a problem for Raelie. She’s got a work ethic that’s second to none.”

A work ethic and a determined mission.

“It’s another challenge, but I tell myself it’s gonna be OK,” smiled Hernandez, who plans to major in Biochemistry and Science Application. “I hope it proves a point — that women can get a wrestling scholarship and go to the college they want. It almost feels like I’m not just doing this for myself. I’m doing it for everyone. And I’m here to show people what I can do.”