Some matches it’s Bach. Some matches it’s Latin Hip Hop. Some matches it’s Kittie, a nu-metal band straight from its peak in 1999.
Regardless of what Cedar Ridge wrestler Zoey Moreno is listening to before a match, she’s among a growing crop of female wrestlers across Hillsborough.
Over the weekend, Moreno celebrated her second individual championship at the Red Wolf Invitational at Cedar Ridge High School. Moreno scored three pins in three matches to take the 120-pound championship. It was Moreno’s first Red Wolf title. Last year, Chapel Hill’s Siena Palmisciano defeated Moreno in the opening round in Hillsborough. Moreno finished third.
On Saturday, none of Moreno’s three matches exceeded one minute. She pinned Maddie Carter of Middle Creek in 13 seconds. In the semifinals, Moreno finished off Aastha Shah of Green Level in 55 seconds. Moreno pinned Adriana Gruner of Northern Durham in only 15 seconds to take the championship.
Last year, Moreno captured the Green Hope Girls Grapple in Cary, winning all three of her matches via pinfall. She pinned Ava Lytle of Wakefield in 33 seconds of the championship match.
Moreno’s wide array of musical influences in prematch preparation goes along with her typical school day. She’s a member of the wind ensemble with the Cedar Ridge band. She plays percussion and has a drum set at home.
Females wrestling at Cedar Ridge has been going on for nearly a decade. Deborah Urban became the first Cedar Ridge women’s grappler. In 2019, Katie Watkins became the first wrestler in Cedar Ridge history to compete for a state championship. In the first North Carolina High School Wrestling Women’s Invitational, Watkins defeated Haley Shipes of West Mecklenburg in a consolation round, but didn’t place.
Women’s wrestling has grown so rapidly in North Carolina that in order to qualify for the State Championships, a competitor must finish in the top four of a regional. Moreno felt she had the confidence to do that last winter. In the Mideast Regional, she pinned Triton’s Jenna Phelps in 1:09. Hoke County’s Jobe Carter defeated Moreno in the quarterfinals. Moreno defeated Ariana Anampa of Green Hope in a consolation round, but fell to Samantha Dedeaux of Jack Britt in the consolation semifinals. She fell one win short of qualifying for the state championships.
“I was very disappointed in myself,” Moreno said in an interview last February.” It wasn’t necessarily like a sad or bad feeling, it was just disappointment because I knew I could have beaten my opponents. The second girl I wrestled (Carter), I didn’t approach that match very well. Because I came in there super strong, but I wasn’t cautious about my moves. I made a big mistake because she was a lot bigger than me, stronger than me. I should have just used my speed.”
Last year’s disappointment led to changes how Moreno trains. She did more cardiovascular work during the spring and summer.
“I’m really hard on myself when it comes to looses,” Moreno said. “Because I know I’m been training this long. It’s pretty much been my life up to this point. So any loss tells me I did something really bad and you should not have done that.”
With a successful start to the 2023-2024 season, Moreno is taking aim on reaching the state championships in February. Moreno is the latest member of a growing breed of female wrestlers. Now, she wants to finish her career on a high note.
“I like wrestling because it’s not something anybody could really do just because they wanted to,” Moreno said. “You have to keep a strong mindset. The grit and power. And I like the fact it’s a confidence booster. I don’t mind being the only female in the wrestling room some days. It’s some ways it’s more special.”