Inspiration can come from a variety of places and from many different sources, but West Aurora junior Ionicca Rivera had the best personal frame of reference.
Her older sister, Dyani, helped make school history last season in qualifying for the first Illinois High School Association girls wrestling individual state meet.
“That was very exciting,” Ionicca said of watching her sister compete. “Just seeing her up there, being the first one ever to wrestle in a state championship match.”
Dyani Rivera finished second to Batavia’s Sydney Perry in the 145-pound match. The showdown was the first weight class decided, marking a big moment in girls athletics.
Ionnica Rivera was more than just an observer, however.
She also celebrated being a part of the new wave of female wrestlers who are transforming the look and feel of the sport.
Wrestling at 170, Ionicca finished 20-8 last season and reached the state quarterfinals.
“Just knowing I could make it that far really gave me the confidence to do even better,” she said. “It helped me realize I am also a very good wrestler.”
Rivera has parlayed that experience into the next stage of her development as she continues to push new frontiers in the sport.
Rivera (20-3) captured the championship Saturday at the Batavia Invitational.
Ionicca has enjoyed following in her sister’s footsteps. The two sisters also excelled in softball last spring as the Blackhawks reached the Class 4A supersectional.
Dyani played catcher, with Ionicca at third base. Dyani is a freshman on the softball team at Waubonsee Community College, which does not have a girls wrestling program.
“It is natural for the younger sibling to try and always do better and be better,” Dyani said. “She has a point to prove now at state, and she works really hard in practice.”
West Aurora coach Charles Graves said Ionicca is quieter and more reserved than Dyani. The tenacity and competitive instincts are very similar.
“Those differences show in her personality and in her wrestling,” Graves said. “Ionicca has an edge to her, and you can just feel the energy change as she turns it on.
“She has been in most wrestling situations or positions, so she never gets rattled.”
Ionnica followed the early path of her sister, who is 18 months older. Dyani was the first in the family to try out wrestling. Ionicca quickly followed at age 6.
The two wrestled in the nascent club movement and gradually became more immersed in the emerging sport during middle school.
Sophomore Kymber Hall, who wrestles at 145, knows both of them very well.
“They have the same mindset, but they carry it out differently,” Hall said. “Ionicca just works harder than most girls. She could be tired, and she is still just going to run and do stuff.
“She never backs down from any situation.”
Wrestling and softball are a natural correlation for Ionicca Rivera.
As a wrestler, she overpowers the opposition with her balance, speed, quickness and athleticism. In softball?
“I am always going to be loose and energized with wrestling and I feel much quicker,” she said. “Playing third base, I feel like I get to every ball now just because I know how to move so well in wrestling.”
Last season was the first part of the journey. Ionicca helped live the experience vicariously through her sister.
“It is very fun and exciting trying to beat girls I have always competed with,” Ionicca said.
Her older sister now gets to change roles. Dyani returns to the practices at West Aurora and helps coach her younger sister.
“We have always cheered each other on,” Dyani said. “I am going to be in her corner and help her win that state championship.”
Patrick Z. McGavin is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.