As a nine year old, Cristine Gavasheli started training and fighting in jiu jitsu and mixed martial arts.
The combat sports quickly developed Gavasheli into an elite freestyle fighter with strong hips. There is even a YouTube video from around this time of Gavasheli submitting a boy opponent.
“She choked him out from behind,” said Melissa Gardner, Gavasheli’s girls’ wrestling coach at Raritan High School.
This versatile fighting background made Gavasheli a natural fit for girls’ wrestling.
The Hazlet native entered Raritan High School this past fall. Around the same time, the NJSIAA, the governing body for high school sports in New Jersey, sanctioned girls’ wrestling as an official sport for the 2018-19 scholastic winter season.
Months later, on March 2, 2019 in Atlantic City, Gavasheli won the state tournament championship in the 118-pound girls’ bracket. After earning a first-round bye at Boardwalk Hall, Gavasheli pinned her semifinal and championship opponents in 1:52 and 2:31, respectively.
At the end of the sport’s inaugural campaign in the Garden State, the freshman became one of just 10 female state champions. She made history.
“It felt really good,” Gavasheli said.
“Cristine is so good at not panicking,” Gardner said. “She just goes out and does her job.”
On the wrestling mat, Gavasheli has a penchant for “heart attack moments,” as Gardner calls them. The freshman is so freewheeling and aggressive that she often gets taken down.
“And you really don’t think she can get out,” Gardner said. “But then she does it really fast.”
In the state championship bout at Boardwalk Hall, Gavasheli’s opponent, Notre Dame High School’s Angelina Romero, was literally sitting on her. Gavasheli looked finished.
But she thrusted out her long legs and wrapped them around Romero’s legs. Then she sprung off the ground and used her hips to dig Romero into the mat.
In a matter of seconds, Gavasheli reversed her position from sitting to mounting. She earned the pin, and probably another YouTube highlight, moments later.
“People like watching her because it’s not boring,” Gardner said. “It’s constant movement, which is entertaining.”
Gavasheli never lost her cool when she was pinned to the mat. After so many jiu jitsu, mixed martial arts and wrestling reps, she knows how to manipulate body mechanics to move weight. The freshman can maintain a defensive position and reverse it quickly.
When she’s on her feet, Gavasheli goes for vulnerable body parts. She knows where contact will lead to takedowns.
Once she pins an opponent, Gavasheli applies pressure to the right areas. She understands how to keep a rival from breaking out of a hold.
“I have my own technique, so I don’t follow wrestling moves,” Gavasheli said. “Some of these girls don’t know as much jiu jitsu, and I can do moves they don’t know about.”
“This all takes years to develop. Your body has to learn it more than your brain does,” Gardner said. “There are hundreds of variations on positions.”
“And those other sports focus on it more than wrestling,” Gardner added.
With such a developed game, Gavasheli plans on continuing to wrestle throughout high school. Her family is supportive of this path.
Her stepfather, Eric Lachow, may even want Gavasheli to enter major national tournaments at some point, including the premier amateur event in USA wrestling: The U.S. Marine Corps Junior National Championship at the FargoDome in Fargo, N.D.
“Boys get recruited from that a lot of times,” Gardner said. “It’s the highest level of competition.”
“We knew she’d be good at this, but we were surprised she was as dominant as she was,” Lachow said. “Now we want her to compete against the best and see how she stacks up.”