Paynter girl fearless competitor on the mats
Maleah Pacella is only 8 years old, but she quickly is gaining a reputation as a fierce competitor on wrestling mats across the area.
Maleah, of Baldwin, has a 12-1 record in the Keystone League, competing against mainly male opponents.
The Paynter Elementary School third-grader is making a name for herself against girls as well. Maleah recently competed in the New Jersey state girls' wrestling championship, capturing second place in her weight class.
This is Maleah's second year of wrestling. She came home from school last year with a signup sheet, announcing to her father, Vince, that she wanted to wrestle.
“I told her it wasn't the same as the wrestling she sees on TV. But when we got to the first practice, she still asked where the ropes were,” Vince said.
According to her dad, Maleah stayed for that first practice, and never has looked back. He says she loves wrestling, and excels at it.
Maleah is the only female member of the Baldwin youth wrestling team, and conditions three times a week along with all the boys on the team.
Jon Banko has been coaching the Baldwin youth wrestling team for four years. Prior to that, he coached at Southmoreland High School.
Banko, a Baldwin resident, has coached several girls over the years and says he treats all of his wrestlers the same, regardless of gender.
Maleah Pacella definitely has potential on the mats, according to Banko.
“She's aggressive and athletic. For a young wrestler, she's very good,” he said.
Banko said Maleah is very coachable, and picks up on techniques easily, which is a good sign she will continue to do well in the sport.
Athletics runs in the Pacella family.
Vince Pacella, a 1995 Baldwin High School graduate, wrestled for the Highlanders. And Maleah's mom, Jennifer (Hoffman) Pacella, is a 1993 Baldwin grad who spent three years playing strong safety for the Pittsburgh Passion professional women's football team.
Vince is optimistic his daughter will be able to wrestle her way to a college scholarship if she chooses to stick with it.
“There's absolutely a future in girls' wrestling. She's going to have to wrestle boys in the WPIAL, but the sport is growing more popular for girls in other areas,” he said. “She's a little fireplug. She puts 120 percent into any sport she plays.”
At the recent New Jersey state wrestling championship, there were almost 200 girls registered.
Maleah went 4-1 in the tournament, pinning two of her opponents before losing in the championship match to a girl two years older, and nine pounds heavier.
Vince met numerous people active in girls' wrestling who were excited about Maleah's performance at the New Jersey tournament. They expressed enthusiasm for Maleah's talent, and hoped to see her at future girls' tournaments.
Maleah, who played shortstop in the Greater Baldwin-Whitehall Athletic Association last summer, currently is preparing for the girls' state wrestling championships to be held in early March.
Her 6-year-old brother and fellow wrestling teammate, Cenzo, along with their two older sisters Maddie, 15, and Mariah, 14, no doubt will be cheering for Maleah from the stands.
Jennifer Goga is a freelance writer.