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Avalos to continue wrestling, academic career at Vanguard
Lilly Avalos signing
Lilly Avalos, one of the most decorated wrestlers in Pitman High School history, poses for a photo alongside her family after signing her letter of intent to continue her athletic and academic careers at Vanguard University (Photo contributed).

Last week, the Pitman High cafeteria was filled as hundreds of friends, classmates, family members, teammates and coaches of Lillian Avalos came to support her as she signed her letter of intent to continue her wrestling and academic career at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa. One of the most decorated wrestlers in Pride history, Avalos shared her thoughts and emotions on achieving what’s been a lifelong dream.

“I’ve been wrestling since fourth grade, which has been about eight years now. It’s always been a goal of mine to compete at the collegiate level since I started. People have always told me that this was something that could be possible, so it’s been something that I’ve had in mind and that I’ve strived for,” she said. “When I decided on Vanguard, I was just so used to the thought of me competing in college, it didn’t feel much different until this signing ceremony. It made it all feel so much more real that I’ll be going away for college and be wrestling at a higher level for the next four years. It honestly felt so surreal.”

At the time of her signing, Avalos’ career accomplishments at Pitman High include being a two-time state medalist (including her second place finish last year), a two-time Sac-Joaquin Section Masters winner, and a first place win at the 2022 Napa Valley Invitational. Avalos achieved all this and more on the mat while being Academic All- League each of her four years. She explained how her dominance caught the attention of dozens of colleges from across the nation.

“Once colleges and recruiters were allowed to speak with me, I just got swarmed. I was going on calls every night or having four to five colleges texting me each day, and honestly it was really stressful and overwhelming, but it was a good kind of overwhelming because I’ve been working so hard for this and now people are actually noticing me. It feels good to know that the hard work was paying off and that I was seeing the results,” she said.

Vanguard first popped up on Avalos’ radar last May. After visiting the campus in September, the decision was made a bit easier.

“The decision process was tough, but Vanguard was just too good to pass up and it became clear in December that this is where I wanted to be and this is where I would thrive and do my best,” she said. “I really love that area and I’ve always loved the city and having something to do. I also thought it would be cool to be closer to my teammates on my travel team.”

Like Avalos, Pitman High head wrestling coach Adam Vasconcellos knew that her competing at the collegiate level was inevitable.

“When she was in junior high, I knew she was going to be ridiculously good,” he said. “When she was an eighth grader, she wrestled a defending state champion in Reno and Lilly beat her. The other team ended up challenging the call and overturned the result, but she was still just so motivated, and I knew at that point that Lilly was something super special.”

Aside from the personal accolades, Vasconcellos also acknowledged her impact for the wrestling team as a whole, as she helped them win two Sac-Joaquin Section Division II titles and a 2019 CCAL championship.

“She's just a positive person to be around all the time, always smiling,” he said. “She really, really helps her teammates as much as you possibly can. She's a rockstar in the classroom as well. She’s just a very well-rounded young lady and I’m incredibly proud of all she has accomplished here.”

While continuing her athletic career at Vanguard, Avalos plans on studying psychology.

“It’s really a dream come true to be able to compete in college while being able to study something I love,” she said. “I really can’t wait to get started.”

At the time of her signing, Avalos still has the 2022-23 postseason schedule ahead of her. She shared that one of her last goals in a Pitman singlet is to avenge her second-place finish at the state tournament later this year.

“We’re on to the fun stuff,” she said. “The experience of state last year with that huge crowd was amazing, and while I was so happy place second, I know I can get that first-place spot, so that’s what I’m motivated to do in these last few weeks.”