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Pinning down a dream: Manchester Central grad Dobson thriving on NEC's first-year women's wrestling team

Jan. 20—LIKE MANY PEOPLE, Alexis Dobson is watching her weight. Dobson isn't obsessing about her appearance, however. She's trying to remain eligible at the 101-pound weight class for the New England College women's wrestling team.

Dobson, a freshman from Manchester, is one of seven wrestlers on the team, which is in its inaugural season.

"When I got into college, it was a choice between 109 (pounds) or cutting to 101," Dobson explained. "At that time I was walking around at 105, so I decided to cut the rest of the weight down to 101.

"It is pretty difficult. The last three, four pounds is pretty tough."

Dobson is pretty tough as well. She boxed before she took up wrestling, and spent four seasons on the wrestling team at Manchester Central. Dobson went undefeated during her senior year, when all but one of her matches came against male opponents.

She graduated from Central in 2021 and then helped coach wrestling at Manchester Memorial for two years before Memorial wrestling coach Craig Whittick made her aware of the women's wrestling program that was launched at New England College.

"He pushed me to go to college," Dobson said. "He could see the drive that I had.

"I did want to continue wrestling. I didn't want to watch people wrestle — watch people live my dream. I just didn't realize there were opportunities so close and so easy to grasp. I also thought I'd need better grades and money that I didn't have.

"I did want to go to college throughout my high school career. That was always the plan for me."

Dobson said that plan faded after former Central wrestling coach Jason Cumming died in 2019. She said it was Cumming who convinced her to give wrestling a try after he saw her boxing.

"As soon as I got on the mat, I was really good at it," she said. "It came naturally. I never quit after that."

Although she's been dealing with a nagging ankle injury, Dobson has an 11-3 record this season. That includes the first home victory by an NEC women's wrestler.

Ray DeRosa coaches the men's and women's wrestling teams at NEC. He said other than the style of wrestling — men wrestle folkstyle, women wrestle freestyle — there's very little difference in coaching the two genders.

"We treat them no different than the guys," DeRosa said. "They're committed to the weight class that they want to wrestle. If we leave for a tournament in the morning and somebody's a pound, pound-and-a half over, they have to find a way to lose that weight. It's all about being there for your team at that point.

"I think if we treated them any different than we treat the men, then I don't think they'd take the sport as serious. We have seven women on the team this year and every one of them is very coachable. They come to practice to work hard every day."

According to the NEC website, there are 33 NCAA Division III schools that offer women's wrestling. DeRosa said there are close to 120 NCAA women's wrestling programs overall.

"It's the fastest-growing college sport right now, bar none," he said. "It's not even close."

DeRosa described Dobson as a fierce competitor.

"She's very physical," he said. "She's a strong girl for her size. She's doing extremely well right now. ... She's into weightlifting as well. Very strong. Very athletic."

And what is it about wrestling that appeals to Dobson and other women?

"For me, it's the fact that it's not seen as something females can and should do," she said. "When I was growing up, females were seen as weak. It just pushes me and wants me to prove to people that this is something we can do. We're great at it."

rbrown@unionleader.com