REGION — Throughout a successful four-year wrestling career, Torrey Pines High School senior Aurora “Rory” Hardy has refused to let opponents or life circumstances pin her to the mat.
Hardy, the Falcons’ aggressive 170-pound folkstyle wrestler, has spent the past few weeks polishing her arsenal of takedowns, power halves and head-and-arm throws — all with a broken finger — in preparation for this weekend’s state-qualifying CIF San Diego Section Girls Wrestling Masters Championships at Mission Hills High School.
Last month, Hardy’s world was flipped upside down by the unexpected loss of her mother, Christie, who died of cancer over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. At the time of her mother’s death, Hardy was still processing the passing of her mentor and wrestling coach, Wes Lee Sr., the previous summer.
Lee, who trained Hardy since her freshman season and guided her to last year’s CIF State Girls Wrestling Championships in Bakersfield, died of esophageal cancer last July.
After the loss of her only parent and with no family in California, Hardy concentrated on wrestling, finding solace and amity with her fellow grapplers on the vinyl mats covering the upper gymnasium floor at Torrey Pines.
“(Wrestling) is a great sport; it helped me out a lot and made going to school more tolerable,” Hardy told The Coast News. “And it’s a great place to make friends — basically, all of my friends have come from wrestling.”
She was immediately supported by her teammates and a group of enthusiastic Falcons wrestling coaches, including Martin Brown, Michael Bigrig, Paulo Dominic, Joe Lalone and Wes Lee Jr., son of Hardy’s mentor. In addition, friends and teammates started a GoFundMe, raising $15,000 to help Hardy with the daily expenses of living on her own.
“As a coach, it’s humbling to see wrestlers like Aurora — just a tough individual of the highest character and athletic ability,” Brown said. “She has been an absolute gem on the team. She’s gone through more than anyone should ever have to go through. And she’s still here, man.”
Hardy hasn’t wavered in her goal to reach the state tournament for a second straight year — and this time to finish on the winner’s podium.
This year, it’s Bakersfield or bust.
“After my junior year, I wanted to work even harder to surpass my goals and place at state,” Hardy said.
Learning the Ropes
Brown said Hardy, a four-year varsity wrestling letterman, quickly embraced the sport while wrestling alongside former teammate Emily Sway, the most accomplished female wrestler in the school’s history.
Sway, a 5-foot, 101-pound wrestler and nationally ranked martial artist in judo and jiujitsu, was the first Torrey Pines wrestler — boy or girl — to compete in a state championship two years in a row.
“I always tried to take notes from (Sway) before she graduated,” Hardy said. “I weighed almost 180 pounds, and she was throwing me and not breaking a sweat. She was a real motivator. Since then, I’ve been trying to develop some of the moves she was doing.”
As a freshman, Hardy quickly proved to be a talented pupil of the sport. In 2020, Sway took second in her weight class (108) at divisionals. Hardy, the 172-pound newcomer, also made the podium at CIF with a fourth-place finish.
“When Emily was a senior, Rory was a freshman and really got exposed to what it takes to be an elite wrestler,” Brown said. “(Hardy) just poured herself into this sport. She loves wrestling, and it was evident she wanted to be a great wrestler. By her junior year, it was clear Hardy was one of the best wrestlers in the county.”
Hardy continued to work hard under Lee Sr. As a junior, she won her weight class at divisionals and finished fourth at Masters, seemingly falling short of qualifying for state.
But the girl who took third contracted COVID-19, giving Hardy a chance to compete for a state wrestling title.
“Last season was a really successful year — nonstop working out, walking all the time,” Hardy said. “My junior year was a breeze until Masters, and then I got humbled a little bit.”
After a tough opening draw, Hardy lost by fall to Alex Lujan of Menlo-Atherton in the first round of the state championship.
Despite the loss, Hardy walked away feeling good about her performance and future. By going to state, she experienced firsthand what it takes to win at the highest level of prep wrestling.
“At state, you have to be more careful about what you’re doing,” Hardy said. “At regionals, you can take the first shot and (your opponent) will usually fall. But at state, if you take the first shot, they’re just waiting for you. They are super protective and don’t want to make the first move.”
Queen of the Ring
Hardy entered her senior year as one of the best wrestlers in San Diego County and among the top 30 statewide.
During the regular season, she went 20-4 with 15 pins. Hardy won the Queen of the Lake girls wrestling tournament and finished third at the Goddess of Olympia and Queen of the Jungle tournaments. Brown attributes Hardy’s success to a number of talents in the ring.
“She’s a cerebral wrestler,” Brown said. “As a wrestler, you have to be able to think on your toes in high-intensity matches, but you also have to be aggressive — you can’t sit back and wait for things to happen. You have to chase the victory, and that’s what she does. Plus, she’s got a killer power half (wrestler performs half nelson and uses a free hand to push opponent’s head into the mat). That’s one of the moves her opponents have to fear.”
At this year’s CIF divisionals, Hardy pinned each of her opponents except Jailyn Camacho of Vista High School, who won by decision, 8-4. A few weeks earlier, on Senior Night, Hardy had pinned Camacho in her final home match at Torrey Pines.
If Hardy takes care of business in the early rounds at this weekend’s Masters tournament, there is a possibility these heavyweights will face each other again.
“Both Rory and Jailyn are throwers,” Brown said. “It’s a high-stakes match, and both girls are very aggressive. Whoever pulls off the throw first is going to get the win.”
Hardy is one of many wrestlers at Torrey Pines hoping to make a state title run. Sophomore Ruby Julien Newsom (126) took third at CIF divisionals and will compete at Masters. On the boy’s side, the Falcons team finished sixth overall at the San Diego Section Division I wrestling championships — the highest finish in program history — and eight wrestlers qualified for Masters.
The San Diego Section Masters boy and girls wrestling tournaments are on Feb. 17 and Feb. 18 at Mission Hills High School in San Marcos.