East Union High senior Sarah Phillips budgets her time efficiently.
She leaves only a few moments for her wrestling matches, and that's bad news for her opponents.
If you blinked during Saturday's fourth annual Lady Eagles Invitational at Enochs High, you may have missed her three victories.
Phillips (29-0), one of the best girls wrestlers in the Stanislaus District and certainly a spearhead in her growing-in-popularity sport, needed only about three minutes to record three falls in the 101-pound round-robin pool.
Then again, she grades herself against a steep curve. She placed fourth at the inaugural CIF-sanctioned Girls State Meet in 2011 and sixth last year. Not surprisingly, she pursues the top of the podium next month at Lemoore.
"I've gotten stronger," said Phillips, who prepared for her senior season by weight-training seven hours a week. "It's easier for me to get takedowns because of my strength."
Phillips never leaves the mat. She's already won two national titles, including the United States Girls Wrestling Association championship last summer in Michigan.
Closer to home, she's recorded five victories this season over boys. Yes, the girls still match up with the opposite sex though that trend is diminishing.
Starting next year, the girls must compete in all-female competition in the post-season. For now, girls still can choose their course.
Only one girl, Syrina Rhoads of Valley, qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters last year and elected not to compete. She won the girls 103-pound state title.
The increasing autonomy between the boys and girls competitions comes at the right time. There are 465 female wrestlers in the section this season, the second-highest of all sections in California.
State-wide, the numbers are soaring. In 1998, only 494 girls took part. By 2005, it jumped to 1,230. Last year, 2,016 competed.
Most observers believe girls wrestling mushroomed when it jumped into the Olympic arena during the past decade.
"It has become a wave. The gender separation is becoming more obvious," said Jeremy Arsich, the Natomas High coach and a section girls wrestling spokesman. "I see it evolving to girls wrestling against girls and guys against guys."
The Lady Eagles Invitational, the area's largest girls competition (a junior varsity boys tournament was held at the same time), drew a field of 118.
Phillips doesn't sweat much against the guys.
"Sometimes, I feel like they go easy on me, but in some cases they go twice as hard on you," she said. "I feel I'm a wrestler and I should be viewed as an opponent, not a girl."
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2302.