When Dan Provence speaks of Asia Ray, he does so with the sort of child-like exuberance reserved for high-wire circus performers able to pull off jaw-dropping, unexplainable feats. A healthy portion of his zeal is easily traced to the fact that Ray is a wrestler of extreme skill, so effective and efficient that her ability to escape holds and other offensive melee often leaves opponents disheartened, for sure, but also stuck in this rather odd state of opponent envy.
She’s Houdini on a mat, slick and slippery, aggressive and assertive, all the things that make a wrestler incredibly hard to contain and exceptionally difficult to pin down. Yet Provence, who coached Ray for four years at Arlington High School and in June watched with a mixture of glee and horror his star leave for Wayland Baptist University, talks far more about what makes Ray … well, Ray, which is something that, while he’d love to take the credit, is actually fiercely innate.
There are those who consider millennials to be a spoiled bunch of narcissists allergic to hard work since a work ethic is challenging to teach when everyone is getting trophies for merely showing up.
While growing up under similar generational circumstances surely creates some shared attribute, individuals are still individuals, and some arrive specifically wired.
Take Ray. Over the summer, she represented the U.S. National Team at the Junior World Championships in Finland, and brought home a Bronze Medal in the 97-pound division, first knocking off wrestlers from Turkey and Poland by pin before losing to the heavily-favored Yumei Chen of China in the semifinals.
Ray brushed off the loss and methodically took apart the 2017 Junior Pan-American champion from Canada to capture third. At AHS, Ray was practically unbeatable over her last three seasons – going 110-2; the two losses coming at the state meet during her junior year when she dislocated her collarbone and wrestled anyway.
“She literally competed with one arm,” gushes Provence, who finally had to pull her out, fearing permanent damage.
It’s just one of the reasons Provence considers Ray one of those once-in-a-lifetimes athletes coaches come across, and not merely because of the head-turning numbers of two undefeated seasons en route to convincing state championships.
Ray didn’t even know AHS had a women’s wrestling team until Provence, noting her petite frame while she was picking up her class schedule, asked if she’d ever consider wrestling.
“She’s a rare combination of I-have-the-ability-but-I-am-still-going-to-work-harder-than-you,” says Provence. “She tells herself, you might be better, but eventually I will get close and then beat you.”
Provence didn’t push Ray to work harder; it was a given that she was already doing that. “She really couldn’t give you more than what she was giving you,” says Provence. “Her throttle was like that all the time.”
To Wayland Wrestling Coach Aaron Meister, Ray has “the overall package” including “an incredible work ethic. It was a no-brainer to recruit her.”
To Ray, she’s just an up-and-comer with a mere four years of experience, trying to figure it all out. “Before high school I wasn’t all that competitive,” she says by cell phone shortly after finishing one of her classes. “I didn’t mind not being first. The more I learned wrestling, the more I enjoyed it and worked harder at it.”
Before hitting the mat at each level – high school, club, and nationals – Ray always wondered if she actually belonged.
Now a successful collegiate career is what drives her.
“Ever since I first had that feeling of getting your hand raised as a winner I want to have it again and again,” Ray says. “So I’ll just have to go out and work hard.”
As if she knows some other way.
Columnist Kenneth Perkins has been a contributing writer for Arlington Today since it debuted. He is a freelance writer, editor and photographer.