Wrestling has traditionally been male dominated, but an increasing wave of girls are also enjoying the sport, statewide and at Grant Union Junior-Senior High School in John Day.
Out of 21 high school wrestlers on the Grant Union Prospector roster, five are girls — this is the most Andy Lusco, who is in his seventh year as head coach, has seen join the team.
Last year, Savannah Wyllie was the sole girl wrestler on the high school team, and a few years ago Hannah Deming was the first girl on the team. There have also been a few junior high girls wrestling since 2003, said Cindy Dougharity-Spencer who has assisted the team in the past.
Lusco said this year there are over 400 girls wrestling in Oregon.
He said the great statewide numbers should ensure that his five girls have plenty of opportunities to compete with other girls in their weight class.
“I think girls-only tournaments will help us see an increase in our overall numbers,” he said.
He said the girls can choose to wrestle girls or boys throughout the regular season. Then at the state qualifying meet they’ll have to make a decision about whether to take on a girls or boys bracket and stick with it if they advance to the state tournament.
Lusco said he thinks most will choose the girls bracket, and he believes having that option will increase the interest for girls wrestling, resulting in a larger pool of skilled female competitors.
Of the five Prospector girls on the team, two have previous experience.
Freshman Arionna Young is in her fourth year in the sport, having wrestled her junior high years as well as in a mat club in sixth grade.
“I also work at home on the mats, wrestling with my brothers,” she said.
“I think we’ve got something good here,” she said. “You go out there and give it your best. On the mat, it’s all on you, but at duals it’s a group effort. We have a great team.”
Young helped recruit her classmate Ashley Henry, and sophomore Sophie Brockway inspired her sister Sydney Brockway, a senior, to join. Trinity Hutchison, who was on the second-place state championship volleyball team with Sydney, also decided to try the sport for her senior year.
Lusco said Young has been well coached and Henry is “tough as nails.”
The two girls are in the same weight class and often practice together.
Henry said wrestling takes a lot of hard work but is also fun, especially when it translates into winning at competitions.
“I’m proud to be a part of this team,” she said.
Sophie Brockway had two wins and three losses at the Dec. 14-15 John Rysdam Memorial Tournament in Elgin for a first-place finish.
“There’s always something good to look at, even though there’s always something to improve on,” she said.
Sydney said, although she feels nervous before her matches, “when you win, the hard work pays off.”
Hutchison said it’s been awhile since she’s wrestled — she began at age 3 and continued through fifth grade.
“A lot of it came back to me, but I’m still pretty novice, and there is a lot I’m learning,” she said.
She said, at tournaments this season, the most important thing to remember is to give everything you have in the competition.
“There’s always going to be people more experienced than you, but you want to go in with the mindset that you can beat them if you work hard enough and leave it all out on the mat,” she said.
She added the girls on her team are “athletic, talented and hard working.”
“If we really put our minds to it, we could end up at state this year,” she said.
Lusco said the surge in participation from girls has brought a renewed enthusiasm to the sport.
“We are excited to see the growth of girls wrestling statewide and here at Grant Union,” he said. “My girls have been physically and mentally tough, and I’m pleased with that.”