Northeast set to host first MPSSAA girls wrestling tournament

azielonka@baltsun.com

In the opening moments of the first day of Severna Park High School’s annual wrestling tournament in January, Mount Hebron senior Cassy Lopez scored an early victory by pinning her male North Caroline opponent.

It’s a more common sight in Anne Arundel and across Maryland these days: high school girls wrestling alongside, and against, boys. A groundswell of support has attracted more girls to the sport.

Now, Northeast High School will host the first MPSSAA-sponsored, girls-only folkstyle wrestling tournament in state history on Saturday.

Northeast coach Chris Dyke and Severna Park coach Chad Vosburg will serve as the tournament’s co-directors. The county’s female wrestlers and the coaches alike are excited for the new opportunity.

“I think it’s pretty cool that the girls are getting their own thing, and they can wrestle (each other) so it’s easier for them,” said Northeast senior Lisa McChesney, one of the county’s few girls wrestling at the varsity level.

Vosburg pointed out that girls outside the lightest weights have little opportunity to compete on a coed roster.

“A lot of times, 106 (pounds), 113, yeah, there’s opportunities for them to wrestle, but when you get to the middleweights and heavyweights, there is a physical difference between a guy and a girl,” Vosburg said. “And it’s a great opportunity to just also expand the sport of wrestling.”

There are 82 wrestlers registered for the tournament from 48 public high schools across Maryland, according to William Reinhard, executive director of communications of the Maryland State Department of Education.

“The MPSSAA has seen strong numbers in its participation survey of female wrestlers and watched a number of Maryland female wrestlers over the past decade elevate to some of best female wrestlers in the nation and world,” Reinhard said in a statement on behalf of the MPSSAA. “In talking to member schools and student athletes, MPSSAA found there was a strong interest in providing an event like this for female student-athletes.”

The tournament likely will employ a round-robin system to allow girls to wrestle everyone else at their weight class, Vosburg said.

The girls at the Severna Park tournament had a variety of reasons why they took up the sport. Some had background in Jiu-Jitsu, some were attracted to the aggressiveness of the sport and others just wanted to try something new.

Micah Santos started out as a stat girl for Northeast’s team, but thought the sport looked fun to try. She was messing around on the mat one day with one of the boys on the team, and before long, she took him down.

“It’s different because we’re girls and they think we can’t do anything,” Santos said.

Glen Burnie’s junior varsity team has three girls - Chloe Campbell, Delmy Guzman and AJ Burroughs - who plan to wrestle at the girls tournament.

“A lot of people don’t see wrestling as a girls’ sport, but girls can do it,” Guzman said. “As for me, I just like being different and I like trying new things. When I was younger I would always like wrestling with my brother and stuff. Then there’s teams that didn’t really accept girls, but with high school it’s different. I like working with boys and working with everyone in a different kind of way, in a different sport.”

“I kinda want to make everyone’s head turn when they see a girl come out on the mat,” Burroughs said.

One thing is clear: The increasing female participation builds upon itself, because these girls are always looking to recruit.

At Northeast, freshman Lacee Schmidt sought out McChesney to ask about joining the team.

“Lacee came up to me and said, ‘I want to wrestle,’” McChesney said. “I was like, ‘You’re going to wrestle.’ She had no choice after that.”

Lopez was the only girl on the Mount Hebron team when she joined, but the Vikings added another girl two years later. At a pep rally for incoming freshmen, Lopez recalled, “We had a little wrestling segment, and I did a few throws and (said), ‘If any girls are interested in wrestling I definitely recommend coming out and just trying the sport.’”

The area has seen women excel in the sport before. Nicole Woody made a name for herself at Arundel High School about 12 years ago; she was a state runner-up and went on to become a three-time All-American wrestler at Oklahoma City University. Rockville is home to Helen Maroulis, who in 2016 became the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in freestyle wrestling.

Dyke, a proponent of girls participating in wrestling, is optimistic Maryland’s scene will continue to expand in the coming years. He has not encountered anyone who opposes letting girls wrestle with boys, and though Saturday’s tournament is girls-only, he thinks separating girls from boys long-term creates “mixed expectations.”

“This is what it is, this is good wrestling and that’s what matters,” Dyke said. “Doesn’t matter if you wrestle another girl or a boy or anything like that. These girls want to wrestle.”

The spirit of athletic competition seems to draw girls to wrestling the way anyone is drawn to any sport.

“I just really like the intensity of the sport and getting your hand raised at the end of the day,” Lopez said.

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