The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association has unanimously approved an officially sanctioned girls high school state championship for the 2019-20 academic year.
Maryland is the 16th state to approve a girls state tournament. The decision was approved in late April at the MPSSAA Board of Control meetings.
The MPSSAA hosted a girls invitational the last two years in early February that was open to any female high school wrestlers. Seventy-seven girls competed in the inaugural competition in 2018 while there were 85 this winter, but MPSSAA state wrestling tournament director Michael Duffy said the state “would like to see the sport expand.”
“We felt that by adding in a state level-championship for individual female wrestlers we would help the sport to expand through the state of Maryland,” said Duffy, who also coached Mount Hebron to the Class 4A-3A state duals championship in 2002 and is currently the Athletics and Activities Manager at Howard High School. “This is different [from the invitational] because it’s going to be part of the region and state championship series. ... It’s going to take place at The Show Place Arena at the end of the season just like the individual state championship we have right now.”
The majority of the season will remain unchanged. Girls will still compete alongside boys through the regular season and county tournaments but will then have a decision to enter into a girls regional tournament or continue on to the combined regional tournament as long as they meet the qualification requirements.
The top-two finishers of each weight class of the eight girls regional tournaments will qualify for a 16-girl bracket that will take place alongside the combined MPSSAA individual state tournament at The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro during the first weekend of March.
The goal, Duffy said, it to use 14 standard weight classes and have a one-classification tournament.
“For now, it will be a single classification for all girls across the state,” he said. “It will be 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A all in one tournament.”
The girls tournament will begin Thursday, the day before the start of the combined state meet, and will finish Saturday. The semifinals for both the girls and combined tournament will be on six mats, while the finals for each (girls, Class 4A-3A and 2A-1A) will be on three mats Saturday night.
Duffy said the conversation toward sanctioning girls wrestling started more than two years ago. He said the state wanted to see how many girls it could get to compete in the two invitational tournaments but ultimately decided to “put our best foot forward.”
“We thought it was time for us to put our best foot forward and say this is where we think girls wrestling should be,” Duffy said. “It shouldn’t just be kind of an invitational event in February but rather a state championship just as they would compete in any other sport and just as they do throughout many other states throughout the country. I think it’s a real good thing.”
Atholton coach Bruce Lindblad, who has coached either JV or varsity at the Columbia school for 29 years, believes this will help continue to grow girls wrestling in the state.
“I think this will help. I think there were a lot of girls out there that didn’t compete in the [invitational] tournament,” he said.
Lindblad saw firsthand how not having a girls state tournament affected one of his athletes. Jana Tumaneng was the Raiders’ varsity 106-pounder throughout the season and placed third at 100 pounds at this year’s girls invitational tournament. In the postseason, however, she did not compete at the varsity county tournament and decided after wrestling varsity all season that she wouldn’t compete at the JV level. He said she would have jumped an opportunity to wrestle in the regional tournament and have a shot at winning a state championship competing alongside other girls.
“It gives her an opportunity to have her teammates come out and support her,” Lindblad said.
Women’s wrestling in Maryland in particular has set standards. Former Magruder High School star Helen Maroulis became the first American woman to win an Olympic gold in the 2016 Rio Games. Before Maroulis, Arundel’s Nicole Woody was the first girl in state history to win a regional title and reach the state finals in 2007.
In May 2018, Mount Hebron’s Cassy Lopez became the first girl to sign a National Letter of Intent and receive a scholarship to wrestle at a Division I school, as she was the first signee for the newly formed women’s wrestling program at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., which will start competing alongside 40 other schools in the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association this fall.
Since 1994, the number of girls who wrestle in high school has grown from 804 to more than 11,496, and the participation numbers are higher than those of NCAA-sponsored sports such as crew, fencing, skiing, rifle, sand volleyball and equestrian, according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association.
“It’s huge. It’s taking over. You’ve got world champions and you see every year someone new step up. It’s done very, very well,” Lindblad said of the growth of women’s wrestling. “In Maryland, Helen represented us great when she was wrestling. The Olympics, the kind of notice it gets in the Olympics now is terrific and the colleges are growing. It’s got to be one of the fastest growing women sports in college athletics.”