On February 10th at Anclote High School in Holiday, Florida, twelve young student-athletes made history for the Hernando County School District and their respective schools. Once these girls stepped on the mat, they made history by being the first to compete in a district tournament for a sanctioned sport: girls wrestling.
The District tournament was a small gathering, but it was loud enough in there for every spectator, coach, and wrestler to be heard singing the National Anthem. In the gym, there was one mat perfectly positioned in the center. As the coaches gathered in small groups talking shop, the wrestlers were on the mat practicing their moves and helping each other define their technique. Some matches didn’t happen at all due to there being no opponent in the weight-class of the contender. But no worries, they will be ready when regionals roll around and there are many other wrestlers slotted on the bracket to compete against.
District Results within their respected weight class:
3rd Place – Gabriella Pando of Central (Brooksville)
3rd Place – Maddison Hohman of Hernando
2nd Place – Nathalia Espinal of Hernando
1st Place – Daniela Espinal of Hernando
1st Place – Makenzie Eltzroth of Hernando
1st Place – Brody Romann of Hernando
2nd Place – Emma Bauknight of Springstead
1st Place – Gianella Walczak of Springstead
1st Place – Jasmine Serrano of Springstead
2nd Place – Nadia Serrano of Springstead
3rd Place – Annette Hager of Nature Coast Tech
2nd Place – Soraya Castillo of Nature Coast Tech
The Hernando County wrestling coaches are helping these young athletes lead the way on instilling the growth, opportunity, and support that girls wrestling can bring within the athletic department.
The Central Girls Wrestling team consists of one wrestler: Gabby Pando. “She did a great job from not knowing anything to understanding the concepts and going to district tournaments. I told her if there were 1500 students and let’s say half are boys and half are girls, she is one of 750 girls in the school that is mentally and physically tough enough to do that, which makes her pretty special,” Coach Greg Climan said.
Central’s wrestling team certainly built a great support system around Gabby. “We have a lot of upperclassmen and experienced boy wrestlers that took her under their wing and coached her along. Eric Hurley and Will Jenkins, those guys practiced with her and reassured her,” Climan said. “They help each other along, and that makes a good environment for all the wrestlers, especially for Gabby. The whole wrestling team is really proud of Gabby and what she’s accomplished this year just from being a first-year wrestler. I am really proud of our team for being so supportive, especially now. I am also thankful for how our athletic department and Central’s Athletic Director, Al Sorrentino, supported us for girls wrestling.”
Hernando Girls Wrestling Coach Kenny Day has been coaching for over eight years and is especially excited that all the girls are freshmen currently. “We’ve always supported girls wrestling at Hernando, and this (event) does add value to our program, and I think it’s going to get bigger over time. I am just excited to see how they will be, how they will perform their senior year when they are at their peak and what opportunities wrestling will give them. It’s what you always envision they could be,” Day shared.
Heaven-Leigh Jackson, a Hernando High School graduate, became the first-ever women’s junior college national champion in the 109lb weight class at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa during her freshman year.
Going into the regional tournament, Coach Day tells the girls to believe in themselves because he knows how much work all of them put into this. He tells them to trust in their skills and the confidence they have built up to get to this day.
Springstead’s Girls Wrestling Coach Thomas Gupton isn’t new to the mat, he’s a Springstead 2012 graduate and former wrestler himself. For him, what tops this event is not only are the girls that he trained making history, but this is also Gupton’s first year coaching the girls wrestling team ever! “They knew nothing at all. The girls started as bare, raw wrestlers. What was so interesting teaching them at first was that they are very passionate and care a lot. They see that it’s real and actually becoming something. I think that motivated them to work harder to see what they could do. It’s a big confidence boost for them. It’s a unique experience building brand new wrestlers into girls who are strong and tough to go out there and compete,” Gupton said. He wanted to let the girls know that they are loved, supported, and will do great.
Nature Coast Tech’s Girls Wrestling Coach Mark Murray knew his team had talent. He helped them bring those talents to the surface through dedication and perseverance. “The girls we have are natural wrestlers. I just embellished upon it and got them physically and mentally prepared for what I knew they could accomplish. I feel blessed that I was there to provide that for Soraya and Annette. I am so proud of what they have done,” Murray said. The girls who competed in the District will move forward to compete in their very first regional competition in Naples.
These twelve wrestlers are becoming athletic role models for the many young girls who will take to the mat in the future.