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A Look Into the First Season of FHSAA Sanctioned Girls High School Wrestling Programs

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Female athletes have been competing in wrestling for over thirty years, and when it became an Olympic sport in 2004, that opened many opportunities for young women.

In June of 2020, the FHSAA (Florida High School Athletic Association) sanctioned girls wrestling. This new ruling, effective in March of this year, allows the girls wrestling program to have separate district, regional, and state competitions and has created one heck of an opportunity for these girls to leave their mark on the mat.

I began interviewing wrestlers from Central High, Hernando High, Nature Coast Tech, and Springstead in mid-November of 2021.

While there have been concerns about girls participating in this contact sport, the opportunity here for them is to develop both strength and mental fitness as well as empowerment; that’s the key factor surrounding this sport. Wrestling is overall a male-dominated sport, but hundreds of girls and women have been competing in the sport for years.

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Central High wrestling coach Greg Climan stated, “In previous years when we had a few girls sign up, it wasn’t so inviting. The boys weren’t so quick to help and be encouraging. It’s kind of a testament to the guys we have now, and nobody looks at them differently.”

In their first competition at Citrus High School on November 22, 2021, these young female athletes took the opportunity to set personal goals for themselves, but they were also paving the way for hundreds and hundreds of girls worldwide.

Being a newly sanctioned athletic program, the biggest challenge is not having enough competitors in different weight classes to compete on the mat. So with that, there are many times the girls will compete against wrestlers who are either in a lighter or heavier weight class and will often compete against boys.

“The last seven years, we’ve had girl wrestlers at Hernando, and we’ve had some really successful ones. So we have a little bit of a head start, but the biggest challenge is getting girls out for the team,” Hernando High’s wrestling coach David Pritz said.

“I fully support it,” said Nature Coast Technical Wrestling coach Mark Murray. “They’re here, and they are competing, and they are being successful, and we should recognize that. Let’s not ignore them. Let’s help them flourish, help them become wrestlers, help get them to the collegiate level, and provide them with scholarships opportunities.”

Injuries, as well as the challenges of being a female athlete in a male-dominated sport, are definite issues facing these athletes, yet Springstead wrestling coach LaRocca remarks,

“I can’t let them quit on themselves.”

Lacing up for a few matches has definitely increased the confidence of these female athletes, and it showed in two ways—one, how they expressed emotion during interviews, and two, how they represented themselves and their team on the mat.

When I first interviewed the girls back in November, they talked about how nervous they were. After this recent chat before the Hudson IBT (Individual Bracket Tournament) tournament on February 2, all of the girls expressed the confidence they have gained from their experience competing as wrestlers. That confidence stemmed from the support of teammates, coaches, friends, and family.

“Don’t give up. I am going to be there to support the future girls who decide to join the wrestling team here at Central,” said Central’s Gabby Pando.

“I do feel more comfortable, more experienced,” remarked Springstead’s Jasmine Serrano on Feb. 2.

“When I first started I was really nervous, but now I am more confident,” expressed Hernando’s Brody Romann.

“Everyone has been so supportive and kind to each other, it’s a big confidence boost,” NCT’s Annette Hager stated.

Hudson Girls IBT Results

Hernando High

Nathalia Espinal (14-10) placed 2nd

Daniela Espinal (23-5) placed 2nd

Makenzie Eltzroth (0-9) placed 5th

Brody Romann (4-6) placed 4th

Nature Coast Tech

Angelina Wey (1-4) placed 5th

Abbigail DiPalma (0-4) placed 5th

Annette Hager (1-3) placed 4th

Soraya Castillo (2-2) placed 3rd

Springstead High

Emma Baughnight (3-1) placed 1st

Gianella Walazek (1-1) placed 2nd

Jasmine Serrano (4-1) placed 2nd

Nadia Serrano (3-2) placed 3rd

Alice Mary Herden
Alice Mary Herden
Alice Mary Herden is an award-winning writer and photographer. She is also an Advance Florida Master Naturalist.
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