It’s been a surprisingly short journey, as girls’ high school wrestling in Arizona has reached the goal the sport set for itself several years ago: an opportunity to win a team title.
When the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) added girls’ wrestling as an “emerging sport” back in June of 2018, one of just a dozen schools in the nation to adopt the sport, the governing body for high school sports assumed it would be a slow process to grow the sport.
But the folks at the AIA were surprised to see the quick popularity it gained at schools across the state. The first season, there were 150 qualifiers for the state tournament. This season more than 200 showed up to compete at Mesquite High School, a number that would have been even larger had the COVID virus not had a negative impact on the number of those participating.
The “emerging sport” designation when the sport began meant that participants could compete for individual medals, but there would be no team championships.
That changed last year. In response to the early growth the sport was enjoying, the AIA’s executive board met last April and approved, in a unanimous vote, to add a team state meet for girls’ wrestling.
And on Saturday, Basha High School entered the history books as the state’s first girls’ wrestling champion.
Fueled by three individual titles, the Chandler school racked up 191 points to run away with the team title. Liberty High School and Winslow High finished in a tie for runner-up with 108 points each.
The trio that brought home the gold for the Bears included Trinity Howard at 120 pounds, Amber Rodriguez (145), and Trinity Bouchal (170). Adding more team points were a couple of second-place finishes: Adriana Gomez (106) and Hannah Gertis (182).
Winslow had two title winners in Leia Kalk (182) and Charry Benecke (220), while Liberty’s lone champion was Bella Bocanegra at 106 pounds.
When girls wrestling was just getting its start, the sport was being dominated by the few that had been participating for several years, honing their skills against the boys. In the first year, seven out of the top 10 seeds were undefeated, and the year after there were numerous repeat champions.
Now there are more girls participating and the chance for repeat champions has diminished considerably. This year, there were only two, Bree Garcia from Barry Goldwater HS in Phoenix at 132, and Naomi Norton from Arizona Lutheran at 285. Last year, Norton won her title at 225.
Garcia’s title win was a repeat of last year’s championship match, with Garcia beating Mylei Seigla from Tucson’s Canyon Del Oro HS both times, this time in a 5-3 decision.
Girls’ wrestling does more than just provide another sport in which girls can participate during their high school years. It will also provide an additional avenue to a college scholarship since the sport is also gaining traction at the college level, where more schools are adding it.
Arizona should take pride in being one of the pioneers across the country to make that opportunity possible.