Red Devil wrestlers show their moves

First ever female wrestling team at Central works to compete and inspire others

Last Saturday, Schaumburg High School hosted the IHSA girls wrestling sectional.

The meet brackets featured eight Hinsdale Central grapplers. That's noteworthy because there were a total of zero wrestlers last season in the fledgling sport and because the girls didn't have any competitions lined up at the start of this season.

Sophomore Tiyanna Hart said she wasn't aware her freshman year that girls wrestling was even available.

"Once I got the go ahead that it was allowed, I jumped right in," said Hart, who made the final six of her 125-pound sectional bracket and narrowly missed qualifying for state.

Freshman Naomi Schaller said she felt some trepidation over how their male counterparts would welcome them in their joint after-school training sessions.

"We didn't know if we'd be treated like the girls who just came to practice," Schaller related.

With some exceptions, acceptance was extended.

"For the most part, a lot of the guys are respectful and treat us just like everyone else," she said.

Freshman boys coach Pat Kohl stepped in to lead the squad midway through the season to guide their development and schedule meets.

"I had no expectation because we didn't know if anybody would come out," he said of the time needed to organize the program.

They practiced with the boys freshman and JV squads, and eventually were able to arrange conference dual meets.

"They were pretty tough right out of the block, and that's why they were competitive," Kohl said. "Their skills sharpened as the season went on."

Junior Sofia Arain appreciated Kohl's blunt style in pushing them to improve.

"We don't want kindness in sugarcoating," she said. "We want kindness in advice, kindness in respect."

Junior Makenzie Ford admitted staying dedicated in the first part of the season was a challenge.

"I was so upset that I couldn't get matches," Ford said. But then she saw the benefit of having space to learn.

"I spent time in the wrestling room and saw how much time I could spend improving, and I watched other wrestlers to learn their moves," she said.

Ford said she took her strengthened mental toughness into her contests.

"When you get on the mat, you're just constantly thinking about what your opponent might try to do and how you can get out of it," she said. "You have to have a strong mindset."

Kohl said the team was able to compete in only one tournament before the sectional, putting them at a disadvantage to more experienced opponents.

"Most of the girls only had about a dozen or so matches total (before sectionals)," he said.

Sophomore Tiyanna Hart faced a girl in the second round of her 125-pound sectional bracket with nearly three times as many matches as she had. Hart pinned her in less than a minute.

She said peers are supportive when they learn of her athletic pursuit.

"Everyone thinks it's really cool. There's always a positive reaction," said Hart, who fell one victory short of qualifying for state.

Ford said the sport has given her a boost of personal self-esteem.

"When you win, it's not a team effort, it's a you effort," she remarked. "I won this myself because of the work that I put in and the stuff I did inside and outside of practice to help me get better."

Junior Ren Pang said fellowship teammates share is also vital.

"We are literally beating each other up," she remarked, eliciting laughs from her teammates. "We're all very different people, but wrestling has brought us together. The community that it's created allows us to have this bond that we know will go beyond this season."

Several expressed gratitude to Kohl and boys varsity coach Jason Hayes for supporting them by purchasing women's singlets and adapting their routines to welcome them in.

Sophomore Chloe Black recounted Hayes' visit to her middle school when she was an eighth-grader.

"I really wanted to join but I was afraid to be by myself," she said, crediting teammate Seana Gavin for encouraging her once at Central.

Junior Guadalupe Lara said the experience has enriched all of their high school careers.

"We are growing not just physically but we're also growing mentally as well," she said.

Arain agreed.

"Overall there was a lot of respect and self-respect that went into the season," she said. "It's about just working your hardest and knowing that whatever the outcome may be on the mat, you tried your best."

The moniker "trailblazer" is not one they wear readily, pointing out a predecessor who wrestled with the boys in 2014.

"We just had the idea to do something," Arain said. "I don't think personally that I would ever take credit for something that's been around this long."

Kohl believes the girls have formed the foundation of a program destined to grow.

"I think it will get bigger next year," he said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean