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Hundreds of Nebraska girls compete in first sanctioned wrestling season

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 9:48 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Girls wrestling has been picking up in popularity across the Cornhusker State for years. Now, it’s entered its first year as a sanctioned sport in high schools.

That means for the first time girls will have their own everything; their own teams, duals, tournaments, and even state competition. And for the first time, they’ll only be competing against other girls.

One of those newly formed all-girl teams can be found at Crete High School. Mixed in with their boys’ team in the wrestling room promptly at 4 p.m., you can find a group of 11 girls practicing.

“I’m just really here to build the program try to get more girls involved because I think it’s a great sport to be in,” said Le Nelson, a sophomore.

It’s a sport that the Nebraska School Activities Association calls a long time coming. Previously, girls were allowed to compete on the boys’ side, wrestling both girls and boys who lined up with their weight class.

The NSAA voted to 8-0 to make it a standalone sport starting in the 2021-2022 school year.

“125 schools registered which exceeded expectations,” said Ron Higdon, who oversees wrestling for NSAA.

For a little more context, whenever a new sport is sanctioned, Higdon said the NSAA estimates about 40 to 50 schools will register a team.

For wrestling, like other individual sports like diving or cross country, a team could be made up of just one athlete. Right now, the NSAA has an unofficial headcount of female wrestlers for Nebraska high schools sitting in the 700 to 800 range.

Many girls on the Crete team said they’ve got siblings or parents who wrestled.

“Wrestling is in my family. It’s been there forever,” said Ashaya Steele, a sophomore. “I’ve always wanted to do wrestling and now’s my chance, so I figure, might as well do it.”

Over the weekend, many celebrated their first girls-only meet in Nebraska.

“Seeing other girls really encouraged me, even different weight classes, seeing them compete really inspired me to keep going and finish off the season,” sophomore Alexa Ramirez said.

It’s not the first of its kind. Earlier this year, there was one hosted at York High School, but it’s the first of the sanctioned-era.

“Girls can do anything boys can do,” freshman Trinity Williamson said. “It’s a very nice change to see all of these girls doing a boy’s sport.”

Nebraska colleges like Doane University, Midland University, and York College have all added girls wrestling teams in recent years. Meaning those competing at a Nebraska high school could have a collegiate career as well.

“I can talk to girls and say ‘Hey there’s a lot of opportunities to go to college for wrestling,’ and it’s been really cool to see,” Crete wrestling coach Nicco Salvador said.

This weekend, Crete will host its own tournament with a girl’s bracket, something the team is taking extra pride in.

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