The Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board voted to make girls’ wrestling a team sport on April 20.
No longer an “emerging sport,” the growing numbers of participants were cited as the main reason for taking the next logical step.
Only individual state medals were awarded in 2019 and 2020 but during the next school year teams will also now compete in one division for the team crown. The executive board meeting to finalize this setup is scheduled for Aug. 17.
In 2019, 224 wrestlers competed at the various sectionals to decide which wrestlers would compete for an individual title in the ten weight classes. That number jumped to 435 in 2020.
“The announcement of the women’s wrestling becoming an official AIA sport gives it ‘legitimacy.’ These women who have been wrestling for most of their life have an opportunity to compete and earn the same recognition as the men. Any time you can create an opportunity for a student-athlete to compete and earn recognition it is special and will draw attention,” Liberty wrestling Eric Brenton stated in an email. “There are a lot of tough girls out there who train just as hard if not in some cases harder than the boys. I believe it is going to be a shot in the arm for a lot of programs — as girls numbers increase so will boys because wrestling will be getting more and more recognition on school campus.”
The hope for another coach in Peoria is that girls teams will receive more support on a foundational level.
In the first two seasons of the sport — particularly that opening 2018-19 year — faced a lack of structure with few meets, rare opportunities for girls to match up at dual meets and overtaxed coaching staffs.
“I think that it will legitimize the sport at the district level. I hope this will bring funding for the girls. It was very difficult to add an entire team to our responsibilities as coaches with out funding from the district,” Centennial wrestling coach Brian Burgess stated in an email.
In late May, Burgess said dual meets for girls wrestling are already being scheduled.
The AIA plans to move wrestling state championships Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, hoping for another increase in participation.
Shadow Ridge boasts the first wrestler to earn a girls state championship. Lexi Borunda won the 101-pound division as a junior in 2019.
Stallions coach Theron Frazier said the decision to add a team competition only will bolster this growing sport.
“I think that’s a great idea! It will make coaches try harder to fill a team. I’m all for building the girls program,” Frazier stated in an email.
This winter, Ironwood and Liberty tied among West Valley schools for the most participants in the 2020 state meet with four.
All four will return for the Lions next school year, led by Sara Schmoker, who placed second in the state 135-pound class as a junior.
“Liberty is moving in the right direction in terms of girls participation but needs and will do better. We will continue to push participation and provide resources to get these women to excel,” Brenton stated. “We have a good core returning and coming up and hopefully be able to make some noise. I think its going to be an exciting year for wrestling — with women’s wrestling and realignment creating many story lines.”
Meanwhile, Centennial boasts one of only three two-time state champions, as Mia Didur returns for her senior year. She won her second straight crown in the 185-pound class this February.
The Coyotes will be led by her and a second third-year wrestler.
“We are growing and excited to get back to practice. Having two senior girls, Mia Didur and Angelina Samarripas to show what to expect and that it can be done is going to be big for us,” Burgess stated.
Out in western Surprise, another team has grown. Willow Canyon coach Shane Tamez said the Wildcats' tradition began with Cheryl Paliokaweloa (who from Hawaii years back) and the Horton sisters.
He said the team competition is an excellent idea that will only increase participation in this flourishing sport.
"We had 10 tough girls this year all who have great work ethics and our willinging to put in the work. I see our numbers growing al Willow Canyon for our girls program. The girls have been strong supporters of this sport and really like to be a part of the competition," Tamez said.