By Michael Buhler
There was a time that it was uncommon for girls to compete in wrestling. Now it is starting to boom across Kansas and even in Sedgwick County, as three schools – Campus, Eisenhower and Goddard – will be sending wrestlers to the inaugural Class 6-1A regional this weekend at McPherson.
Jim Dryden, who coaches boys and girls wrestling at Campus, credits the official sanctioning of girls wrestling by the Kansas State High School Activities Association for increasing interest in the sport.
“This is the first year we have had many girls participating in wrestling,” Dryden said. “We have had as many as 15 this year, but are currently at 12. The last couple of years we had three or four girls, but with KSHSAA sanctioning girls wrestling as an official sport, our numbers greatly increased.”
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Jessi Bernal (170 pounds) and Olivia McNeal (130) are the Colts’ most experienced wrestlers, having been on the team for three years. Both girls won individual titles at the Fredonia Wrestling Invitational at the beginning of this month, helping Campus take third in the girls division at the tournament.
This is the first year however where they have wrestled girls exclusively,” Dryden said. “The previous years in order for them to get matches in, they had to wrestle against boys sometimes. Our girls are getting better each week and are starting to put things together. The success that Jessi and Olivia are having is something we point to in order for the new girls to understand that it takes time to get to that level.”
Meanwhile, Blake Rhea took third at Fredonia, while Kenzie McCuan finished fourth and Erin Jackson placed fifth.
“Kenzie, Blake (Rhea) and Erin are emerging talents that keep getting better,” Dryden said. “Haydin Rhea is developing a ‘go-to’ move on top that she has had much success with. Anita Phanthavong and Hannah Wood are two of our hardest working girls. If we had more time with those two, unfortunately they are seniors, I know they would excel in this sport. Emmy Mgimwa hates to lose and that is a good quality to have in this sport.”
Dryden said that his goal for the Colts is to fill all 11 weight classes next season after filling eight of them this season.
“I believe the number of girls on the team will continue to grow,” Dryden said. “If we can get to 20 next year, that would be great for the program. We will also be looking at adding more girl events to the schedule next season. They competed in four tournaments and six duals this year. We need to try and get into six tournaments next year to continue to advance the sport at our school.”
Campus is not the only local school whose girls are succeeding in wrestling. Freshman Ashlynn Goodwin wrestles at 130 pounds for Goddard and is 12-2 against other girls this season, while teammate and fellow freshman Hayley Olson (155) is 6-3 against other girls. Meanwhile, Eisenhower has Lainie Burkhart at 101 pounds and Lauren Lemon competing at 130.
Campus, Eisenhower and Goddard will be seeking to send their girls to the State tournament by finishing in the top six at the regional in McPherson Friday and Saturday. The State tournament is Feb. 27 in Salina, one day before the boys kick off their State tournaments in various sites across Kansas.
“The regional meet will be extremely tough for all girls participating,” Dryden said. “The difficulty lies in the fact that most weights will have around 20 girls competing for six spots. We will be working to get our girls as prepared as possible for this opportunity. I believe it will be harder for girls to qualify than for the boys based on the number of entries per weight class.”