Local girls wrestling grows in popularity

ARLINGTON — Girls wrestling is growing in popularity, and the main reason seems to be because they no longer have to wrestle boys.

“I’ve never seen anything grow so fast in girls wrestling,” said Jim Smoots, the new girls wrestling coach at Arlington High School.

He said the numbers have doubled since AHS formed a team five years ago. It takes eight wrestlers to complete a team, and AHS has 18.

Girls wrestling is still a foreign idea to some parents, but as the sport has become more mainstream for girls, more are showing up, Smoots said. “It’s because they have their own team,” he added.

Traditionally girls that wrestled usually competed against boys up until the postseason, when all-girl tournaments start.

“When it was mixed in with the guys, it was just different,” Smoots said.

But this year, Arlington had enough girls to field its own team. That means an all-girl regular season. “To them it’s a big deal because they are working so hard,” Smoots said.

There are other factors to the growth of girls wrestling in Washington state, Smoots said.

In 2006, Washington had one of its first girls state tournaments at the Tacoma Dome. Since then, it’s become more competitive, Smoots said. Jennifer Jayne of Arlington became state champion that year.

Also, Washington-born wrestler and former MMA champion Miesha Tate was also a state champion.

As more girls turned out, more followed.

“The bigger the team, the more girls realize it’s not that bad,” senior J’lanaye Julien said.

Julien has only competed since halfway through last year. Though Julien played other sports she said the “family” aspect makes wrestling unique.

Undefeated senior Jordynn Mani agreed. “We are a lot tighter because we suffer through the same things together,” Mani said.

Mani played soccer as a freshman but a friend lured her to wrestle. Family members who already wrestled were all for it, even though she was a little scared at first. It’s her favorite sport now because of the family dynamic.

This year, the team also has its first assistant coach. The district was able to fund it because of the growing numbers. She is Alisa Hendricks, a 1999 Arlington alum who wrestled as a freshman.

She wrestled on a team of boys, so to finally see Arlington get its own girls team is a “dream-come-true,” she said.

“I think wrestling gives girls a challenge they’ve been looking for as a sport, and to share it amongst themselves as a team,” Hendricks said.

Hendricks said the physicality just wasn’t present in other sports for girls.

“Wrestling had what I wanted in athleticism,” she said.

She only wrestled as a freshman, she stopped after an injury to her knee. Ever since then, “I’ve had nothing but full support for wrestling,” she said.

“She’s not only good in wrestling, she’s in charge of all the locker room stuff,” Smoots said. “The girls really listen because she’s been through it.”

But more so than seeing girls wrestle, she is also thrilled to see “independent hard workers” of the team pursuing goals outside of wrestling, such as wanting to become doctors or join the Air Force.

In Lakewood, coach Tom O’Hara always had girls on his team in his 15 years of coaching.

“We had between seven and twelve girls for years before anyone else had girls,” he said, adding he has nine this year.

O’Hara agreed with the Arlington coaches about many aspects of the sport.

“It’s a sport where girls don’t get a ton of opportunity at,” O’Hara said, adding it is one-on-one, combative in nature, and rewards strength and speed.

Like at Arlington, many of the Lakewood girl wrestlers have played previous sports. Sophomore Olivia Poulton used to play basketball, but was known for making lots of contact, O’Hara said. “Because it suits their personality better,” O’Hara said, they do better at wrestling. “They don’t get fouled for taking people down.” An athletic background helps in wrestling. “It’s fresh. You can come in as an athlete without a ton of experience,” O’Hara said. “It just seems like a strong girl’s a huge difference between an average girl.”