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Prep girls pin down new successes on wrestling mats

Gary Mihoces USA Today

In 2004 in Athens, for the first time, women wrestled women for Olympic medals.

“It was great! I mean, girls are wrestling in the Olympics now,” said Nicole Woody, a Maryland high school freshman.

This winter Woody and other girls have made their own history – wrestling boys – on high school mats across the United States.

Girls wrestling boys isn’t new, but their success has reached new heights. Some have won unprecedented spots into state tournaments.

In Alaska and Maine, girls have come a victory shy of becoming the first of their gender to win a high school state title against boys.

“It’s more than we’ve ever seen, and it’s happening in new places,” says Gary Abbott, director of special projects for USA Wrestling.

Nearly every breakthrough has come in the 103-pound class, the lightest division, where strength differences aren’t so pronounced.

Woody is the first girl to make Maryland’s Class 4A-3A state tournament, set for this weekend. Junior Jade Hendricks of Baltimore’s Western Tech has done the same this year in Maryland 2A-1A.

Illinois and Oklahoma have had girl first-timers in state tournaments (Oklahoma freshman Joey Miller of Woodward High took fourth at 103 in Class 4A. She is the first female in the tournament’s 84-year history). In Virginia, a girl made the Group AAA tournament for the first time. In Washington, two girls have been the first to earn state places (top eight). For the first time in Nebraska, a girl won a state meet match.

But many advocates of women’s wrestling continue to lament that only Texas and Hawaii have separate, state-sanctioned teams and state tournaments for girls.

“Hopefully, that will change in time,” says Terry Steiner, USA Wrestling’s national women’s coach. “My concern is we need to open the doors a lot more.”

In its 2003-2004 survey the National Federation of State High School Associations reported 4,008 girls were participating in high school wrestling compared with 238,700 boys. In 1990, the same survey reported that 112 girls were wrestling.

In January, Maryland’s Woody, 16, who is a junior national girls champ, wrestled in Russia with a U.S. women’s team. Traveling alone, her flight was delayed because of weather for 13 hours in Paris.

She lost a match in Moscow the day she arrived. The next day, she flew to Siberia.

“I didn’t know who I was wrestling, just that she was 4 feet tall and 30 years old and built like a truck,” Woody said.

She lost – to a Russian Olympian – but that steeled her return to high school competition.

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