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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Wrestling isn’t just for guys’: National championships in women’s wrestling held in Spokane this weekend

By Luke Pickett For The Spokesman-Review

More than 1,200 of the best women’s wrestlers came to Spokane this weekend for a chance to compete on the USA team in the world championships.

“The U.S. is a world power in wrestling,” said Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling director of communications and special projects. “Wrestling is the fastest growing sport in the nation for women and girls.”

The open tournament, which was held at the Podium and hosted by the Spokane Sports Commission, featured girls freestyle competition in divisions based on age and weight. The winners from divisions for wrestlers under 15, under 17, under 20 and under 23 qualify for one of the four USA World teams.

“This is a big time event,” Abbott said. “We’ve got tryouts for four U.S. teams to compete internationally. Some of the best young women in the country are wrestling right now.”

Leilani Wilhelmi, grandmother of two competitors from Bremerton, said the competitions were a chance for women’s wrestlers to inspire. Her 9-year-old granddaughter, Aniya Wilhelmi, won her division to earn a medal at her first national event.

“We’ve been seeing more friends and people down South that are seeing us traveling, and they want to be a part of this,” said Wilhelmi. “We tell them, ‘Go ahead and do it.’ Wrestling isn’t just for guys, it’s for women and girls, too.”

Spokane has been chosen to host the event for the next two years after it was in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2022.

“These events will change the trajectory of women’s wrestling in our area,” said Justin Newby, Washington State USA Wrestling executive director.

“Women’s wrestling in (Spokane) Valley and on the West Side of Washington has grown leaps and bounds in the last six to eight years. Spokane has been a little bit slower in terms of growth, but I think this will open the eyes of a lot of our local administrators and coaches and make people realize that women’s wrestling is coming,” Newby said. “Whether they like it or not, it’s going to be here until 2025.”

The event brought more than 3,000 spectators and fans from across the country. The Davenport Grand, The Centennial, DoubleTree, and other hotels around the area received more than 1,500 room bookings over the weekend.

With almost every state represented, the competitions consisted of 1,234 women’s wrestlers. Local high schools in Spokane Valley, Deer Park, Chewelah and others represented the greater Spokane area at the Podium.

University High School’s Libby Roberts was among the majority of wrestlers who had never been to the Podium before.

“The facility was great,” said Roberts, a U-High sophomore and two-time Mat Classic champion. “I feel lucky because it’s right in my backyard.”

Roberts was bumped up to the varsity level of boys wrestling as a team captain in the middle of her freshman season. She was named an “Untouchable” by the Tacoma News Tribune prior to earning her second state title.

“It’s awesome,” Roberts said of the opportunity to unite with women’s wrestlers around the nation. “You get to see people from all over the country, and sometimes you see a move you haven’t seen before. You get different views and different styles depending on where the competitors come from.”

Roberts advanced to the semifinals of her division on Friday after winning her first three matches. She ended up taking fourth place after losing to Heather Crull from Indiana, who then won the championship, and Kayla Batres from Connecticut in the consolation round on Saturday.

Libby Roberts’ assistant coach and father, Kevin Roberts, also got to experience wrestling on this stage for the first time in Spokane.

“Overall, it was a really good competition,” said Kevin Roberts. “It’s really nice for our community, and it will hopefully help kickstart and bring positive light to the wrestling on the women’s side.”

2023 USMC Women’s National Championship division winners

8U Girls: Kleonna Block (Montana), Lilly Rollans (Nevada), Carly Cogger (Idaho)

10U Girls: Boheme Parr-Coffin (Washington), Isabella Graham (Alaska), Maddison Brown (Montana), Anaya Patacsil (Washington), Kynlee Douglas (Utah), Laura Lopez (California), Hope Johnson (Oregon), Venice Perez (Washington)

12U Girls: Jasmine Buck (Arizona), Abigail Peterson (Iowa), Olivia Hernandez (Oregon), Mylah Henebry (Idaho), Bella Manno (New Jersey), Payten Van Pelt (Montana), Leilani Nanquilada (Washington), Zaylyn Woods (Texas), Hailey Worden (Nevada), Taylynn Stratton (Oregon)

14U Girls: Maisie Elliott (Washington), Brynn Engel (Wisconsin), Gail Sullivan (New York), Hailey Delgado (Texas), Marie Sharp (New Jersey), Epenesa Elison (California), Hanna Naccarati-Cholo (Arizona), Olivia Bezdicek (Idaho), Ava Guilmette (Connecticut), Taina Fernandez (Maryland), Cadence Butts (Michigan), Kaili Manuel (Michigan), Matilda Hruby (Colorado)

U15 Women: Maisie Elliott (Washington), Alysa Patel (New Jersey), Gail Sullivan (New York), Jaclyn Bouzakis (Pennsylvania), Epenesa Elison (California), Emma Bacon (Pennsylvania), Alexis Lazar (Michigan), Taina Fernandez (Maryland), Jayci Shelton (Missouri), Ryen Hickey (Colorado),

U17 Women: Jaclyn Bouzakis (Pennsylvania), Morgan Turner (Illinois), Rianne Murphy (Indiana), Heather Crull (Indiana), Karlee Brooks (Arizona), Everest Leydecker (Arizona), Haylie Jaffe (Pennsylvania), May Prado (Georgia), Jasmine Robinson (Texas), Piper Fowler (Tennessee)

U20 Women: Audrey Jimenez (Arizona), Katie Gomez (California), Amani Jones (Georgia), Cristelle Rodriguez (California), Alexis Janiak (Illinois), Adaugo Nwachukwu (California), Maddie Kubicki (Missouri), Isabella Mir (Nevada), Amit Elor (California), Kennedy Blades (Illinois)

U23 Women: Emily Shilson (Minnesota), Felicity Taylor (Iowa), Alisha Howk (Wisconsin), Montana DeLawder (Pennsylvania), Xochitl Mota-Pettis (Texas), Adaugo Nwachukwu (California), Macey Kilty (Wisconsin), Katerina Lange (Minnesota), Kaylynn Albrecht (Texas), Ashley Lekas (Texas)