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Girls wrestling continues its ascent on regional, state levels

Tanner Cook • Feb 7, 2020 at 3:30 PM

It takes a different type of grit to want to wrestle.

Walking onto the mat and having no one else to back you up as you try to best your opponent is a daunting task, but a number of high school athletes embrace the challenge head-on.

And for teams like Dobyns-Bennett and Science Hill, some female athletes are embracing the challenge.

“The great thing about wrestling is that across the board, there is no difference between girls and boys,” D-B coach Wesley Idlette said.

Sophomore Karstyn Kantu, the lone female wrestler for the Tribe, is in her first year of the sport. Idlette said he’s seen quite the improvement from her over the last few months.

“She’s great at listening and soaks up a lot of information,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of improvement from her in so many different areas like conditioning, technique and skill. She has a desire to come to work every day and that’s all you can ask for as a coach.

“I’ve coached girls in middle school before and I would really like to grow the sport of girls wrestling at D-B. We have a great area for wrestling with female programs like King (University) being so good and a lot of good coaches. It’s an exciting time to be involved with this program.”

Science Hill’s program is a little bit ahead of D-B’s after having won the first state-sanctioned girls tournament in 2015.

Jon Renner is coach of the Lady Hilltoppers and was instrumental in the TSSAA sanctioning girls wrestling.

“It really all began in 2007 when Soddy Daisy and Red Bank did fundraising and helped start up programs in Tennessee,” Renner said. “Angela Haley at Clarksville Northwest and us at Science Hill put together a joint proposal and girls wrestling became sanctioned in the 2014-15 school year.

“Tennessee was really at the forefront in pushing to get girls wrestling more exposure across the nation. We were the fourth state and now there are 30 states that are sanctioned.”

Before TSSAA sanctioning, the Lady ’Toppers won the invitational that acted as a state tournament five of the first six years and featured such outstanding wrestlers as Victoria Myers, Lexie Knolls and Brittney Reagan. Each was a state champion and Knolls won the Tricia Saunders Award for Excellence.

“I believe that we are using Title IX in girls wrestling for what it was intended to do,” Renner said. “We’ve seen the numbers across Middle Tennessee explode over the last few years. Just this year, there was a 62% rise in participation in the West Regional tournament and a 20% rise in the Eastern one.

“The skill level in the beginning was not good, but now it’s really hard to medal and the girls just have to go out there and wrestle.”

Science Hill qualified six of its nine entrants for the individual tournament Feb. 20-22 in Franklin: Ella Rimer, Emma Wallen, Andrea Benitez-Alvarado, Olivia Gasteiger, Maggie Kite and Morgan Ratliff.

However, Renner’s bunch has the state duals coming up this weekend and believes his team can have a good showing.

“Clarksville-Rossview is the favorite, but it should still be a good tournament for us,” he said. “I think more and more colleges are starting to catch on that if they want to start or reboot a wrestling program that they can also start a women’s program — and that’s why we’re seeing a big boom.

“In the NCAA Division II and III this year, women’s wrestling is now considered an emerging sport, which is a huge step in getting it sanctioned across the board. That’s exciting to see.”

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