Five Cayuga County-Area Girls Compete In Predominantly Male Sport

Five Cayuga County-Area Girls Compete In Predominantly Male Sport
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Known for its physical one-on-one nature, wrestling is a predominantly male sport that relies heavily on strength and technique honed over years of practice.

Five girls with varying degrees of experience from the Cayuga County area are determined to show they can compete with their male counterparts. Skaneateles’ Kiersten Fairley and Hannah Drake have just begun their wrestling careers, Moravia’s Marissa Kuhn and Jordan-Elbridge’s Jessi Tripp are each in their second season on their respective varsity teams, and Port Byron’s Katherine Sumner is the local veteran entering her sixth year.

Panthers coach Tom Green isn’t alone in his straight-forward philosophy for the area’s female wrestlers.

“Don’t treat them any different. Treat them the same,” Green said. “If they get hurt, they get hurt. If they hurt somebody else, they hurt somebody else. If they’re slower in practice, you yell at them the same as you would one of the boys. They’re no different.

“They’re a lot tougher than people think they are.”

The number of girl wrestlers in the area has fluctuated over the years, but the small number of females often lead to intergender matches. Any stigma attached with a boy-girl matchup is fading.

“It’s just not taboo any more,” Green said. “When I was coming up through, if a girl came out on the mat, you would forfeit. You didn’t wrestle girls because ‘They’re delicate’ and ‘You might hurt them.’ That’s not the way it is any more.”

“It depends on the girl, but usually if they’re coming out for wrestling, they’re pretty tough,” added Jordan-Elbridge coach Kurt Alpha. “You don’t need to treat them with kid gloves, that’s for sure.”

With many schools struggling to put together a lineup that fills out the 15 weight classes, coaches are welcoming anyone willing to pick up the sport.

“It’s not like there’s a lot of them, but there’s more than there used to be,” Alpha said. “Back in my day, you very rarely saw a girl wrestle. It was extremely rare. Now you’re starting to see that there’s holes in these lineups and opportunities for girls who want to wrestle to get into a lineup and get a lot of matches in.”

FIRST YEAR

Fairley and Hunter both wanted a new challenge.

Fairley, a freshman who moved to Skaneateles last year from Mississippi, was telling a friend in physical education class that she was thinking about signing up for the wrestling team, when Drake chimed in that she wanted to join her. Having another girl there for support has helped them both early in the season.

“I’m very competitive and I like tougher, more aggressive sports … so I thought, ‘Why not wrestling?’” Fairley said. “I had been thinking about it for a while, and one of my close friends on the team suggested it, so I got a sign-up form.”

Skaneateles coach Dick Campbell kept the girls paired together at practice in the beginning, since neither had previous wrestling experience. The Section III Hall of Famer has started to integrate them with his lightweight wrestlers, some of whom have had multiple years on the varsity team.

“We met with the parents, and one of the things I said was that this was a unique situation,” Campbell said. “In both cases, I said it was because neither of them had wrestled before.”

Drake, a junior who wrestles in the 99-pound weight class, recorded her first win by pin earlier this month, while Fairley (120) won in a junior varsity match.

“The main thing I was thinking about was ‘I cannot lose, because I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of the team,’” Fairley said of her first match. “I feel like after I won my first match, the boys were more supportive after that. They realized we were serious about the sport and we are here to stay.”

Drake said she struggles with anxiety and a panic disorder, and wrestling has helped her face those problems head-on. When it finally came time to step on the mat, she just concentrated on the task at-hand.

“I was really nervous and my heart was beating a mile a minute, but once I got out there and shook my opponent’s hand, it was like everything faded into the background,” Drake said. “I was focused on the match.”

Drake and Fairley’s persistence hasn’t gone unnoticed by their coach.

“They’ve come to virtually every practice and they work hard,” Campbell said. “I don’t know why they wouldn’t stick with it. They’ve stuck their nose in it, and they’ve proven they can do it.”

SECOND YEAR

For Tripp and Kuhn, the thrill from competing is like nothing else.

Tripp, now a sophomore, vividly remembers her first match of modified in seventh grade. Drawn to the sport after seeing videos of former Jordan-Elbridge standout Mitch Alpha in physical education class, she signed up to try out the sport herself.

“It was a rush when I got out there of nerves and excitement,” Tripp said. “I was just going over moves in my head of what we were doing in practice, and trying to listen to the coach.

“I didn’t win that first match … but it was still a good match.”

Despite being handed a 4-3 defeat, Tripp was determined to stick with it.

“It clicked in my head that ‘I can actually do this,’” Tripp said. “It’s not going to be just me getting beat up in every match I go out there. I can actually have a chance against some of these guys.”

Tripp went 8-9 with one pin and seven forfeits as a freshman, and is off to a 5-2 start with one pin and four forfeits this season in the 99- and 106-pound weight classes.

While Tripp’s technique has improved immensely, she acknowledges upper body strength can be an issue.

“She works her tail off every day,” Kurt Alpha said. “She just gets overpowered. She’s not quite physical enough yet to handle the more physical wrestlers. She’s a sophomore and she’ll come around.”

Kuhn, another sophomore in her second year on a varsity team, has taken on more of a leadership role with the Blue Devils. She got into 20 matches last season at 106 or 113 pounds, and has begun helping Moravia’s younger lightweights.

“She has come a long ways from the beginning of last year to what I see now. … I see in practice how she can hold her own a lot more,” Ott said. “Last year, she was a little timid. This year she has more experience and is attacking more.”

Kuhn grew up in a wrestling family, and wanted to take part herself. She thought about wrestling during middle school, but ultimately waited until her freshman season to join the varsity squad.

“It just gives you a rush that nothing else can give you,” Kuhn said. “It teaches you discipline and things you can’t learn in other parts of life.”

Kuhn, Ott’s lone female wrestler since the program was reinstated eight years ago, has also helped out when Moravia hosts youth wrestling events.

“She’s willing to do anything we ask her to do,” Ott said. “She loves wrestling, so when we do the youth stuff, she’ll be there. She’s pretty popular with some of the younger ladies in the elementary school, because they’re excited to see a girl out there.”

SIXTH YEAR

Sumner has wrestled all across North America.

The Port Byron senior, who started wrestling as a pee wee with her two siblings in elementary school, is in her sixth season on the varsity team and spends most of her offseason wrestling with the Mohawk Valley Wrestling Club.

Sumner placed sixth in the Section III, Class C tournament last season in the 106-pound weight class and third in the league tournament as a sophomore. This year she looks to improve on those finishes.

“I want to see how far I can make it,” Sumner said. “I want to place at classes and go to sectionals.”

Already accepted to one college and waiting on word from others, Sumner plans to wrestle at the collegiate level. The number of women-only wrestling programs in the United States has tripled to more than 30 within the last decade.

Sumner knows from experience that the most important thing is to get any wrestlers — male or female — to start learning the techniques at an early age. The accumulated mat time often leads to success later in the wrestlers’ careers.

“I try and do a lot with the pee wee program,” Sumner said. “I try to get as many girls as I can to start young.”

Courtesy of: The Citizen

Lori Braun
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Lori Braun
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