Girls wrestling has made major strides in the public eye the last few weeks, but that success has been years in the making.
Olentangy Orange hoisted the championship trophy in the inaugural state duals Jan. 23 after defeating host Marysville 42-32 in the title match. The eight-team event was organized by the Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association.
The championship came just 10 days after the OHSAA announced the sport would be sanctioned beginning in the 2022-23 school year.
Orange assistant coach Vanessa Oswalt has witnessed the steps taken to help Ohio become the 33rd state to sanction girls wrestling. She was a qualifier for the Over-15 Olympic Team Trials in 2004, won the Junior National Championships in Fargo, North Dakota, in 2005 as a high school senior, and was a member of the U.S. Senior Freestyle Women’s National team in 2009.
“It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks with sanctioning and now we have the girls state duals,” said Oswalt, who trained for four years with the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program. “The finals had a spotlight on the mat, and it was a true spotlight. All of the attention was on the girls. Every team was on the side of the mat cheering on their girls, and the atmosphere was amazing (Jan. 23).”
Coach Brian Nicola said the Pioneers had a bounce in their step when they took the mat for practice the day after winning the championship.
“The girls carried themselves a little differently in practice,” he said. “They know that they can win these tough matches.
“This was the first year (of the state duals) and our goal was to win it. That was important because we came up short a couple of times in the individual state tournament.”
Two years ago in the inaugural individual state tournament, Orange was runner-up (122.5 points) to Casstown Miami East (149.5) as 83 teams scored. Last season, the Pioneers were third (95) behind Marysville (131.5) and Miami East (103) as 85 teams scored.
On Jan. 23, Surraiya Mahmud recorded a pin at 170 pounds in 2 minutes, 29 seconds to clinch the title for second-seeded Orange against the top-seeded Monarchs in the championship dual.
It was the third girls state championship for Orange, which opened in 2008. The girls golf team won Division I state titles in 2016 and 2017.
Also, the Pioneers’ boys track and field squad won the Division I state indoor title in 2020.
“When I walked off the mat, a couple of my teammates told me that I just secured it and that I just did it,” Mahmud said. “Coach Nicola said, ‘Oh my God, you just did it!’ I was so happy and full of joy.”
Alicia Coleman (140), Josie Nickoloff (115) and Lucy Scheibeck (125) also had pins for the Pioneers. Kascidy Garren (145) and Lexi Simmons (110) won by decision, and Medha Elchuri (100) and Jennifer Huaracha-Arellanos (235) won by forfeit.
“It’s just another historic event for girls wrestling, just like everything else at this point,” Simmons said. “We’ve been doing it for three years, and this was our first state title. ... The first state (duals team) title for anyone, really. That’s really exciting, and I’m happy to be a part of this team.”
Orange had a first-round bye after seventh-seeded Miami East bowed out because of COVID-19 issues.
“It was great,” Garren said. “I’m super proud of all of the girls. We all put in so much work, especially (leading up to the state duals). It’s unbelievable.”
The Pioneers outlasted Harrison 48-36 in one semifinal and Marysville defeated Delaware 54-24 in the other.
“We have a vastly different lineup than we had last year,” Nicola said. “We have a lot of young, first-year girls who went out and beat experienced wrestlers. I’m excited to see what will happen in the next few weeks.”
Orange will be the host school for the Central/Southeast district tournament Feb. 13. The other district sites are Harrison (Southwest), Marysville (Northwest) and Rocky River Lutheran West (Northeast).
The top four finishers in each weight class from each district tournament advance to the third individual state tournament Feb. 19 and 20 at Hilliard Davidson.
“Girls wrestling is growing,” Oswalt said. “The first year when we wrestled Miami East or Marysville, every match was a pin. Now we’re a couple of years down the road, the girls have gotten better and better and you’re having better head-to-head matches. State will just be crazy this year.”
This article originally appeared on ThisWeek: Ohio girls wrestling: Orange walking tall after historic victory