Souderton freshman Kayla Husti-Luca has spent half of her life wrestling, facing both boys and girls.
"I've done pretty well wrestling against girls, and I've beaten some boys, too," Husti-Luca said.
"But you can wrestle a boy in his first year of wrestling and get outmuscled and lose. That's frustrating. You can have a lot better technique, but sometimes it doesn't matter because he's stronger."
That frustration may soon be coming to an end.
Before the season, Souderton became the 31st high school in Pennsylvania, and the first in District One, to sanction a girls wrestling team. More seem likely to follow.
"For Souderton to start a team is very important," said long-time North Penn head coach Rob Shettsline.
"Other schools are going to see that and will have girls that will want to wrestle. Schools like Parkland and others in District 11 (Lehigh Valley) already have teams, and that's going to keep on happening.
"I said five years ago that North Penn would have a girls team in 10 years, and hopefully it will be sooner than that. Like all sports, it has to start at the youth level, and if you go watch a youth wrestling tournament you'll see more and more girls wrestling."
How girls wrestling can become a PIAA sport
The ultimate goal for girls wrestling is to be recognized as an official sport by the PIAA. In order to do so, at least 100 schools from across the state must sanction the sport.
"The (PIAA) board will consider sponsoring a sport and holding a championship once 100 schools are sponsoring it," said PIAA Chief Operating Officer Mark Byers.
"We have about 470 schools now with boys wrestling and are excited about the growth in girls wrestling. Every new sport starts with gaining emerging sport status. If a newly identified sport has 25 member schools sponsoring it then we can provide some official designation and give it the green light.
"Girls wrestling has that and hopefully more schools will continue to sponsor it. Each new sport goes through a three-reading protocol. The first reading for girls wrestling was in October (and was unanimously approved) and there's another reading coming up (in March) and then one in the summer. If it passes all three, it will then have emerging status."
That emerging status should come, but hitting the century mark of 100 teams would give the sport a PIAA championship at Giant Center in Hershey like the boys.
"We went from 20 programs across the state to 31 in about two months," said Souderton head coach Chris Atkinson, who is also the women's director for Pennsylvania USA Wrestling. "And, I think in the spring, the momentum will pick right back up. We're going to get to the number we need for the PIAA."
Currently, District Three (central PA) has the most sanctioned programs with 11. Atkinson hopes to see District One reach those kind of numbers and beyond.
Of the 12 districts across the state, only District Eight (Pittsburgh), District Nine (Elk, Potter County area), and District 12 (Philadelphia), have yet to sanction a girls wrestling program. Nationally, 32 states have already sanctioned girls wrestling.
"I've talked to Quakertown, North Penn and Pennridge, among others, and they've all shown a lot of interest in adding a team," Atkinson said. "We received so much support from our athletic director (Dennis Stanton) and everybody here has been behind us the whole way.
"I'm hopeful, that in five years, at least half of the schools in District One will have legit teams.
"To have our own league would be a great thing to see."
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Souderton leading the way in District One
Getting the first domino to fall, Souderton in this case, could provide the push the district needs to add more and more programs.
"It's disappointing to only have the one team in District One," said District One Wrestling Co-Chairperson Denny Kellon. "District One is fully behind getting girls wrestling going.
"And, by next year, I think you're going to see more teams add it. It's going to happen, and it's going to grow. The cost is not a big factor. Schools already have the mats and hopefully one of the coaches on the teams could dedicate time to the girls.
"A big factor has been the pandemic. That has slowed down a lot of things, and it definitely didn't help with girls wrestling. But when we get past that things are going to take off.
"I saw a stat the other day that there are 700 to 800 girls wrestling in high school in Pennsylvania this year. That is a substantial number, and that's with all of the problems everyone is having with the pandemic."
Souderton senior Trinity Monaghan, who has been part of the boys wrestling team for four years, wrestling 31 varsity matches, can't wait to see the sport grow on the girls side.
"I won't be around for it, but for the younger girls it's going to be a great thing," Monaghan said.
"To get to the point where they have a state championship in Hershey like the boys would be awesome."
Another goal would be holding all-girls dual meets at some point down the road.
"I have three girls wrestling this year, and we have at least half a dozen tournaments for girls that we'll go to," Atkinson said.
"Having full rosters for dual meets is something we'd all love to be able to have, but that's going to take time."
More girls wrestling programs starting
One of the biggest advantages of having sanctioned girls team is the girls get the chance to wrestle other girls.
"A selling point now for the girls and their parents is that they don't have to wrestle boys," said PAUSAW Executive Committee Chairman Joe Stabilito, who is also an assistant coach at William Tennent.
"With girls programs popping up, we're starting to get away from that. A lot of the club programs, too, have nights with just girls. And the younger kids see the girls wrestling and they then want to give it a try.
"We went from 200 girls in the state last year to 800 now. It's just growing and growing every day."
For the first time, PAUSAW will host three "regional" tournaments this season leading up to the state tournament the organization runs.
Parkland High School will host the East Regional; McCaskey High School will host the Central Regional; and Indiana High School will host the West Regional.
"It will all lead up to our state championship on March 13 at Central Dauphin (High School)," Stabilito said.
"My fear is that we might run out of room at Central Dauphin because there is so much interest. Hopefully, next year or the year after we'll have a state tournament at Giant Center (in Hershey).
"I think by 2024 it will be a recognized sport, and it could be even sooner."
After high school
Colleges and universities have been taking note of the growth of girls wrestling as there are now 45 NCAA programs, including five in Pennsylvania (Delaware Valley, Alvernia, East Stroudsburg, Gannon and Lock Haven).
Last fall, perennial men's power Iowa announced it was starting a women's program — making the Hawkeyes the first Power Five conference institution to offer the sport.
"One of my goals is to wrestle in college," Husti-Luca said.
"There are a couple of Pennsylvania colleges already offering wrestling and hopefully there will be more and more as the sport keeps growing."
For more information on growing girls wrestling in Pennsylvania, go to www.sanctionpa.com.
Drew Markol: email@example.com; @dmarkol
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This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: PA girls wrestling on the high school level continues to grow.