Abbigail Smith started wrestling on a whim.
There was a Sumo tournament at lunchtime at Webber Middle School when she was in seventh grade. She did pretty well, finishing second, and was invited by wrestling coach Mark Carroll to try out for the school’s team, which, at the time, was all boys.
Smith hasn’t stopped wrestling since and Saturday won her first title at the Poudre Girls Tournament, pinning all three of her opponents to win the 136-pound championship.
Wrestling, she said, is clearly her thing.
“Something just clicked, I feel, when I first actually started to pursue it full-time,” she said. “This is something I really enjoy doing, and I actually enjoy the process of getting better and working toward something, working toward a goal.
“It’s definitely my place.”
Poudre’s Aubrey First went 5-1, pinning one opponent in just 34 seconds, while finishing third at 127 pounds, and teammate Zoe White went 2-2 to finish fourth at 147 pounds.
First and White both met up with their teammates and practice partners in the consolation semifinals, where First won a 6-3 decision over Lindsey Le May and White won by a mutually-agreed-to forfeit over Maya Staires.
The Poudre team, which represents all Poudre School District high schools, had nine wrestlers competing in the tournament it wasn’t able to hold last year because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“It was a huge bummer to not be able to have our home tournament last year, especially because last year we had some really amazing seniors,” Poudre coach Desiree Kendall said. “So, it’s exciting to be back here, and to have the chance to be the host is a lot of fun.”
Discovery Canyon took the team title in the tournament, which had 73 wrestlers from 17 different teams. They finished with 67 points – four more than Poudre. Loveland was third with 60.
White was No. 6 in the state and Smith No. 9, both at 147 pounds, in the latest rankings by InsideCOWrestling’s Tom Blair.
The move down to 136 pounds by Smith certainly paid off Saturday, with the junior from Rocky Mountain High School mowing down her competition with three pins in three matches – the first in 3:03 and the next two in 1:37 and 1:34.
“She’s a freak of nature,” Kendall said. “There’s something so special about watching her wrestle and watching her process of going from the end of one match to her cooldown and then to her warmup and getting ready and getting psyched.
“She loves to totally hammer and club on someone.”
Smith wrestles year-round at the Victory Training Center in Loveland, where she practices against both girls and boys. There are some significant differences, she said.
“It’s two different types of wrestling, because men wrestle more with their upper body and their shoulders and hands while women wrestle more with their hips.”
Female wrestlers also tend to be more flexible, leading to a wider variety of moves and techniques rather than relying as much on pure strength, as male wrestlers often do, First said.
“I think we look more ahead to things, too, so it’s a lot more about different moves that are put together,” she said.
Poudre started its girls wrestling program five or six years ago, primarily with wrestlers like Smith who competed on boys teams in middle school. The program had only a handful of wrestlers the first two to three years, assistant coach Josh Beck said, but had 12 last year and 16 at one point this season, with 13 still actively participating in practices and meets.
The Colorado High School Activities Association sanctioned the sport for the first time last year, hosting a state championship tournament in conjunction with the boys state championships in Pueblo. This year's state tournaments for both girls and boys will be held next month at Ball Arena in Denver.
“This is my third year with this program, and it’s just exciting to watch it grow,” said Kendall, who was on the first women’s wrestling team at Pacific University in Oregon and became a multi-year All-American. “Colorado was a little behind the times, but as soon as it became a thing, it has been absolutely embraced, which is fantastic.”
First and White, both sophomores at Poudre High who are involved in multiple sports, got their start in wrestling at Lesher Middle School, where coach Matthew Moeller was actively seeking girls to get involved in the boys program.
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Like Smith, they tried it, liked it and never looked back.
“I think it’s really just the feeling of being in a community and a feeling of being your best self,” White said. “You have bad days; you have good days. But never is there a day where you come out and say, ‘I hate this.’ It’s always, ‘I want to get better at this. I want to learn this new thing.’
“You always want to keep learning and continue to better yourself, and you learn so many new things about yourself. I just love that. It’s like a mirror into yourself.”
Kelly Lyell reports on CSU, high school and other local sports and topics of interest for the Coloradoan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @KellyLyell and find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/KellyLyell.news. If you 're a subscriber, thank you for your support. If not, please consider purchasing a digital subscription today.
This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Poudre girls wrestling celebrates growth of sport at home tournament