Mon, Nov. 18

AIA adds girls wrestling for 2018-19 school year

Mingus’ Danni Schulz finished second at the Rocky Mountain Nationals in Denver. (Photo courtesy Klint McKean)

Mingus’ Danni Schulz finished second at the Rocky Mountain Nationals in Denver. (Photo courtesy Klint McKean)

The Arizona Interscholastic Association’s sporting family increased by one as its executive board voted to add girls wrestling for the 2018-19 school year.

Girls wrestling will debut as an “emerging sport” and will feature a state championship tournament held in conjunction with the boys’ high school tournament.

“I thought it was about time, it’s been long overdue and there’s a lot of Arizona girl wrestlers who have been waiting for it, including one from our team, so she’s really happy,” Mingus head wrestling coach Klint McKean said.

AIA executive board member Mark Showers said an emerging sport status is like showcasing the sport for a season.

Arizona is one of about 10 states that has girls wrestling as a championship sport.

“I was pretty excited when they did,” Mingus wrestler Danni Schulz said. “It’s really amazing, especially since I’m a senior this year, so it’s like ‘oh my last year I’ll get to be alongside girls and I’ll be able to get some more wins in.’”

The vote came after a recommendation from the Wrestling Advisory Committee. The AIA cited the participation rate of female wrestlers in the USA Wrestling youth programs in the state.

“We knew that was coming, we had been talking about that for two or three years now, that it was on the table and going to happen pretty soon,” Camp Verde head wrestling coach Tracy Tudor said. “For sure it’s due, there are some really good girl wrestlers out there in high school. We got some terrific Olympians out there. Women have definitely proven that they belong in the sport and it’s a wonderful thing.”

Women’s wrestling became an Olympic sport in 2004.

“It’s grown a lot,” McKean said. “There are now girls only tournaments and especially at the youth level, less so at the high school level, but at the youth level, there are girls at every tournament wrestling with the boys and doing really well and so that after they added women’s Olympic wrestling, I don’t know how many cycles ago it was, probably about 12 years or so, it was my guess, it’s just grown every year since then.”

There will be at least for high school girls invitationals and girls on the boys team can participate in female and male tournaments.

“This is a positive move for the AIA and for all the female wrestlers throughout the state. It’s another opportunity for student-athletes to compete, which will also help the sport grow,” said AIA Executive Director David Hines in a press release. “Girls wrestling is also becoming an emerging sport at the NCAA level, which means there will be scholarship opportunities.”

In 2012 the AIA added beach volleyball and it has grown to 53 teams, including even Coconino and Flagstaff. Arizona was the first state to have high school beach volleyball.

Showers, who is also Camp Verde’s athletic director, said the AIA has led the way in many areas, like a robust online presence and having its own officials.

“It’s always nice to be one of the states that kinda precludes everyone else,” Showers said. “Arizona has done a lot in the last probably 6-10 years in terms of leading the nation in a lot of different organization factors in sports.”

McKean said adding girls wrestling to the high school ranks will help the sport a lot overall.

“I think that it’s gonna help our sport, girls and boys,” McKean said. “To have Arizona be one of the first, it says a lot about the wrestling community that we just want to support our athletes, wrestlers are wrestlers, boys or girls, it doesn’t matter.”

Schulz said she expects a handful of Mingus Union girls to wrestle next year.

Tudor said Camp Verde has two or three pretty good female wrestlers.

McKean and Tudor both said they expect female family members of wrestlers to show interest.

“Girls are competitors man and some of the best,” Tudor said. “In my opinion they take the team concept a lot more seriously than boys do, they’re a lot more dedicated when it comes to that team concept for some reason at that age.”

In its first year girls wrestling won’t have divisions, so small schools like Camp Verde could face schools with thousands of students.

Showers said the schools still need to figure out how it will work, like how they would share the wrestling room and when multis would be.

“We’ll run it similar to AIA, as an emerging sport,” Showers said about Camp Verde. “We’re not going to have a dedicated coach right away that is a head coach for girls wrestling, it’ll operate under the regular wrestling program and we’ll have an assistant coach that operates the girls’ portion and through that first year of seeing how the program grows, then of course we’ll add it as a full sport. We’re going to be feeling our way through this based on numbers and so on, just as well as the AIA is.”

Schulz shines

While it’s not clear yet the types of teams that the Verde Valley schools will have, they already may have a star in girls wrestling.

Schulz earned varsity status on the boys team her junior year and then finished first at the 9th Annual All Girls Club Arizona State Wrestling Championship Tournament, winning with three pins.

“It was pretty exciting because I had just recovered from a knee injury from my freshman year that led in to sophomore year, so I couldn’t wrestle sophomore year and so just jumping into that tournament and just taking it, it was pretty exciting and I had expectations for myself,” Schulz said.

After winning her state title, she finished second at the Rocky Mountain Nationals in Denver.

“She’s been doing great, she’s been doing great at the female competitions, at the girl only competitions, but also at the varsity boys wrestling,” McKean said. “She won some matches for us this year and varsity lettered for us. Then she went to the girls state tournament, won that and we went to Rocky Mountain Nationals in Denver and she took second at that.”

She said wrestling against boys has helped her.

“I’ve been doing it for a very long time, like six, seven years so I’m expected to it, I’m expected to know that the guys are gonna be a lot stronger than me, so I have to use more technique and I won’t be as strong as the guys,” Schulz said. “When losing I’m taking losses a lot better the longer I’ve come along but when I started winning matches this last varsity season it got me really excited and brought up my confidence a whole lot because I am growing in the sport and not everyone can say that ‘oh yeah, I got beat by a girl.’ So it’s a good feeling. It’s kinda sad to see guys cry and leave the room but at the same time it’s like ‘oh I did that.’ That’s pretty cool.”

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