SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Hawaii was the first state to officially sanction a high school state championship for girls wrestling in 1998, with Texas quickly following suit.
In 2020, South Dakota joined the mix, becoming the 25th state to add girls wrestling as a sanctioned sport.
A girl on the wrestling mat is nothing new, but it wasn’t until June 2020 that girls wrestling became a sanctioned sport in South Dakota.
“Any time you can give an opportunity to any student-athlete in something new or something we’ve done in the past, it’s exciting to allow those students those chances that they should be afforded,” SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director Randy Soma said.
In season one, 33 schools had at least one participant, with a total roster of 97 wrestlers.
“We felt that was a good number to start with and felt it was really growing fast. This year, we have 23 B schools, 27 A schools, so 50 combined because this year’s it’s going to be a combined one class for girls and we have 162 participants, so that’s up 59%,” Soma said.
“Just the way that they’re building their own little community within the wrestling community I think is just going to be more inviting to more and more females to give it a try,” Roosevelt head coach Kyle Svendsen said.
Kyle Svendsen is the wrestling coach at Roosevelt. The Rough Riders have six girls on their roster, including junior Ali Bissell who’s a veteran of the mat.
“I started seventh grade because my brother got me into it and my grandpa used to be a coach, and I really look up to both of them,” Roosevelt junior Ali Bissell said.
However, the addition of girls wrestling couldn’t have come soon enough.
“I had been wrestling guys for like three years and it was kind of sucky because I’m not as strong as guys, but then I was super happy they had girls wrestling and I get to have real competition now,” Bissell said.
Bissell finished second at state last February and likes the direction girls wrestling is heading.
“They’re taking the sport more serious and they’re not just like, oh well I could just try, they’re like this is wrestling, this is a sport, I could go somewhere with it,” Bissell said.
“I’ve seen wrestling videos and it just looked so fun so I was just like I want to do it so I decided to join,” Roosevelt senior Karla Gomez said.
Roosevelt senior Karla Gomez is wrestling for the first time at any level.
“I’m alright I guess for my first year. I make a lot of mistakes but it’s part of learning,” Gomez said.
Gomez admits she still doesn’t know a lot of moves, but is quickly learning.
“Whenever your brain tells you no, you’re too tired, just keep pushing yourself. You’re probably going to faint but it’s just about pushing yourself to your limit,” Gomez said.
It can be easy for a novice wrestler to lose confidence, but coach Svendsen encourages them to stay the course.
“Focus on your own growth, focus on getting a little bit better every day, pay attention to those little victories that you have along the way and hopefully as you start to acquire some of those you keep building more love for the sport and once you’re hooked it’s hard to walk away from,” Svendsen said.
Svendsen says his approach doesn’t change coaching girls versus guys and says he wants to see more of each wrestle their way up through the ranks.
“If we can get girls interested when they’re younger, if we can get guys interested when they’re younger, it’ll be better for the sports in Sioux Falls as a whole,” Svendsen said.
Roosevelt will soon turn its attention to the state tournament.
Ten defined weight classes have been established for this year’s individual tournament.
“By the year 2023, through the NFHS, we have to have our boys and girls weight classes aligned, so whatever that is, whether that’s 10, 12, 14 weight classes they all have to be aligned and the same,” Soma said.
The girls will also compete for a team championship.
“I think it’s important for schools to see that, it helps with the development of creating more opportunities but then also allowing those girls chances for those team titles and I think it’ll grow the program,” Soma said.
“Once we start to get more and more girls, it’ll inspire them to keep improving because they have something to work for together,” Svendsen said.
“Being able to have the opportunity with these girls and seeing how far they’ve come it’s just great that we have an opportunity to show the state how great we are,” Bissell said.
And the growth of girls wrestling doesn’t end with one team title.
“You can never relax in the sense of thinking you’ve accomplished it, you want to keep moving forward and keep building on it and making it a great experience. If you keep making great experiences for these kids they’ll go out and they’ll enjoy it and they’ll have a lot of fun and that’s what’s most important,” Soma said.
Canton has the most wrestlers on its roster in grades 7-12 with 27.
The state wrestling tournaments are set for February 24-26 at the PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls.