Girl wrestling gets first ever WIAA Girls Championship

For the first time, girls will be able to compete against their peers for a state championship on the mat.
261 girls are lined up to compete for the first state title in this landmark event
Published: Jan. 28, 2022 at 5:20 PM CST
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FOX VALLEY, Wis. (WBAY) - 261 girls will take to the mat in La Crosse Saturday vying for the chance to be state champion in the first-ever WIAA Girls State Wrestling Tournament.

For the first time, girls will be able to compete against their peers for a state championship on the mat.

“Sometimes they argue that we need to have the girls to make these programs, but it needs to be the other way around. We need to have these things available for girls,” Bella Bolek, a junior wrestler with West De Pere High School, said.

The tournament was open to any wrestler who wanted to participate. There will be state titles up for grabs in 12 weight classes, with 261 wrestlers entered in the competition.

Girls have previously been able to compete in the boys wrestling postseason and still had the option this year, but the offering of a tournament exclusively for girls proved appealing for over 200 athletes heading to the La Crosse Center.

“A lot of the boys have been wrestling since they were 3 because they’ve always had that opportunity that these new girl wrestlers that are coming in don’t get. They don’t get to even wrestle other girls,” Bolek said.

“When I was younger, I wrestled a lot of the guys. And that went well for the most part until I got older and kind of hit puberty and gained more weight, and then it was harder to compete against them.” Anna Strand, a senior wrestler with Xavier High School, said.

Maddie Ruckdashel, graduate assistant girls wrestling coach at Lakeland College, said back in her day there were even fewer girls. Now there are female coaches and whole female teams. She hopes that the hard work they put in will encourage other girls to join.

“I’m feeling very emotional about it,” Ruckdashel said. “I think it’s been a long time coming.”

According to data collected by the USA Wrestling Girls High School Development Committee, girls wrestling saw a growth of more than 23,000 participants from 2005 to 2020. The number of girls wrestling more than quadrupled in that span. With more state associations adopting a girls wrestling state tournament, it became a natural next step in Wisconsin.

“A lot of girls through the state have fought the fight to be welcomed and accepted. And a lot of times they weren’t, but they stayed on the team because they knew there were bigger things that they were fighting for,” Ruckdashel said.

Prelims start at 9 a.m. Saturday in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

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