TACOMA — The girls wrestling scene has come a long way from its infancy. Those 14 years have produced more and more interest and better quality action in Washington since the girls joined Mat Classic in 2007.
The product has grown so much that there are rumblings that splitting the girls into two classifications is a possibility as Mat Classic XXXII kicked off Friday in the Tacoma Dome.
The number of girls participants has doubled in the last four years alone.
“I think women’s wrestling has absolutely blown up and it’s fantastic,” said Federal Way girls coach Travis Mango, who is in his 12th season. “Not only are the girls getting more aggressive, they are getting more technical each and every day. And, to be honest, when I’m watching what I see out here, I get more excited watching the wrestling that the girls are doing than I do with the guys.
“There just seems to be a hunger that they’ve got. They come out with a chip on their shoulder, and they feel like they’ve got something to prove. Not sure where it comes from, but maybe it’s just society saying they can’t do it or that girls can’t do it.”
Before that first tourney, girls could wrestle at state, but they had to do it against boys. And few could qualify wrestling boys at regional tournaments.
The inaugural girls tournament featured nine weight classes, 61 teams represented, top-four placings and eight-person brackets. This season, it has ballooned to 14 weight classes, 120 teams represented (there were 163 in 2019), top-eight placings and 16-person brackets.
Statewide, the total number of female participants swelled from about 1,100 in 2016 to roughly 2,200 this season, according to girls tournament manager Stark Porter.
“This year, we have seen another jump with 350 to 400 more girls from last season,” said Porter, noting that 240 high schools have at least one female wrestler in the state.
White River coach Jason Jackson, chasing the first team title in the sport with eight girls qualifying for state, has seen a big jump in his nine seasons.
“The girls’ skill level has gotten highly technical and they’re doing awesome moves now and doing a great job,” Jackson said. “I think we need to keep all (the classifications) together to keep the skill level. I would say probably in the next five years, it wouldn’t hurt us to go like B, 1A, 2A together and then 3A and 4A together for two different classifications for the girls and maybe at two different locations.
“I still think we need bigger numbers to do that. But the quality has gone from like a C or D to an A grade since it first started.”
Jolene Crook, now the Kentwood girls coach with three state participants, took part in the first girls state tournament in 2007.
“It meant a lot to get that opportunity,” said Crook, who was second two seasons in a row before winning the 140-pound state title by pin as a senior in 2009. “Before, it just kind of felt like you were going for something and get to the end of the season and there was really nothing.”
Crook felt validated as an athlete when the opportunity to qualify for state was presented.
“It’s always been a male-dominated sport,” she said. “Having the girls own sanctioned (event) has helped grow the sport, not only in Washington but across the country. It’s help build all these programs that help young female athletes develop their own perspective and become great adults because of the discipline and everything else behind the sport.”
Mango is so thankful that his 5-year-old daughter Sophia has some new heroes to emulate.
“I enjoy watching her look up to these young women and say, ‘I want to be like that and I want to be a student-athlete and be on that stage someday,’” Mango said shortly after one of his wrestlers, sophomore Kayla McKinley, improved to 32-0 in her pursuit of a state title at 100 pounds.