Girl wrestlers maiden voyage in the book
The Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) has had girls wrestling for a while now, but not in an official capacity. Prior to the 2018-2019 winter season, the girls' matches were exhibition only. There was a state championship for the girls at Memorial Coliseum, but this past season was the first season it was sanctioned.
OSAA created 14 weight classes for the female competitors, and divided the state into two different wrestling districts across all classifications, from 6A down to 2A/1A. Canby High School saw itself placed in the North District, with well over 40 other schools.
Anticipation for the girl's side of the sport was high before the start of the season. There were 20 girls signed up ahead of the season, but that number dwindled to seven by the start of the season. By the end of the high school wrestling season, that number stood at just three.
Seniors Lily Lockwood, Maren Gingerich, and Merissa Berge were Canby's trio at seasons end, and they were under the tutelage of head coach Jeremy Ensrud. Well, not just Ensrud; a Canby alum, Ashley Martin, was brought in to help out with the training process.
"She was a non-supervisory coach's position," Ensrud said. "She couldn't supervise, but she was totally in charge of the group and would go and work with them."
"With the girls, none of us had any experience, so it's pretty hard to understand it all when we're trying to figure it out at the same time," Lockwood said. "It was helpful to have a coach who was more focused on us. She helped with that a lot."
Nailing down the coaching situation for the girls was a solid first step for the budding program, but it was one of many things that would need to get sorted out over the course of the inaugural season. After all, since it was OSAA's first sanctioned season, there were some things that needed to get sorted out. Ensrud figured it out at the preseason meeting with other Three Rivers League (TRL) coaches.
"I went to the Three Rivers League meeting at the beginning of the season, and said, 'What are we going to do about girls?'" Ensrud said. "Everybody just looked at me like, 'What're you talking about? We don't have any girls.' The programs put the cart before the horse. The programs have to grow, we have to get girls in the programs before we can have dual meets before we can have actual league matches."
Low numbers were just one of the things that needed to be sorted out. Considering the female wrestlers were also varsity athletes, would their scores be counted with the varsity boys team's scores? Or would they be counted separately? These were things that would need to be worked out over the course of the season.
Other frustrations included knowing if the team members were going to going to be able to compete at all.
"I think the most frustrating part is that girls got just added onto things because there aren't that many of us and I totally get it," Lockwood said. "It was frustrating because you never knew who you were going to wrestle, when you were going to wrestle, and you never knew if you were even going to wrestle at all."
Gingerich recounted a tale of wrestling someone nearly 50 pounds heavier at a meet where they were trying to get the girls' matches to wrestle in.
"At Wilsonville, I almost got stuck in a bracket where they had us line up by weight," Gingerich said, "but there were three girls from the same team in one group of five. They were trying to mix us all up, but then I would have been against people who were 170 (pounds). But overall, they usually matched it up pretty well as long as you talked to them. You just have to talk to them a lot of the time."
Despite the hurdles and obstacles the team faced, poor reception from the wrestling team and community was not one of them. Despite the girls entering a predominantly male oriented sport, they received no blow back from their teammates, coaches, or peers. In fact, it seemed quite the opposite.
"I think we were seen like, 'You're in wrestling? That's awesome,'" Berge said.
"I think the team was very receiving or open to the idea of girls wrestling too," Lockwood added. "I think at some schools, I don't know what it's like, but you can imagine they wouldn't really accept a girl wrestler just depending on their society and how it works for them. But for our team there was never really a problem with having girls up in the practice room. We got along well, and there was never any animosity."
Lockwood and Gingerich both wrestled with the team last year, and while this was Berge's first year, the seniors were able to learn a lot about themselves over the course of the three month long season. The history of being a part of the first sanctioned season wasn't lost on them either.
"If you think that you're someone who will push it 110 percent all the time, wrestling is the sport where you can actually test that," Berge said. "They teach you to not give up when you're tired. When we're tired, we still have a lot more work to do."
"Also, I think something that can get more girls to come into it is reminding them that this is the start," Berge continued. "This is the first year it was an official sport, so them being in the beginnings of it still, they're going to make history. Every place they get, every pin, the harder they work for it the further they go up and they can be in the books from the beginnings."
Though graduating, the girls know that recruitment is big if the girls' wrestling team hopes to continue on into next season. Gingerich, who helped get the word out about the wrestling team this past season, hopes to go the middle school and talk with the kids there and get girls wrestling at a younger age. Connecting with the Mat Club is another way they hope to continue to build up the numbers.
"If you stick with it, it changes the way you think about hard work," Gingerich said. "There will be difficult days, but instead of feeling so exhausted and terrible at the end of practice, you can feel awesome because you did that. It feels like you're pursuing something not out of fear or not wanting to be bad, but because you're driving for something good."
For Ensrud, seeing his team improve over the course of the season was part of the journey in this maiden voyage. From learning the cradle to the wagon wheel, his team got better and that's what a coach wants to see.
"Everybody got better throughout the season, that's a success story right there," Ensrud said. "Just to be part of the first team, to be a part of the original crew, it's something special. Definitely will be a group we don't forget because they were first. Hopefully we are able to get out and encourage girls to start younger so they have a foundation that makes it easier. Then you just have to do the discipline part, the hard work part."