Madison-Plains excited about future of girls’ wrestling

Madison-Plains’ girls’ wrestling head coach Eric McDonald Jr. and his team know how to have fun and be serious about their sport, all at the same time.

(Posted Feb. 2, 2023)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

For the past several years, more and more girls have been taking up wrestling, finding spots on boys’ teams. This year, girls’ wrestling is enjoying its first year as a sport sanctioned by the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA), and Eric McDonald Jr., first-year head coach of Madison-Plains High School’s girls wrestling team, is excited.

“They get an OHSAA state championship like the boys’ team does and like any other official sport does. They have their own schedule and their own tournaments, so they don’t have to match up with boys if they don’t want to. There are girls-only tournaments all over the state,” he said.

McDonald is pumped to be involved with new growth in a sport he loves. He wrestled at Reynoldsburg High School, his alma mater, and now coaches alongside one of his Reynoldsburg teammates, Madison-Plains boys’ wrestling head coach Jordan Kramer. He still competes in wrestling, along with jiu-jitsu, judo, and mixed martial arts, something he also did while serving in the U.S. Navy.

“Athletics is a big thing for me. Fitness, sports, lessons of digging deep, finding a better version of yourself… you learn you have the ability to do it, and that translates to life,” McDonald said.

Junior Payne Haverfield has the upper hand in one of her first meets as a member of the Madison-Plains’ girls’ wrestling team.

He’s sharing that enthusiasm with his small but committed team: junior Payne Haverfield, a first-year wrestler competing in the 155-pound class; sophomore Kyleigh Elfrink, a returning wrestler, in the 110-pound class; and freshman Tara Nagel, a first-year wrestler competing at 235 pounds. Senior Emma Rife started the season but was sidelined with a shoulder injury.

Nagel is loving her new sport. She splits her time between powerlifting and wrestling, hitting powerlifting tournaments on the weekends when she doesn’t have wrestling. She said her brother, junior Trevor Hardin, also a powerlifter and a first-year wrestler, nudged her to give wrestling a try.

“I’m into muscle sports, and I just felt wrestling was something I would like to try,” she said.

When she took first place in her very first meet this season, Trevor was right there jumping up and down, cheering her on.

Nagel said she appreciates that sibling support, along with the bonds she has made with her teammates and coach.

“Our team jokes a lot, but we also take it super serious. It’s something I love being part of because they are always there for me, and I am there for them,” she said.

Kyleigh Elfrink, a sophomore on Madison-Plains’ girls’ wrestling team, competes at a meet earlier this season. After recovering from a concussion and a sprained shoulder, she returned to the mat Jan. 22 and looks forward to post-season competition.

Though she’s only a sophomore, Elfrink entered this season with several years of experience. She started wrestling through the Golden Eagle Youth Sports Association, then joined the Madison-Plains Junior High team, and has continued wrestling at the high school level.

“It helps with my mental health, helps with keeping me in shape, and it just helps me get out anger and frustration through the day and through the week,” she said about why she likes the sport.

She said OHSAA’s sanctioning of girls’ wrestling means more opportunities for competitive experiences at the high school level, something she hopes sets the foundation for competitive opportunities after graduation.

“My plan is to get into college wrestling,” she said.

McDonald said Haverfield is making the most of her first year as a wrestler. Early on, she placed second in her division at the Heart of Ohio wrestling tournament in Mechanicsburg.

Freshman Tara Nagel is already racking up hardware as a first-year member of Madison-Plains’ girls’ wrestling team.

All of the girls are making great strides, McDonald said. They had to climb a learning curve early in the season, but with each meet, have showed improvement. By mid-season, they were starting to turn a corner, he said.

“They’ve been matching better with girls with more experience. Over time, we will be able to match up with some of these top-level schools,” he predicted.

A month from now, they will have their first chance to qualify for an OHSAA-sanctioned state tournament. Post-season opportunities for girls’ high school wrestling start with regionals which determines state qualifiers. Four regional tournaments are slated for March 5. Hosts include Harrison, Marysville, Mentor, and Olentangy Orange. The girls’ state tournament will take place alongside the boys’ state tournament March 10-12 at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.

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