(Posted Feb. 23, 2022)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Five Madison County athletes competed at the girls’ state wrestling tournament. Three made the podium. Their coaches are thrilled for all of them and excited about the future of girls’ wrestling.
The competition, the third of its kind hosted by the Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association, took place Feb. 19-20 at Hilliard Davidson High School. A total of 224 wrestlers from 121 schools competed in one statewide division. Four Jonathan Alder wrestlers and one Madison-Plains wrestler were among them.
Jonathan Alder Coach Tony Watson was pleased to have all four girls on the team make it to state. As a group, they notched several top-three team finishes through the season, including third place at districts. At state, they finished 10th as a team and were the highest placing Div. II team.
Individually, sophomore Sadie Napier, who placed sixth at state last year, finished fourth this year in the 105-pound weight class. Although she had hoped to do better, she said she was happy to finish a couple of places higher than last year. In the match to determine fourth place, she pinned an opponent who had pinned her earlier in the season.
When asked to compare her 2021 and 2022 state experiences, Napier said, “It was better this year because I knew what to expect, but it will still very nerve-wracking.”
Sophomore Ava Ater, a state qualifier last year, finished fifth this year in the 120-pound class. She was especially proud of her final match in which she notched a last-second win against an opponent who beat her the day before in a last-second win.
As for her expectations going into the state tournament, Ater said, “I didn’t have a super high goal of placing; I was just glad to be there and be a part of it.”
In her first season of wrestling, junior Alahna Levasseur placed sixth at state in the 140-pound class. One of the standout moments of the weekend, she said, was her victory over an opponent from River Valley who had beaten her all season long.
Levasseur got into wrestling with encouragement from her friend, Grace Jones, a London High school wrestling standout who now wrestles for Tiffin University. Levasseur says she plans to wrestle again next year.
About the state experience, she said, “It was one of the best sports experiences I’ve ever had, even with starting a new sport.” She also plays volleyball.
Another first-time wrestler, senior Lexus Leisure, won one match at state in the 130-pound class.
“I was happy to get past district and win at least one match at state,” she said.
After watching wrestling throughout high school, Leisure decided to give the sport a go, in part, so that she could help her younger step-siblings who wrestle for Mechanicsburg. She said she plans to continue with the sport after graduation, as well as follow in her father’s footsteps by pursuing mixed martial arts competition.
“We are extremely excited about how these young ladies did this year. The future for all of them looks wonderful,” Watson said, noting that Leisure has offers to wrestle at the college level. “The girls on this team have really elevated themselves to an elite status.”
“We definitely have a solid foundation going into next year,” said Coach Nick Christopher.
Like Jonathan Alder, Madison-Plains had four girls wrestle this season. Freshman Candra Hartman, brand new to the sport, was the school’s sole state qualifier. Competing in the 235-pound class, she won one of her three matches at state.
“I really loved it,” Hartman said of her trip to state. “Even though I lost and didn’t go back the next day, it was a really fun experience.”
She placed third at district to qualify for the state competition. Other highlights of her season included winning three straight matches and placing third at her first tournament in Reynoldsburg. She also was proud to score a victory at the Mechanicsburg tournament against a highly ranked opponent who had previously beaten her.
Hartman plans to wrestle again next year. She said her goals are to have fun, make it to state again and place at state.
Coach Jordan Cramer said Hartman showed fantastic growth this season. He said she used her quickness to her advantage. He also said it was interesting to watch her transform from a shy, timid person off the mat into a fierce competitor on the mat.
Madison-Plains senior Savanna Reed, a state qualifier last year, was a state alternate this year in the 155-pound class. Freshman Kyleigh Elfrink was a state alternate in the 110-pound class. Junior Emma Rife wrestled this season at 100 pounds and 105 pounds.
“Even with just four girls, we were still in the points hunt as a team this season. We were finishing in the top 10 by the end of the season, rather than in the bottom third,” Cramer said.
Madison-Plains finished in the top 10 against 34 other schools at the Bellefontaine tournament. They placed 10th of 43 schools at districts.
Looking to the future
Each year, more and more girls are taking up the sport of wrestling. The Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association has helped to shine a spotlight on that fact by hosting a state tournament.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) has taken notice and is conferring sanctioned status on girls’ wrestling as a sport and, starting next year, will host a sanctioned state tournament.
Coaches from Madison County are excited to see the sport grow. They were especially impressed with the caliber of competition at state this year.
“It was a solid tournament. There was some great wrestling taking place,” said Alder’s Christopher.
“The competition was way better this year than it was last year,” said Madison-Plains’ Cramer. “As we’ve moved toward sanctioning girls’ wrestling, I feel the talent has gotten better–just more girls out there to push each other to get better.”
Both Cramer and Alder’s Watson said their goal for next year is to recruit more girls to the sport.
“It looks like that is going to happen for us,” Watson said.
Cramer said Madison-Plains has a strong youth wrestling program that includes several girls this year. He said the program hopes to hold a one-day girls’ wrestling camp this spring or summer.