As girls wrestling grows, Quaker Valley looks to build program

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Sunday, July 23, 2023 | 11:01 AM


The date May 17 is historic and highly significant in the state of Pennsylvania, as well as the WPIAL.

The PIAA board of directors voted unanimously on that date to sponsor girls wrestling as a sport, starting in 2023-24.

“I think it’s great and long overdue to have the PIAA sanction girls wrestling,” said Austin Heinl, head coach of the successful Quaker Valley wrestling program. “We had a girl wrestle on our team when the varsity program started in 2016. That was Paige Lenhardt from the Class of 2020. She is currently wrestling at Division II Tiffin University.

“Seeing the growth and support from other schools across Pennsylvania, it made us assess what it would take to start a girls wrestling team. We plan on taking the same approach we did when starting the boys wrestling program.”

Quaker Valley has the blueprint to success in its archives.

The Quakers began the boys varsity wrestling program seven years ago and have established themselves as a WPIAL power. QV won the WPIAL Class 2A team title in 2022, knocking Burrell off its perch after 15 consecutive championship seasons.

QV’s youth program began in 2012.

“We are starting our girls youth program for the 2023-2024 season. This will allow us to build it from the ground up and build support,” Heinl said. “We have a handful of girls in our youth program already that we can build a solid foundation around. A lot of those girls already have a lot of state tournament experience.”

Dublin Parnell, Ireland Parnell and Abby Hillman represented Quaker Valley Youth Wrestling at the Keystone State girls youth championships this past season.

“Breslyn Simmons is another one (to watch),” Heinl said. “She doesn’t have as much experience as the others, but she is practicing a lot in the offseason with the other three girls.”

The girls are coached by Alyssa Beth Parnell, Dublin’s and Ireland’s mother, who has been a Quaker Valley Wrestling Association mentor for a decade.

“Girls wrestling is on the rise as interest continues to grow,” she said. “Our young ladies have proven they are willing to work hard, and their achievements in this sport are nothing short of amazing.

“This season, Ireland made a conscious effort to help build the girls program at Quaker Valley, making sure to take time at practice to train and help the program’s newer grapplers, both boys and girls.”

Alyssa Beth comes from a wrestling family and is a staunch believer in girls competing on the mats, both at the youth and high school levels.

“Girls wrestling is the No. 1 growing sport in the nation right now at the scholastic and collegiate levels,” she said. “Our state had its 100th school add a girls team to their program, which is the PIAA requirement to start the process of sanctioning a girls division across the state.

“At the youth level, the sport itself is growing insanely fast. There were 444 girls that signed up to compete at the Keystone State championships, up from 263 last year. A 70% increase is no small progression. So, while at this age they would prefer wrestling with the boys, we would love it if Quaker Valley had a girls team.”

Chris Pacellio serves as head coach of the Quaker Valley Wrestling Association.

“The rise in the number of girls participating in wrestling is terrific for the sport, and I hope we continue to see the numbers increase,” he said. “Specifically, we are hoping to have our own girls youth team (this) year and a girls middle school and high school team in the near future.”

Quaker Valley anticipates initially establishing a co-operative program for the older girls that are interested in the sport.

“For our high school and middle school girls teams,” Heinl said, “we hope to have a co-op with another school to provide an opportunity for girls that want to wrestle in the next couple seasons.

“Once we have enough support built up in the youth program, we can field our own high school girls team.”

Pennsylvania became the 39th state to officially sponsor girls wrestling.

Vince Sortino is the chief operating officer of the WPIAL and a longtime athletic director and coach.

Sortino is elated that girls wrestling is now a sanctioned sport across the state.

“I believe it is another great opportunity for our female athletes to compete and show their athleticism,” he said.

Plans are being made to hold a PIAA girls wrestling tournament at Giant Center in Hershey the same weekend as the boys tournament for the 2023-24 season.

According to Sanction PA, a group that has advocated to sponsor girls wrestling in Pennsylvania, there were more than 500 participants in grades seven and eight and more than 1,000 participants for high school athletes during the 2022-23 school year.

SanctionPA members worked toward official sponsorship for three years, and the PIAA in December 2021 officially recognized girls wrestling as an emerging sport.

At the beginning of the 2022-23 season, SanctionPA listed 111 schools across the state that offered girls wrestling as a team sport.

“In line with national trends, we anticipate the girls wrestling participation numbers to increase with the official vote to sanction the sport,” said Brooke Zumas, president of SanctionPA, in a statement. “And it is with great anticipation we look forward to celebrating the very first PIAA-sponsored girls wrestling state tournament.

“In just three years, SanctionPA and the schools across the state were able to mobilize and showcase the support for this rapidly growing sport. We look forward to continuing to advocate and support the growth of the sport in the state.”

WPIAL schools that sponsored girls wrestling teams in 2022-23 included North Allegheny, Canon-McMillan, Connellsville, Kiski Area, Southmoreland, Plum, Fort Cherry, Seneca Valley, Laurel, Mt. Lebanon, Moon, Burgettstown, Pine-Richland, Penn Hills, Trinity and Peters Township.

This past winter, area girls competed in several dual meets and individual tournaments, including the Western Pa. wrestling championships at North Allegheny and a regional tournament at Kiski Area. There also was a state tournament held at Central Dauphin.

Additional tournaments at IUP and Southmoreland led up to the Western Pa. championships at North Allegheny. And a girls individual tournament has been established at the prestigious Powerade tournament between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Over the years, many girls have practiced and competed for Quaker Valley’s youth wrestling program.

Those numbers certainly will increase in the years ahead.

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