First official season for girls wrestling in Pennsylvania getting started

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Saturday, December 9, 2023 | 12:33 AM


The date May 17, 2023, will not soon be forgotten by those who follow and have an affinity for girls wrestling locally and throughout Pennsylvania.

That day, the PIAA officially sanctioned the sport, making good on its promise that if schools in the state came through and 100 or more sponsored girls wrestling, it would do the same.

Pennsylvania became the 38th state to sanction girls wrestling, and now more than 30 teams in the WPIAL, including four in the Alle-Kiski Valley, are putting the finishing touches on preparations to compete, in head-to-head dual meets and also tournaments.

“My friend has been coaching a boys team in New Jersey for a while, and he helped start a girls team about four or five years ago,” said Plum girls wresting coach Dave Miller, who guides a group of 10 Mustangs wrestlers, a mix of veteran competitors and others new to the sport, into Saturday’s Butler Invitational, the first official event on the area schedule this season.

“Pennsylvania didn’t have it yet. But there’s been such a groundswell of interest and support the past couple of years. It’s just taken off. Last year, they doubled the number of schools from the year before. It’s growing like wild fire.”

Plum, Kiski Area and Fox Chapel will be among more than a dozen teams joining a number of individuals from other schools who don’t sponsor girls wrestling hoping for positive results at Butler.

Girls at Knoch, Highlands and Riverview wrestle with the boys teams at their school, but they also will test their mettle at tournaments throughout Western Pennsylvania through February.

Knoch junior Miranda LeJevic and teammate Braylee Ireland, a sophomore, are two of the area’s more experienced wrestlers. They went 9-7 and 6-3, respectively, in high school girls matches last year. Both competed at states.

The journey to sanctioning girls wrestling in Pennsylvania began in March 2020 when the school board at Lancaster’s J.P. McCaskey voted to begin a girls program.

There were nine teams by the end of 2020, including North Allegheny. By the end of 2021, that number grew to 31. Kiski Area was the last to join that year.

Plum joined in June 2022, and Fox Chapel did so this year.

Eight girls wrestled on the Foxes boys team last year. Four of them returned and are part of the 15-member girls squad this season under coach Michael Frank.

Burrell is the latest school from the WPIAL to make the move as its school board voted the team into reality Nov. 21. A group of eight girls, all underclassmen, had been holding workouts in advance of the anticipated vote.

Kiski Area opens the season with seven wrestlers. All of them also are underclassmen.

Sophomore Ava Golding made a name for herself last year when she went 4-0 and edged Cavaliers teammate Bella DeVito in a championship match at the Powerade girls tournament at the end of December.

DeVito, a 2023 Kiski grad, is a freshman on the women’s wrestling team at Lock Haven.

Golding is back to provide experience and leadership to what coach Karly Jo Thomas said is a group of eager but less-experienced competitors.

“We started workouts and conditioning at the beginning of November,” said Thomas, an area mixed-martial artist who answered the call to coach at Kiski Area when asked to help lead the program. “It’s been an interesting experience. Honestly, the hardest part is everything but the coaching. It’s insane to think how much these girls have grown and improved in just a month. They are so ready to compete.

“Ava has been a tremendous help, pretty much as a coach herself. She helps me make sure I am explaining things correctly, and she is excited to see this team flourish. That is a really good asset to have for us.”

History will be made Wednesday with the A-K Valley’s first official girls wrestling dual meet at Burrell. The teams will add to the rich tradition of wrestling between Burrell and Kiski Area and do battle as part of a tripleheader also involving the junior high and boys varsity teams.

“They are super excited for that match,” Thomas said. “I don’t know as much about the rivalry as others, but I know it is a big deal to the girls. There is respect there, and it will be an eye-opening experience for everyone.”

Plum and Fox Chapel met last year for a dual at Plum, and the teams will face off again Jan. 3 at Fox Chapel.

Powerade on Dec. 27 at Canon-McMillan, the Mt. Lebanon Winter Classic and Mid-Winter Mayhem at IUP on Jan. 13 and the Wright Automotive Tournament on Feb. 3 at North Allegheny are some of the opportunities for area girls to compete and hone their skills before the first WPIAL championship tournament Feb. 17.

A West Regional at Canon-McMillan on March 2 will lead into the PIAA championships March 7-9 at Hershey’s Giant Center.

“Last year felt real for the girls even though it wasn’t sanctioned yet,” Miller said. “The state tournament was really nice. It was real wrestling. I was shocked at the quality of talent at the state level, and even at our regional level. It is a pretty high level.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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