Hampton wrestler Isabella McNutt takes another shot at nationals

Saturday, July 8, 2023 | 8:01 AM

Making the 1,100-mile trek from Pittsburgh to Fargo, N.D., is becoming an annual summer trip for Hampton’s Isabella McNutt.

McNutt placed fourth at the USA Wrestling Northeast Regional Championships in mid-May in Atlantic City, N.J., to punch a return ticket to the Junior Nationals on July 15-23, in Fargo, ND.

The 17-year-old rising high school senior was scheduled to depart July 12 with roughly 100 Pennsylvania wrestlers on chartered buses for the nation’s biggest junior/16U freestyle wrestling event.

“We all go out on a bus together,” said McNutt, who will compete July 15-16 in the 112-pound junior women freestyle division. “It should definitely be interesting.”

McNutt will face some of the best female wrestlers in the nation. Last year’s 112-pound junior women’s bracket featured 85 entrants from around the U.S. McNutt went 1-2 last summer as a 16-year-old in the 112-pound junior freestyle division.

She believes the experience will benefit her during the return visit.

“I’m very excited to show how much I’ve improved over this past year,” she said. “I think I will feel a little calmer this year. … I hope to just do better than I did last year and compete my hardest and see where it gets me.”

North Allegheny girls wrestling coach Dan Heckert, who has worked with McNutt each of the past two summers, expects a more poised wrestler this year.

“That first trip to Fargo and experiencing how crazy that is and the pressures of it, she doesn’t have to relive that now,” Heckert said. “She knows what to expect. It’s not a fear thing anymore. She is ready to perform going in there.”

The trip to Junior Nationals is the culmination of a busy offseason for McNutt, who last season went 9-10 at 107 pounds facing the high school boys and became the first female wrestler in program history to qualify for the WPIAL Class 2A championship.

Later in the spring, she placed third at the Western Regional and sixth at 106 pounds at the 2023 Pennsylvania Girls State Wrestling Championship in Harrisburg.

Her high school postseason this winter will be different. Because the PIAA sanctioned girls wrestling as a sport beginning in 2023-24, McNutt will compete against boys during the regular season before entering the WPIAL girls’ postseason tournaments.

She said she has wrestled in roughly 30-40 competitive matches at events around the East Coast this offseason.

“It’s been a lot,” said McNutt, who also works with Pitt Bull wrestling club coach Sunny Abe. “I did as many as I could in order to improve my mat time.”

McNutt followed her fourth-place finish at regionals by taking second at 106 at the PA/USA Wrestling State Championship on May 19-21, in Reading. She also competed in a handful of local USA Wrestling qualifiers and went 2-2 at 106 at the Viper Pit Nationals on April 2, in Triadelphia, W.Va.

When she wasn’t competing, McNutt attended a pair of wrestling camps in Lock Haven and a four-day all-girls camp at the University of Iowa, training under the Hawkeyes women’s wrestlers and their world champion coach Clarissa Chun.

One of the highlights was meeting former Hawkeye and WPIAL star Spencer Lee, a three-time NCAA champion from Franklin Regional.

“It’s actually a really funny story,” McNutt said. “A lot of people in the gym were like, ‘Wouldn’t it be really cool if we got to meet Spencer Lee?’ Coach Chun reached out to Spencer Lee to come and meet a lot of us girls. We see him as an amazing athlete and we wanted to meet him and get the chance to talk to him.”

McNutt is an accomplished martial artist who earned her Taekwondo black belt at age 7 and won a 2019 world championship in combat sparring. She didn’t start wrestling until her sophomore year in high school, and Heckert said she has “just scratched the surface.”

“Her best years are ahead of her,” he said. “If she decides to wrestle in college, that’s where we will really see her flourish.”


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