Isabella McNutt hears the cheers on Hampton wrestling team

Saturday, January 22, 2022 | 11:01 AM

Hampton sophomore Isabella McNutt began martial arts at age 4 and earned her Taekwondo black belt at age 7.

But she sought something new.

“I’ve always wanted to do wrestling,” she said. “I feel like it expands my knowledge in all martial arts. I thought, ‘Wow, that looks cool.’ I kind of just wanted to try it.”

In her debut year in the sport, McNutt became the first Hampton female wrestler to start a varsity match since Lisa Bisers in 2001. The 15-year-old McNutt is also the first girl that Hampton’s Nick Endres has coached in his 13 seasons at various levels.

McNutt, who wrestles at 106 pounds, has a 3-5 record as of Jan. 11, including a 15-9 decision over Mt. Pleasant’s William Shipley on Dec. 11 at the Hampton Dawg Duals for her first on-mat varsity victory.

Endres said the home crowd rallied behind McNutt, who had won a match by forfeit earlier in the season.

“Everybody in the gym, their eyes were glued to the center mat when she was wrestling,” said Endres, in his first season as Hampton head coach. “It was a pretty close match, going back and forth. I believe by the time when the end of the match was coming and she finally secured the lead and got the victory, most of everybody in the stands were on their feet.”

Said McNutt, “I was very excited. It was definitely an experience. Everyone cheering for you is a great feeling.”

The 5-foot-2 McNutt is no stranger to the big stage. She trains for Kaminski’s ATA Martial Arts Academy in Hampton and won a 2019 world championship in combat sparring. She competed earlier this month at a regional event in Memphis, Tenn., and will travel to the Taekwondo Spring Nationals from April 13-16 in Las Vegas.

In the meantime, she is focused on improving on the wrestling mat, while still training in mixed martial arts. She was pinned in each of her first three losses but lasted all six minutes in the next two losses. Her postseason will begin with the Section 1-3A tournament Feb. 26 at Kiski Area.

“I feel like I’m definitely getting better,” she said. “I feel there is definitely room for improvement. My coaches have pointed out that I am definitely improving.”

Said Endres, “She has battled more and more as the season has gone on.”

McNutt’s background in mixed martial arts translated into a quick learner in wrestling. Her mat awareness and technique bely her inexperience in the sport.

“She is picking up technique very fast, faster than most first-year wrestlers,” Endres said. “Probably moreso than any other first-year wrestler I’ve coached before. Her background in (mixed martial arts) definitely helps. But her attitude that she brings to practice every day is another key ingredient which makes her such a great student of the sport and why she’s learning so quick.”

Only a handful of WPIAL schools sponsor girls wrestling teams, so McNutt competes against the boys. She said other wrestlers “definitely” underestimate her because she’s a girl.

“I’ve noticed that it also makes them try harder because they always want to beat the girl,” she said.

McNutt’s coaches and teammates know better than to shortchange her.

“I don’t think they are taking her lightly,” Endres said. “Once they are actually in the match with her, within the first minute, they know that it’s going to be a tough match.”

“She’s going to do a very good job,” sophomore Caleb Rihn said before the season. “Looking at her performing in the room, she is definitely shaping up to become a good wrestler. She holds her own in the room, and she definitely goes as hard as she can.”

McNutt said she has a personal goal of reaching the PIAA wrestling tournament someday. She also wants to prove she belongs on the same mat as more experienced wrestlers.

“I just make sure I focus on beating them,” she said. “I don’t really think about what the other person is thinking. I want to go out there and show them what I have, no matter what they think about me.”


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