Quaker Valley girls wrestlers making statewide splash in youth competition

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Sunday, April 9, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Quaker Valley Wrestling Association was well-represented at the Keystone State youth championships this past season.

In fact, three QV girls — Dublin Parnell, Ireland Parnell and Abby Hillman — finished as medalists in the statewide competition.

“Dublin, Ireland and Abby’s performances were truly outstanding as all three wrestled the top competition in the state,” said Chris Pacellio, QVWA’s head coach. “Pennsylvania is traditionally a wrestling powerhouse, and it’s amazing to have so much success.

“I speak for the entire Quaker Valley Wrestling Association when I say we are immensely proud of their accomplishments, and it speaks to the hours of hard work and dedication these girls have to the sport.”

The trio is coached by Alyssa Beth Parnell, Dublin’s and Ireland’s mother, who has been a QVWA 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.”

Pacellio agreed.

“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 next year and a girls middle school and high school team in the near future.”

The Keystone State youth wrestling championships took place March 19 at the Kovalchick Athletic Complex at IUP.

Dublin Parnell was a state runner-up in the 8-and-under/50-pound weight class and a third-place medalist at the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling Tournament — improving from fourth place at both events last year.

She also was the girls champion in the 44-to-52 pounds division at the 2022 Powerade Junior Tournament, one of the state’s most prestigious competitions.

Dublin is a second-year grappler whose older siblings, Eoin, a freshman on Quaker Valley’s varsity team, and Ireland have been involved in the sport since 2013. Dublin, naturally, wanted to follow in their footsteps.

Dublin also captured the Pennsylvania Novice state crown in both the boys and girls divisions and represented PA West at a national girls duals event (Viper Pit Nationals).

Ireland Parnell is 10 and a fifth-year competitor in the QVWA. Ireland corralled seventh place in the 10-and-under/56-pound weight class at the Keystone State championships.

She took third at the Powerade tournament last year and barely missed placing at both state tournaments.

“Watching her older brother on the mat made her quickly fall in love with wrestling,” said her mom and coach, Alyssa Beth. “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.”

Along with finishing as a medalist at the Keystone State championships, Ireland advanced to the blood round at the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling Tournament. She also represented PA West.

Dublin, Ireland and Eoin (pronounced Owen) Parnell have two additional siblings, Maeve and Lochlann.

“My husband Brendan and I both come from Irish backgrounds,” Alyssa Beth said, “and Brendan’s entire family have Irish or Gaelic names. So we followed the tradition of giving our own children Irish names.

“I come from a wrestling family and wrestled in high school for a short time. I did, however, participate in the USGWA (United States Girls Wrestling Association) state championships back in 2000 and 2001. They were very small with mismatched weights. I placed third the first year and second the next.”

Brendan Parnell does not have a background in wrestling, but it has become part of his everyday lifestyle.

“He has been learning in the 10 years my son has been involved in wrestling,” Alyssa Beth said. “Brendan’s gone from knowing nothing at all to stepping into the coaching corner any time he’s needed.

“My older son plays a very active role in coaching his sisters as well.”

Abby Hillman celebrated her seventh birthday in January and is in her first year of wrestling. She placed eighth in the 8-and-under/60-pound weight class at the state championships.

“Abby started her season in December a few weeks after her older brother had begun,” Alyssa Beth said. “With each practice, it was easy to see she was going to have a future in this sport. She not only did so well at the state tournament, but Mt. Lebanon hosted an all-girls event where she won all her matches.

“Seeing her place eighth at the Keystone tournament was a testament to her hard work and dedication to getting better.”

Abby is in first grade at Edgeworth elementary and has competed in mostly first-year or exhibition matches. She also is involved in Girl Scouts, basketball, softball and dance.

Coach Parnell takes a fundamental approach in the gym with emphasis on improving each wrestler’s self-confidence.

“My philosophy is that you must have a good foundation,” she said, “so the basics really matter. The more you wrestle, the better you’ll be. This sport is as much mental as it is physical, so you must always have a plan and believe in your training.

“For newer wrestlers, setting small goals that aren’t necessarily about winning makes the process more fun. For girls specifically, I remind them that not only do they work just as hard as anyone in the room but sometimes harder, and that they’ve earned the right to be there.”

The Parnell sisters weren’t the only Quaker Valley grapplers able to reel in medals at both postseason tournaments.

Middle-school students Brennan Breisinger and Patrick Bulger also were medalists at both events.

“Patrick and Brennan’s accomplishments were equally outstanding, especially given the high level of competition,” Pacellio said. “Both spend long hours dedicated to their craft and it’s evident in the results.

“Quaker Valley Wrestling Association is immensely proud of their accomplishments and look forward to what is in store for both as they start their journey into the future as leaders of Quaker Valley wrestling.”

Breisinger zeroed in on second place in the 12-and-under/200-pound class at both events. Bulger, competing in the 12-and-under/75-pound weight class, finished fourth at the Keystone State championships and third at PJW.

“All of these kids are incredibly hard-working, polite and are great teammates,” Pacellio said. “For all of the hours spent in the wrestling room getting better individually, they also worked diligently to make their teammates better, which is great to see as a coach.

“All five of these kids will be instrumental to the success of Quaker Valley wrestling in the next few years, and I am incredibly excited to see what comes next.”

Jason Richey is president of the QVWA. Pacellio and Parnell are joined on the coaching staff by Keegan Forsythe, Keith Helman, Eric Reynolds, Dave Coates and Claude Smith.

Parnell is a staunch believer in and advocate of girls competing on the mats at both the youth and high school levels.

“Girls wrestling is the No. 1-growing sport in the nation at the scholastic and collegiate levels,” she said. “Just last month, our state had its 100th school to add a girls team to their program.

“At the youth level, the sport 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.”

The Quaker Valley Wrestling Association booster organization supports the youth, middle school and high school wrestling programs in Quaker Valley.

“Our board and funds cover all K-12 wrestling in this area,” coach Parnell said. “Our program started with just the youth in 2012 and has since grown with the addition of middle school and high school programs in the district.”

Many girls have competed for the QVWA over the years. Mya Eshenbaugh, who took first place at the PJW tournament in 2018, remains the only one to win a state title.

“Mya is actually our next-door neighbor,” Mrs. Parnell said, “so after the state championships, I reminded her that she is still the only Quaker Valley state champion (in wrestling).”

This year’s PJW championships took place March 24-25 at Petersen Events Center.

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