LITTLETON — Journey Ruiz began competitive wrestling when she was 9 years old after watching her brother’s team and volunteering to help during practice. The sport got her hooked.
Today, as a sophomore wrestler at Chatfield High School, a self-confidence that wrestling inspired has provided Ruiz with a newfound mentality toward the pursuit of success, on and off the mat.
“For my first-ever time wrestling, my first pin and everything, I just felt so awesome,” Ruiz said. “I didn’t really grow up to be winning things. It was just awkward at first. But it felt so nice to win something, and be proud of it, too.”
On Thursday afternoon, beneath a low-hanging spotlight in Chatfield’s home gym, Ruiz displayed just how much she’s learned as one of the top 111-pound wrestlers in the state, pinning her Pomona opponent in 28 seconds as a sparse crowd of masked parents witnessed Colorado high school sports history in the making.
CHSAA’s inaugural season of girls wrestling, after a two-year pilot program, is well underway with at least 425 girls registered to wrestle among 54 schools across the state, according to CHSAA assistant commissioner Adam Bright. Chatfield entered its last home dual as the undefeated top-ranked team in Colorado, per cowrestling.com, and is the two-time defending pilot-program state champion.
But parity in the sport is growing. Fifth-ranked Pomona defeated Chatfield on Thursday, 27-24. Chatfield coach Sandra George, a former NAIA college wrestler, believes her team still has a chance to win it all. Yet the rewards of this season will stretch far beyond a trophy.
“We’ve had a lot of girls that just came out of their bubble,” George said. “I had freshmen that never tried the sport before. They came in with their eyes wide open, ready to work. … They come in every day, get beat up by the girls, and then walk off with smiles. It’s just an appreciation for the sport.
Eric Lutzens, The Denver PostPomona’s Alyra Gomez, top, wrestles Chatfield’s Caley Kling during women’s high school wrestling at Chatfield High School in Littleton on Feb. 18, 2021. Gomez defeated Kling in the match.
“Watching them grow from not knowing anything to getting their first pin, it’s amazing.”
In prior years, high school girls in Colorado joined the boys in the state wrestling tournament. Pioneers like Angel Rios (Valley) and Jaslynn Gallegos (Skyview) broke gender barriers in 2019 as the first girls to reach the state podium. Others saw it differently.
Brendan Johnston, a Classical Academy senior that year, knocked himself out of the state tournament — forfeiting two matches — rather than wrestle a girl.
Yet there is no denying the rapid rise of prep girls wrestling all around the country. The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) reported in its latest available annual survey that 21,124 girls in the U.S. participated in competitive wrestling in 2018-19. Compare that to 2009-10, when only 6,134 girls were on the mat.
Girls are now competing for opportunities beyond high school, too, with many small college programs offering …read more
Source:: The Denver Post – Sports
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