Gone are the days that one or two girls on a co-ed wrestling mat was note-worthy. With six girls on the squad, the female contingent makes up nearly one-third of the Pirate wrestlers.
“It’s totally new and a lot, a lot of fun,” said Drake Coach Johann Gerlach.
What exactly prompted the rush of new female talent to the wrestling room?
“I came out for weight loss, but once I tried it it was really fun. It was something I hadn’t done before, different from other sports,” said freshman Roxanne Mitchell.
“You can get out all your aggression,” agreed fellow freshman Kyle Peterson.
Senior Alanna Hamilton, , has wrestled for the squad for the last few years and paved the way for more girls to join. Once they realized it was fun and no one picked on them too much, the girls just kept coming. One freshman friend came out to watch a match and the next practice was ready to suit up.
"They're really the heart of the team," said Gerlach, pointing out they've formed a team unit at tournaments and have a lot of fun.
Make no mistake about it, however. These girls are more than just tokens on the team. They’re good wrestlers.
Hamiliton and junior Makenna Garcia recently returned from a women’s wrestling camp over winter break and have been getting better and better as the season goes on. Hamilton took fifth in the Castro Valley Girls tournament in December and Garcia took second place in the 132-pound division (and her first medal ever) this past weekend at the Karen Foley Crossface Classic Girls Tournament in Vallejo.
The other four girls are a contingent of freshmen – Mitchell, Peterson, Evelyn Champagne, and Kelsey Lopin – learning the ins and outs of what it takes to wrestle.
“Unlike the guys, the tough-minded, bravado of blasting through obstacles, the girls carry a different cerebral approach. In some degree, it’s more technical since the brute strength approach isn't as applicable,” said Gerlach.
The freshmen group also medaled this past weekend with Mitchell taking 4th (154), Lopin 6th (103), and Champagne 6th (132).
"My first match, I don't even remember anything. You don't see anyone," said Mitchell.
Throughout the season, the girls wrestle co-ed because there aren’t enough girls in the MCAL schools – at least at the other schools. Once they get to NCS, though, girls compete in a separate division. Gerlach is hopeful that some of the female squad will be able to move on in the post-season tournaments.
The hope is also that they’ll be joined by some of their male teammates. Last year, just two Drake wrestlers traveled to the NCS tournament, but Gerlach knows the team is getting stronger and better.
Drake has not historically had a large wrestling squad – nowhere close to the numbers of Novato, San Marin or Terra Linda – but they’ve been growing and gaining momentum.
While the girls and JV squad went to the Vallejo tournament this past weekend, the Varsity team traveled to Valley of the Moon tournament in Sonoma. At the two-day tournament over 1,000 matches were wrestled and four of the five Drake wrestlers managed to place.
Dylan Sayge took second in the heavyweight division with five pins and only lost in the finals to a guy he had already beaten. Mason Bowles (138) took 7th despite being sick and missing the first day, Matt Makohin (170) took 7th, and Jeremy Thornton (145) took 8th.
The team placed 15th with just their five wrestlers, while Novato and Terra Linda placed higher with full squads. But, Gerlach pointed out, Novato had only four kids place as well.
“It shows that if we have the same numbers they do, we're equally as competitive,” he said.
Hopefully, with the girls team creating a cohesive, fun core, they’ll keep bringing more and more of their friends.