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‘Band of sisters’ take it to the mat

First IHSAA-sanctioned all-girls wrestling tournament held

Wrestlers (L-R) Kaylee Page, Sierra McWilliams, Brittney Benavidez and Gianna Skovajsa are ready to compete at districts in Kamiah Feb. 17.

Photo by Lorie Palmer
Wrestlers (L-R) Kaylee Page, Sierra McWilliams, Brittney Benavidez and Gianna Skovajsa are ready to compete at districts in Kamiah Feb. 17.

Tenacity, perseverance and determination are all qualities used to describe wrestlers. And Idaho County’s female crew is no different than others.

Four Idaho County girls – Brittney Benavidez, Gianna Skovajsa, Kaylee Page and Sierra McWilliams – are on their respective high school rosters as wrestlers.

This band of sisters may be the minority in a male-dominated sport, but they aren’t focusing on the fact they are female. They are working on honing their skills and having fun while they perfect their crafts.

Wrestling participation numbers are changing

In 2009-10 there were 272,890 boys in high school wrestling programs across the United States and 6,134 girls. In 2016-17, boys wrestling numbers has dropped to 244,804, and girl wrestler numbers had risen to 14,587.

In Idaho in 2016-17, there were 2,446 boys who wrestled in high school programs and 40 girls participating.

—National Federation of State High School Associations

“I started wrestling when I was about 4 and I’m continuing on for a college scholarship,” said Grangeville High School sophomore Brittney Benavidez.

But college wrestling is not where her dreams end.

“I plan to wrestle in the Olympics,” she smiled.

The 5-foot fireball is in the 138-weight class and doesn’t let her smaller stature get in the way of what she wants to do.

Benavidez is currently undefeated in her weight class and, aside from high school wrestling, will add Team Idaho Wrestling (a national team) to her endeavors this year.

Benavidez said the boys on her team have been “really supportive.”

“My parents are also very supportive and push me to my limits and keep me going,” she added.

She keeps herself busy and in shape year-round, participating in volleyball, softball and rodeo, and is a princess for Triple Bar Drill Team.

Benavidez has seen the sport pick up some for girls since she started high school.

“Our district has about six girls, which is really good compared to last year when we only had two,” she said, though she still usually wrestles boys considering not all the girls are the same weight class.

Currently, six states have official state sanction for girls high school wrestling: Hawaii, Texas, California, Washington, Tennessee and Alaska.

“The 2017 year was a banner year for girls’ wrestling gaining media coverage and exposure across the USA. Coaches and parents all over the country realize the need and importance for girls to compete against their own gender,” said Joan Fulp of California, a leader with the Girls High School Sanctioning Resource Committee.

Gianna Skovajsa is a freshman who just moved to Grangeville last year from Spokane, Wash.

“I planned to play basketball once I started school [at Grangeville High],” she said. “I participated in basketball for about a week then I met a couple of the wrestlers.”

Wrestling had always been a sport she wanted to try, she said, but “I didn’t have the courage and didn’t want to feel alone as being the only girl.”

She met senior Blake Courtney and he convinced her to join wrestling even though she “barely knew anything about the sport,” she said, thought she has participated in other sports including volleyball, basketball, softball and track.

“My favorite part about wrestling is the time and effort I spend with my team.” Skovajsa said. “Every day since the first day I walked into the wrestling room I’ve learned so much. I love practicing every day with my teammates. Each individual teaches me and guides me.”

During practice, Skovajsa spends a lot of time competing with Benavidez.

“She guides me and helps me improve on the moves we practice,” she said.

On Feb. 10, the duo went to all girls regional event in Boise where the 5’1 Skovajsa competed in her weight class of 113.

She said she appreciates her coach, Tyler Bransford, who “puts a lot of effort into me.”

“He has taught me almost everything I know about wrestling,” she said,

Skovajsa said her mother has been very supportive and enjoys watching her matches and her father has traveled to see her wrestle as well, eager to tell of his wrestling experiences she said.

So far, she has not won a match – but that doesn’t curb her enthusiasm.

“This experience alone is amazing, and I want to continue,” she smiled.

Freshman Kaylee Page is in her first year of wrestling at Kooskia’s Clearwater Valley High School.

“I chose wrestling because I have always been a more independent person, and wrestling is an independent sport,” she explained, “so, if I mess up there is no one to blame but me. To me that is important.” Page also plays volleyball.

Page said she has had “great support” all the way around and thinks of wrestlers as “one big family.”

“My favorite part about wrestling is, as weird as it sounds, is practice,” she grinned. “Since this is my first year, I don’t know much, so being able to work with my coach every day helps me a lot.”

The 5’3, 132-class wrestler plans to continue the sport throughout high school and said she would also like to join Team Idaho Women’s Wrestling.

“So far, my season has been very good. I have only won one match but that is ok with me,” she emphasized. “I am very excited to be able to learn and improve as I go. Practices can be very hard, but that is what helps me. I really like that.”

Page offered thanks to her coach, Carlos Martinez, whom she said she has learned a lot from, as well as fellow female wrestler Benavidez, who has given her “many tips before my matches.”

“And I really thank my teammates who help me a lot, explain things to me and who treat me like a wrestler – not a girl,” she stated.

Sierra McWilliams of Cottonwood is a 5’1” freshman at Prairie High School.

“I chose wrestling because I did it in junior high and I enjoyed it, so I decided to do it this year, as well,” she said.

In the 103-pound weight class, she also participates in volleyball, track and gymnastics.

She said her favorite part of wrestling is when she wins, “because my boys I wrestle aren’t expecting a girl to win,” she smiled.

She said her friends, as well as her parents and family have been very supportive.

“My dad is my coach and he encourages me,” she said. “I plan to wrestle in coming years, as well.”

McWilliams said her season has been “quite an experience.”

“It is a little bit different than junior high wrestling, but it is very fun,” she added.

The Jaybird Memorial Wrestling Tournament was held Feb. 10 at Columbia High in Nampa, the first all-girls wrestling tournament ever sanctioned by the Idaho High School Activities Association (IHSAA). Benevidez came in first place and Skovajsa took fourth in their respective weight classes.

At the district meet in Kamiah Feb. 17, McWilliams came in third in the 106-pound weight divison and will head on to state competition.

“I’m having fun and besides getting better and continuing on, that’s what’s important,” stated Benavidez.


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