Others may advance to state, but Katie Gavere will always hold the distinction of being the first female from the Grand Forks Central High School wrestling program to qualify for the North Dakota state tournament.
That was back in 2010. Gavere is back with the program as a volunteer assistant coach. And some things have changed. Whereas Gavere was the lone female on the Central team when she went to state, three girls are now in the practice room.
“I think it’s pretty awesome,’’ Gavere said. “The girls can relate to each other and what they’re going through.
“I’d always hoped to get back involved somehow in wrestling. I have a passion for it. To be able to do it and support the girls, that’s important to me.’’
Four females started the season with the team. Three remain -- sophomore Isbella Flores and freshmen McKenzie Fincher and Allyssa Johnson. None have wrestled in a varsity dual.
Central has never had more than one female on its wrestling team. The influx this season was after a recruiting effort by Central’s coaches.
They had posters in the high school and junior highs prior to the season inviting girls to try out. For the first time, coaches held a separate preseason meeting for females.
“It was a great unknown,’’ Central coach Jeff Welsh said. “We went into the informational meeting not knowing if we’d have one girl, a handful of girls or 20some girls. We had a handful. Hopefully we can build on these numbers.
“Girls wrestling is growing rapidly across the country. It’s sanctioned in about 20 states. We’re seeing more women’s college teams every year. It’s been getting bigger at the club level. I love the sport. I think it should be there for anybody who’s interested, regardless of gender.’’
While there is no female-only high school team in North Dakota, Welsh said almost every Class A team in the state has at least one girl on the roster. Some have had one or more girls in the starting lineup this season.
Johnson is in her second season in the sport. She tried volleyball and didn’t like it. She likes the physicality of wrestling as opposed to basketball.
“I like how competitive it is,’’ Johnson said. “If you check somebody in basketball, you get called for a foul. If you do the same thing in wrestling, you get a crowd cheer. I just like how aggressive it is.
“I didn’t like (wrestling) my first two weeks. I stuck with it. Yeah, you get your hands smashed, you get your arms pulled, it hurts a lot. But in the end it’s fun. And you make tons of friendships that last a long time.’’
Welsh hopes interest will grow and girls wrestling will be sanctioned by the North Dakota High School Activities Association in four or five years. He said he hopes Central can double its female numbers next year and grow from there.
Part of the growth of the sport will be about adjusting mindsets.
“It’s a growing sport for girls,’’ Johnson said. “I think the thing that scares girls most is that they think, ‘Oh, no, I’ll have to wrestle a bunch of guys. They’re going to hurt me.’ Or, ‘it feels weird. I don’t want to touch a bunch of guys.’ But, honestly, you get used to it.
“I think there will be a lot of girls wrestling. By my senior year I think there will be a full girls team.’’
In the meantime, Johnson, Flores and Fincher will wrestle primarily on the junior varsity this season.
“If we have illness or injuries, they could be plugged into the varsity lineup,’’ Welsh said. “And, whether you’re a boy or a girl, if that is your level of ability, getting a win on the JV level is more satisfying than just losing on the varsity.’’