Pride defines historic day as top female wrestlers compete in state high school tournament

Chandler High School’s Stefana Jelacic was the state champion in the 118-pound class in the first girls state wrestling competition at the Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott. Nearly 150 girls competed. (Photo by Serena Perez/Cronkite News)

Cottonwood Mingus’ Danni Schulz dominates her competitor en route to winning the 220-pound title in the AIA girls wrestling championship. (Photo by Serina Perez/Cronkite News)

PRESCOTT – Danni Schulz of Cottonwood’s Mingus High School started wrestling when she was young because boys would constantly pick on her.

On Friday at the Findlay Toyota Center, Schulz had the last laugh.

The senior captured the 220-pound weight class title in an historic event. She was one of about 150 female high school athletes who participated in Arizona’s first girls state wrestling tournament. Arizona became the 10th state to sanction a girls championship when the Arizona Interscholastic Association announced in May it was adding it as an emerging sport.

It was a competition full of nerves, excitement and pride.

“We are the first girls in the history of Arizona to go to the first championship in the state, so it makes you feel pretty cool, pretty confident,” said senior Yenia Corrales of Sierra Linda High School.

Although wrestling has traditionally been a male-dominated sport, the interest by girls has grown, with participation increasing 13.5 percent in one year, according to a report by the National Federation of State High School Associations for the 2017-18 school year. The study shows 16,562 girls are competing.

“I think it’s a good thing that girls are making a really big impact on the sport and finally getting through to where we need to be,” said Yaniva Carrillo, a senior at Cesar Chavez in Laveen. “We kind of get looked passed because most guys don’t believe we belong in this sport.”

A national push has been underway to provide more opportunities for female wrestlers. In January 2017, USA Wrestling issued a resolution stating that it “supports the equal rights of women to participate in high school athletics and the sanctioning of women’s high school wrestling in every state … and requests that each high school sports sanctioning entity provide a designee to further the intent of this resolution.”

After announcing in May it was adding girls wrestling to its competitive schedule, the AIA helped Arizona become the 10th state to sanction the sports. (Photo by Serina Perez/Cronkite News)

In the past, if girls wanted to compete in the state they would have to wrestle on high school boys teams. Some excelled in the environment. The first girl to win a state wrestling title competing against boys was Michaela Hutchison of Skyview High School in Alaska, who was the 103-pound state champion in 2006, according to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

In 2004, women’s wrestling was added to the Olympics. Among those who participated in the 2012 Summer Games was Kelsey Campbell, who was the first female to wrestle at ASU.

Cesar Chavez coach Daniel Rubio was thrilled his wrestlers finally had an opportunity.

“We have girls that work so, so hard and for them not to have their own little thing was a shame,” he said. “So when that came out, I called all the girls into the class and announced, ‘Hey this is for real. Let’s get to work.’ ”

Rubio said his wrestlers “were really, really excited. I think they were just grateful for the opportunity and to be included and not excluded from participating in this sport.”

It was a longtime coming, several wrestlers said. Marianna Reyes, a freshman at Cibola High School, hopes the tournament inspires others.

“I hope it encourages more girls to join and to show it’s not just for the guys anymore, you know. We’re evolving and it’s getting bigger.”

Other winners from the Phoenix area include Chandler High’s Stefana Jelacic, state champion in the 118-pound class, Sierrah Thrun of Corona del Sol (110 pounds), Julia Chambers of Skyline (125 pounds) and Jennifer Curry of Hamilton (160 pounds).

Schulz said even after she started wrestling, boys continued to discourage her.

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“They were like, ‘Well you’re not dedicated enough’ or not this and that and just kept bringing me down, holding me down to it.”

The love she had for the sport after that first day of practice kept bringing her back, she said, even though there was not a dedicated championship for girls.

Her appreciation for Arizona having its first championship is great, and her motivation changed quite a bit from last season, knowing she would only face girls.

“Since it was a first year, girls were going to be coming out so I’m like, ‘It won’t be so hard. I’ll start winning more because girls won’t be as experienced as me,’ ” said Schulz who went 13-0 this season.

“My coach said I am retired from boys. And I am very OK with that.”

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