TEMPE – Growing up and competing in a male-dominated sport, Kennedy and Korina Blades were sisters on a mission. They were two of the top prospects in women’s wrestling and yet both committed to Arizona State University, a college that doesn’t have an NCAA women’s team.
The sisters, who are enrolled as full-time freshmen, might not compete for the Sun Devils, but their wrestling dreams have hardly receded. They came from a boarding school in Pennsylvania to ASU to be a part of the Valley’s famed Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club and to train with coach Mark Perry, with eyes on the USA Wrestling’s World Team Trials starting April 25 in Las Vegas.
“One of the main things me and my sister were looking for was a coach that we trusted and believed in because we have very big dreams, such as the 2024 Olympics,” said Kennedy, 20, the older sister by 10 months.
Perry was the coach they felt comfortable with and it stemmed from his relationship with their personal coach, Israel “Izzy” Martinez. He and Perry were roommates and best friends at the University of Illinois, so Perry has known about the sisters for a while.
“I’ve kind of known about the Blades and had connections with them for a long time through Izzy and it wasn’t that hard of a process but obviously, everyone that is in the wrestling world wanted to get the Blades sisters,” Perry said.
The Blades sisters originally started in Brazilian jiu-jitsu at the age of 4, competing in several big tournaments. They enjoyed the sport, but their dad had them try wrestling for several reasons.
“For me personally, I feel like a big reason was because in jiu-jitsu, I always lost to this boy who was a wrestler as well, and I wanted to try the sport so I could beat him,” Korina said.
Another reason for leaving the Brazilian sport was that it was not offered at a college level. They participated in both for a short amount of time, but the two sisters eventually agreed they wanted to stick with wrestling.
They entered the wrestling world at a young age with big goals in mind. They started with a small public wrestling club when they were 6 and 7, and Korina says there weren’t a lot of other girls in the sport, making it harder for them to find competition and a training partner.
“It was just us two and I remember we would always ask the coach if they could put us with a partner,” she said.
As they started to get better and win big tournaments against the boys, attitudes shifted. The sisters started to earn the respect of the boys, Kennedy said, and finding a training partner was no longer an issue.
Eventually, they transitioned to Epic Wrestling, a club in Illinois, and then moved to Martinez Fox Valley Elite the following year. Here, they won numerous tournaments and even beat the boys in their brackets.
“I won the Tulsa Kickoff and Tulsa Nationals in the boys’ division and then I was the first girl ever to win Illinois boys’ state, which is called IKWF (Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation),” Kennedy said.
Jose and Nathan Martinez, a father and son coaching duo, run MFVE. Together, they broke down the basics and formed the girls’ techniques. Korina said she feels like this club is where they got to learn the sport better and develop a lot of the skills they have today.
Finally, they moved to Izzy Style in Chicago to train with Izzy Martinez, who is the other son of Jose Martinez. The Martinez family has been involved with the sisters for a long time and has impacted their growth tremendously in the sport.
“The Martinez family, we love them, and we are so grateful to have had them in our lives at a young age because all four of them have helped develop us and get us where we are,” Korina said.
The sisters went to Wyoming Seminary in Kingston, Pennsylvania to further their academic and athletic journeys. The boarding school was the first school to have a girls’ high school wrestling program. While they were Wyoming Seminary students, the sisters traveled the globe with the program, solidifying their love of wrestling.
“Because there weren’t any women’s high school wrestling teams in the nation, we had to travel around the world to get competition,” Kennedy said. “We have gone to Japan, Russia, Sweden, Estonia, Austria. So many different countries at such a young age.”
The Blades made world teams together, and Kennedy made a cadet world team her sophomore year of high school. In her junior year, she placed second at the 2021 Olympic trials.
“In the finals against Tamyra Mariama Mesnah-Stock, I tried my absolute best, but unfortunately I lost both matches,” Kennedy said of the wrestler who went on to win a gold medal in women’s freestyle wrestling at the Tokyo Olympics.
Initially, Kennedy was upset because she lost in the trials, but when she saw how elated Mesnah-Stock was, she had to hug her competitor and be happy for her.
“Although she kind of took my dream away, I saw her make her own dream,” she said. “I was cheering for her at the Olympics, then she wound up winning, so I didn’t feel too bad that I lost because I lost to an Olympic champ.”
Once their high school career was over, the Blades made their way to ASU and joined Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club.
Founded in 1976 by Arthur Martori, Sunkist Kids is a non-profit organization that aims to help athletes achieve their Olympic and world title goals. Martori had a special role in the development of women’s wrestling and would constantly remind everyone, “no sport is bigger than the athletes it serves.”
In the senior division and at 76kg, Kennedy recently competed in the 2023 Ibrahim Moustafa ranking tournament in Egypt. She was joined by her coaches Perry and Izzy Martinez, along with other Sunkist Kids athletes.
“With Kennedy, we just competed in one of the toughest national tournaments that I have been a part of in the last five to six years. I don’t know how to explain talent-wise. Just her physical gifts of being able to explode and her speed and power for a weight that is the heavyweight,” Perry said.
While in Egypt, she competed against two world champions and two world medalists, making it a tough bracket. She defeated her opponents and placed first in her division, solidifying her spot on the worldwide rankings.
“Wrestling is in the stone age. They really don’t have a just ranking system but she recently beat some of the Olympic medals favorites in Egypt. If she was to win the USA spot this year beating Adeline Grey and a couple other top ladies, she would be the favorite to win Senior Worlds this year. Pressure is on them. She’s coming for that spot, sooner than later is the plan,” said Perry.
Perry allowed that while Kennedy is classified as a heavyweight, her talent is uncommon in the sport of wrestling with her physical attributes, and because of that, it’s amazing.
“Most girls that are that big are playing basketball or volleyball that have that kind of explosion and spring,” he said.
The other half of the Blades duo, Korina, who competes at 62kg, is on the mend recovering from a shoulder injury, and Perry said he will take it slow with her. He wants to take care of her health because she is very gifted and smooth in the sport.
Perry, who knows the sisters very well, said he hasn’t seen many other athletes who possess the Blades’ skills and fierce mentality.
Kennedy said she is determined to work hard to accomplish her goals, while Korina vowed to not let her shoulder injury take away her chance at eventually winning gold in the 2024 Olympics. Both will be competing at the U.S. Open Nationals in late April.
“We have gone through everything together. I think it’s just amazing to continue our journey alongside each other,” Korina said. “It’s just nice to have her with me and see the success and watch where we will both go.”