The Norfolk High School wrestling program has adopted a girls wrestling team that will compete throughout the season, culminating by the chance to qualify for and compete in a girls division as part of the Nebraska State Wrestling Tournament.
At Norfolk High, the girls squad will have the advantage of training alongside the boys, doing the same workouts, and will be coached by boys coach Justin Grey and his staff —Tony Brown, Jeremy Eusterwiemann, Kodiak French, Mark Christensen, Jordan Heiderman, and Caleb Licking — with the addition of Sarah Eusterwiemann as a volunteer assistant coach to help oversee the girls program in areas such as supervision, demonstrating moves and transportation.
“Since the school board passed the addition of the girls team as a ‘pilot program,’ our girls are eligible to compete at the Nebraska School Activities Association’s sanctioned state tournament,” Grey said. “However, that also means that our girls can only compete against other girls squads that are also sanctioned.”
“It also means that in our practices, girls can only wrestle against girls now,” he said. “Before, we used to have anywhere from two to five girls out for the sport, and since they were competing for a spot on the boys team, they could wrestle against boys in practice.”
The Panthers have 12 girls out for the sport, with Ryllee Hoppe — who has been a part of Norfolk’s wrestling program throughout high school — the only senior on the team. The rest of the candidates are new to the team, including sophomores Divina Torres, Jasmine Hallar, Kali Mangelsen and Kayla Bobeldyke; along with seven freshmen — Caidence Bethards, Tiearra Pollard, Victoria Maxey, Lesly Rodriguez, Emily Brandt, Laila Cuevas and Casey Koch.
“Ryllee has been with us every year since participating in club wrestling as a little girl; in fact, as a freshman she was our varsity 106-pounder on the boys team and will be wrestling at 120 this year for the girls,” Grey said. “She’s been with us the longest and, as a senior, she’ll be our leader for the girls team. She’s a tough girl, and we’re excited for her.”
Norfolk also has the opportunity to enter wrestlers in nine of the 13 weight classes established for girls competition and has two girls available in four of the weight classes at this time.
Those weight classes — 100, 107, 114, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152,165, 185, 195 and 235 — are established by the NSAA based on data established through hydration and body fat testing across the nation from last year so, according to Grey, “girls don’t have to lose weight but will be wrestling at their natural weight.”
Weight classes for the girls, and also the boys, will be recalculated every two years, based on updated testing and data, Grey said.
“We aren’t able to fill the top four weights right now but, hopefully, this year’s pilot program will get more girls interested so we can fill all the weight classes next year,” Grey said. “What’s really cool is that it’s a rule for girls teams this year that if you have more than one kid at a certain weight class — but you don’t have more than 12 wrestlers —they can both wrestle at the district meet and the state tournament, although only one is allowed to score points for your team.”
“It’s a great opportunity for our girls to go down and compete at the state tournament, even if you’re not the No. 1 wrestler,” he said. “I really like that part; I don’t know for sure that they can all qualify for state and earn a medal, but I think they can. We’ll find out.”
Grey said he’s hoping that Norfolk can “build the girls program into something special and have a powerhouse girls team.”
The girls team has five competitions on its schedule at this time and will be able to compete in its own division at duals and tournaments attended by the boys team, as long as there’s one or more sanctioned girls teams participating to provide competition.
“In most cases they’ll be wrestling the same time as the boys team on mats side-by-side,” Grey said. “When we go to the Fremont invite, for example, there will be a lot of girls there, and they’ll have their own tournament going on, as will the boys with weight classes going on at the same time. The tournament will flow the same, so I think it’s going to be pretty cool to watch as a fan.”
Grey said he’s excited about all of the new aspects of instituting a program for girls and said he thinks the girls are, too. The youth program has already been offering a division for girls with separate tournaments while colleges and universities also are starting programs.
“I think they like the opportunity to compete against other girls, and it’s the first time that Norfolk has offered (a girls team), so why wouldn’t you want to be part of something new and put your name on something that’s going to have a district and state competition to try for?” Grey said. “There are a lot of girls — around 14-18 of them — in our junior high program now, so it’s coming and is already the fastest growing sport around.”
Grey said he’s already established a record wall in the wrestling room to be filled with the names of girls state medalists.
“We get to start writing the history for a whole new program at Norfolk High — first girl state medalist, first girl state champion. That’s exciting. So that’s my challenge to them — who’s going to be the first one?” Grey said. “I told the kids that if we’re going to do this, let’s try to be the best. In the end, if you’re not, at least you know you gave it your all. Building a tradition, that’s what we want to do.”
Norfolk High girls wrestling roster
Senior: Ryllee Hoppe.
Sophomores: Divina Torres, Jasmine Hallar, Kali Mangelsen and Kayla Bobeldyke.
Freshmen: Caidence Bethards, Tiearra Pollard, Victoria Maxey, Lesly Rodriguez, Emily Brandt, Laila Cuevas and Casey Koch.