With the girls’ dominance and power, wrestling earns first place title at the State Championship

With+the+girls%27+dominance+and+power%2C+wrestling+earns+first+place+title+at+the+State+Championship

Going into her final match of the MHSAA Wrestling State Championship this past Sunday, junior Rachel Schenck had two wins and two losses. Climbing her way back up to the top after two losses, with a title on the line, and her placement on the line, Rachel, simply put, needed to win this final match.

One last win. 

With the crowd cheering and the whistles blowing, Rachel’s adrenaline pushed her onto the mat with a fervency like no other. She was ready for that win. One last win. 

Rachel’s opponent matched her energy, for she was persistent—persistent in not letting Rachel get the half-nelson, which is essentially a headlock. But Rachel’s quick thinking, complex problem solving—and the high-energy adrenaline pulsing through the gym and her veins—allowed her to pin her opponent with ease. 

“My girl would not let me get the half, but her arm was already kind of low, and I saw it there, so I just grabbed it and pulled it back,” said Rachel, who has been wrestling for two years. “Once it’s back, you can’t do anything about it. At that moment, I knew I was [going to win] because her arm was right there. So I just did it.”

Referred to as the “thread the needle,” Rachel demonstrated the textbook version of this move in her final match of the State Championship—a move she and the rest of the team had been relentlessly practicing in preparation for that very moment. A move that secured Rachel’s final win on the mat and furthered the wrestling team to their ultimate victory: beating 120 other teams and earning the first-place title. 

Rachel’s older sister, senior Sarah Schenck, described the perfection of the move and the moment she hit it in complete awe. 

Rachel and Sarah holding the first place trophy.

“It was one of the moves that we had done recently in practice, so when she did it textbook perfect…” said Sarah, who has also been wrestling for two years. “Everybody was going crazy because we wanted her to win. Everyone who was watching cheered really loudly when she got it.”

Despite the high energy, high adrenaline, and high stakes of this final match, both Rachel and Sarah described the match as, initially, like any other. But as the day continued and the buzz of the gym only loudened, they started to feel the pressure. 

“There was a little bit of pressure,” Rachel said. “You know, states and all. It was just a little bit nerve-wracking. But there were so many people there, and it kind of gave you an adrenaline rush when you were at a match.”

Senior Elena Kelbley, who had been sick in the weeks leading up to the State Championship, entered the gym on Sunday and immediately felt the atmospheric buzz. With adrenaline—and antibiotics—running through Elena’s system, their pins contributed to the overall points for the team, which ultimately lead to their staggering success. 

As Sarah described it, every single person who wrestled on Sunday—their pins and wins—contributed to the team’s overall point count. If one person wasn’t there, the team may not have won, so Elena’s recovery and dominance on the mat was unwavering. 

“It was my first time back wrestling in like three weeks,” Elena said. “It was really awesome for me because I got a pin, which means I won a match, and that was epic for me.” 

Senior Shay Keaton had her fair share of epic moments as well. While she didn’t personally place, her attendance at the State Championship—as Sarah previously described—was essential for the team. 

“I really just wanted to be there to be a teammate,” Shay explained. “I have so much respect for the people I wrestle with because I know it’s a really, really tough sport. You have to be really tough. I just wanted to be there and support them and also focus on self-improvement. Wrestling is definitely not easy, so just seeing myself improve and seeing my team improve [was amazing].”

With various skill levels and experience, the wrestling team’s success really was a team effort. Surrounded by 120 other capable teams, with around 200 girls alone, each member of the team reacted differently to this environment—but all of their energy and adrenaline intertwined in each of them and pushed the team to amazing heights. 

“Everybody, I think, was nervous, but also very excited just to see how it went,” said Sarah, who was extremely intimidated by the amount of highly experienced wrestlers. “A couple of people had very high-stake matches because with some of the bigger brackets, if you lost once, you were out completely. You were done. So people really wanted to win.”

As second-year wrestlers, Sarah and Rachel more than held their own. As Elena put it, they “dominated,” and “cranked out pins like machines.” 

They both have quickly picked up the basic skills and moves in wrestling, but more importantly, they found their reason for wrestling and their personal components of enjoyment. 

“When you’re in the match, it’s just you and the other person,” Rachel said. “Who can get a better position? Who can win? Who can get the most points? I like that aspect of it. There are also different moves that you can do, and [you can interchange those]. Depending on what the other person does can also change what you do. You have to think as you go.”

Senior Hannah Becker and her coach celebrating.

Akin to chess, this “constant movement” and “creative problem solving,” according to Elena, are integral aspects of the sport; the team’s ability to problem solve on the spot contributed to their victory. 

The on-the-spot thinking, though, is not so random. Utilizing the skills learned from practicing moves relentlessly—over and over again until it’s drilled into their heads—gives each player their own personal toolbox of victory-achieving moves, which is an aspect of wrestling that Elena enjoys. 

Coach Rick Kacher, former head coach, and now head girls coach, supplied these toolboxes and pushed every girl to their personal bests. 

“He wants us to get out of our heads,” Elena said. “Sometimes, he’ll just show us a move to be like, if he can do it, we can clearly do it. We sometimes drill with him, and he’s impossible to move.”

Kacher described his style as “controlled,” so he taught each girl the basics and maintained prominent elements of power through each one. 

I’m very adamant about the basics,” Kacher said, “[like keeping your] head up, hand control, and back pressure.” 

Next year, Kacher hopes to have twenty girls on the team, which more than doubles the current number. With half of the girls graduating, that leaves very few girls, but Elena, Rachel, and Sarah speak so highly of the sport and of the fulfillment and strength they have gained from it that they hope the legacy of girls’ wrestling continues. 

No matter how many girls are on the team though, Kacher’s philosophy and motto won’t waver, which is a philosophy that Elena has drawn a particular personal meaning from.

Throughout her years on the team—the moments during practice in the gym or on the mat at the State Championship—Elena has seen Kacher’s philosophy in action and can only hope that this continues as girls’ wrestling grows in the visibility and traction that has only just begun. 

“I think it’s really cool how everyone has developed their own style, despite wrestling for something greater,” Elena said. “That was Coach’s big thing this year: wrestling for something more. Everyone has their own toolbox and their own unique way of doing things. You don’t have to be very conventional. You’re fighting for the FHC Ranger spirit your own way, which is really cool.”