XENIA — Greeneview’s Karlie Harlow has not been a stranger at the top girls wrestling event in Ohio with three previous trips to the state tournament.
While being already aware of the difficulty faced at the event, she and her fellow wrestlers won’t be as familiar with the venue as the tournament moves to the Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University. This year marks the first time the Ohio High School Athletic Association is sanctioning a girls tournament, which gets underway Friday and will run concurrently with the boys event.
“I feel like it’s overdue by a few years, but like our first year we were still super small,” Harlow said. “But then brackets just like started building and there’s just more and more people now. It’s a little but overdue, but I’m glad it’s happening.”
Ohio joins more than 20 other states holding a sanctioned girls state tournament after three years of the Ohio High School Coaches Wrestling Association organizing a year-end competition.
Harlow will be one of 11 wrestlers in Ohio making her fourth appearance at state. She will be joined by five others from Greene County, including twin sophomore teammates Eve and Gwen Matt. Xenia junior Vanessa Rechterman qualified, as did a pair of Carroll freshman in June Pyles-Treser and Brooklynn Newton. Jada Weiss of Bellbrook is an alternate.
“I’m more nervous than anything because this is gonna be a bigger tournament than it was last year,” Gwen Matt said. “But I’m also excited at the same time because Eve and I both made it as sisters.”
All three Greeneview wrestlers competed at last year’s event. Harlow finished as runner-up for the second straight season at 235, Gwen Matt was sixth at 115 and Eve Matt got seventh at 120. Harlow and Eve Matt both won regional titles this year.
For Rechterman, this will be her first trip to state as she becomes the first Xenia representative at the girls event. At regionals she lost her opening match, the only time this season it happened, and she had to win three straight consolation matches to make it through.
“I was very shocked,” Rechterman said. “Very excited knowing I was gonna be the first girl at Xenia to do it. There was a lot of emotions, it was very up and down.”
The OHSCWA began holding a girls wrestling tournament at the end of the 2019-20 season. All three editions were at Hilliard Davidson High School. As participation grew across the state, district tournaments were created the past two years before changing to regionals this season.
The new site for state is an exciting change, according to Greeneview head coach Mark Matt, and he has mentioned to his qualifiers to check out previous videos so they know what to expect.
“It’s a nearly 20,000-seat arena and what it’s like to be in the warm-up room before getting called, walking down the stairs through the tunnel and you get all these cool visuals before standing in the tunnel behind the black curtain, and it’s loud, but you head out and look up and see everyone and the 10 mats going and it could easily be overwhelming,” Mark Matt said. “But the wrestling mats are the same as they always are, that doesn’t change.”
Becoming role models
Having the OHSAA begin to provide their support is something that caught the attention of Xenia head coach Andy Lewis. He said he felt Rechterman’s motivations were elevated once the OHSAA announced it would sanction an event as it created something desirable she could reach and established validity to the sport.
“Last year when they announced it, we put that on the bulletin board as a huge goal of ours,” Lewis said. “Not only as a program, but as an individual for her to punch the ticket on the first go.”
Rechterman is the only female competitor on Xenia’s roster this year. As wrestling continues to evolve from being a male-dominated sport, she said her male teammates have been a key component to improving her skills and being accepted as a member of the team even though while also getting to compete against boys on occasion she doesn’t go to all of the same events.
“I feel a lot of girls don’t join wrestling because they think it’s just a male-dominant sport,” Rechterman said. “They’re scared they’re going to have to wrestle guys. I feel like as more girls wrestle, more are going to be willing to join.”
The number of competitors is quickly expanding each year. The OHSAA estimates close to 1,500 females were to take part this season, nearly double the amount from a year ago after there were close to 300 total three years ago.
A bright future appears to be ahead for the sport as well. Rechterman and Lewis have seen more younger girls sign up at his Gladiator Wrestling Club and how they look up to Rechterman.
“It’s a great feeling,” she said. “I love it and I hope it continues to get more people to join, and I hope after that more high school kids see that I made it so more girls would join because we need a girl team for sure.”
The Rams’ program has been one of the leading groups in the growth of girls wrestling. Six grapplers ranked amongst the top-30 in the state in their respective divisions as of Feb. 9 by the American Women’s Wrestling organization. An expanding youth program had hundreds compete at a recent event it held.
“I coached youth in some open mats over the summer, and those girls always said that they wanted to come watch me wrestle,” Eve Matt said.
The girls have their own memories from others being in the same role for them.
Harlow said after starting the sport at a young age she remembers looking up to her both her sister Ellie, a former state champion, and Emma Randall, who joined USA Women’s Wrestling’s Olympic Team as a coach in 2016 after originally wrestling for Greeneview’s elementary team.
Eve Matt noted that several people she watched growing up will be doing a signing event during the state tournament and she’s looking forward to getting a chance to meet them.
Being the first group to compete at state and getting the chance to pass along to the next generation their experiences is a big part of the continued growth of the sport.
“I really want to see myself as a good role model for them,” Gwen Matt said. “In fact, we’ve worked on it in the practice room. When they come out of their way to watch the matches at the meets it feels very special.”
“We’ve never shied away from the fact that our goal for [Rechterman] is to have individual success, but it is also to have her become an individual that our youth can look up to,” Lewis said. “… We want to build a girls program the same as we have a guys program and it’s important to us that she is obviously leading the way and it’s a big help and benefit as a coach for that.”
The big stage
Twenty total Greene County athletes will begin their three-day quest for individual state championships on Friday.
The state tournament for the boys has continuously shown off the hard work those competitors have put in each year. Now the girls will get to do the same. The goal for all is to return home as a state champion.
But Lewis said there will be other things on display at the tournament. He believes Rechterman being there gets to show off the Xenia program and allow her to represent all of her teammates who weren’t able to qualify for different circumstances as the last wrestler standing.
And for Greeneview, Mark Matt said all of the boys and girls should be proud to be part of the introductory phase of the new setup.
“From a big picture standpoint, because I am on both side of it with boys and girls, I really am just super exited that we have three girls and two boys,” he said. “Greeneview in this small country town, a Division III school with an enrollment of roughly 400, sending five kids to the state tournament, I think that’s pretty special.”
Being outside of a high school gym and taking place together with the boys also makes it feel like a cooler and a more “real” event to Eve Matt.
“I started wrestling when they started wrestling when we were younger,” Harlow said. “And I’ve never gotten to be out actually wrestling alongside them at a state tournament.”
As Mark Matt noted, the Schottenstein Center holds more than 18,000 and 10 mats will be laid out with the action continuously rolling as the boys and girls divisions each take their turns.
“Last year it seemed like we were all crammed in a tiny gym,” Gwen Matt said.
Thousands are going to instead cram into the seats to watch the girls on the big stage.
GREENE COUNTY FIRST ROUND MATCHES
113 — Eli Campbell (Jr.), Legacy Christian (33-3) vs. Tanner Allen (Jr.), Alexander (35-10)
120 — Nathan Attisano (Fr.), Legacy Christian (35-10) vs. Riley Rowan (Jr.), Perry (16-2)
126 — Dillon Campbell (Jr.), Legacy Christian (42-2) vs. Hines Ford (Fr.), Barnesville (37-11)
138 — Brayden Brown (Jr.), Legacy Christian (33-6) vs. Grant Dowell (Sr.), Bucyrus (50-5)
138 — Ashtan Hendricks (Sr.), Greeneview (45-4) vs. Owen Miller (Sr.), Oak Harbor (41-8)
144 — Boede Campbell (Sr.), Legacy Christian (23-5) vs. Kaden Russell (So.), Dalton (35-11)
157 — Ethan Cooper (Sr.), Legacy Christian (36-7) vs. Justin Fox (Sr.), Atwater Waterloo (42-3)
285 — Hawkeye Hickman (Sr.), Greeneview (34-5) vs. Landen Thomas (So.), Harrison Central (37-3)
157 — Landen Weiss (Jr.), Bellbrook (37-10) vs. Anthony Lahoski (Sr.), Peninsula Woodridge (47-6)
165 — Vincent Hummel (Sr.), Bellbrook (37-10) vs. Hunter Rose (Sr.), New Lexington (48-6)
215 — Jimmy Bechter (So.), Carroll (40-2) vs. Kyle Magyar (Sr.), Perkins (41-5)
106 — Jeremy Sibrel (Fr.), Beavercreek (33-18) vs. Rylan Seacrist (Fr.), Brecksville (37-6)
150 — Hunter Martin (Sr.), Beavercreek (37-10) vs. Tyler Deericks (Jr.), Powell Olentangy Liberty (34-8)
165 — Tyler Hicks (Sr.), Beavercreek (40-6) vs. Caleb Ridgley (Sr.), Macedonia Nordonia (34-7)
110 — June Pyles-Treser (Fr.), Carroll (32-10) vs. Lexi Beadle (Jr.), Boardman (32-2)
135 — Gwen Matt (So.), Greeneview (29-4) vs. Lilly Kinsel (Jr.), Harrison (25-9)
140 — Eve Matt (So.), Greeneview (34-2) vs. Ava Kennedy (So.), Watterson (13-11)
155 — Vanessa Rechterman (Jr.), Xenia (24-6) vs. Madison Jeffers (So.), Tri-County North (4-0)
170 — Brooklynn Newton (Fr.), Carroll (18-5) vs. Sakeena Hudgins (Sr.), Cleveland Heights (5-1)
235 — Karlie Harlow (Sr.), Greeneview (31-1) vs. Ahleeah Abdullah (Sr.), Warrensville Heights (17-4)
Contact Steven Wright at 937-502-4498 and follow on Twitter @Steven_Wright_.