Wrestling interest increases: room for growth

 The 2023-24 Wrestling program has grown significantly since last season and welcomes new coaching.

History teacher Alex Riddell is the new assistant coach for both girls and boys wrestling and has noticed the significant growth in interest regarding the girls program. 

“We have over 60 students in wrestling which means we have to have separate practices to better fit into the wrestling room,” Riddell said. “In terms of the girls team, we went from five last year to 11 as of today.”

Riddell said that girls wrestling isn’t its own sport in Virginia, it’s listed as a co-ed team because of the smaller sizes of programs in the state. 

“My hope is that the number of girls will continue to grow and the number of competitions that are girls only will also continue to grow as Virginia makes it an official sport separate from coed wrestling,” Riddell said.

Junior Ava Wise said she was surprised by the turnout this year for girls wrestling.

“I knew we were going to have more girls but I didn’t expect our team to grow this much in one year,” Wise said.

Wise said she enjoys the community aspect of the wrestling program.

“The wrestling program is really about being disciplined and growing as a person because to be a good wrestler you have to come to practice every day and put in work outside of practice too,” Wise said.

Head coach Daniel Nguyen said that wrestling as a sport struggles to gain the same interest as other popular sports because of the complex nature of the scoring system.

“We have to work extra hard to promote the sport, because it’s a lot harder to follow,” Nguyen said. 

With new coaches and larger numbers, the wrestling program has more room for growth.

Riddell puts emphasis on not only athletes’ performance on the mat, but also their academic endeavors and building their character. 

“My goals for the season are to get the GPA up to 3.5 team average and I want the wrestlers to be good people,” Riddell said. “Sports are supposed to show you how to face adversity, win with humility, and lose with grace.”

Alongside her goals, Riddell said they have offered opportunities for the wrestlers to keep their grades up throughout the season. 

“This year we enacted a study hall for any student, JV or Varsity, that has a C+ or lower in any of their classes,” Riddell said. “It is important that student athletes do not let their grades fall when they are in season.”

Senior Ben Levy is an IB diploma candidate on the varsity wrestling team and said he found the study hall to be helpful. 

“It gives me time to actually do my homework, because I don’t normally get home until 7:45,” Levy said. “I feel like overall it’s a good thing, because out of all of the years I have been here, we’ve had the lowest GPA every year.”

Along with placing emphasis on the wrestlers education, Nguyen said he wants to bring attention to how “weight cutting” is viewed in the wrestling community, as the Virginia High School League has a required weight control program to calculate a wrestlers weight class.

“At the beginning of the season, wrestlers are tested in three areas- hydration, weight, and a skinfold assessment,” Nguyen said. “There is a minimum amount of body fat a wrestler can have, and they can only lose 1.5% of their body fat a week.”

Living a more disciplined lifestyle, Nguyen said most wrestlers change their daily habits and avoid binge eating.

“Often, people think all wrestlers are cutting weight, which is false,” Nguyen said. “Many wrestlers do lose some body fat throughout the season because of the rigorous practices and changing of their eating habits.” 

While wrestling has weight classes that determine wrestlers’ competition, Nguyen said he values overall skill development. 

“When guys are worrying about their weight and cutting throughout the week, they’re not focusing on their technique,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen said the key to success is making sure the wrestlers have the proper nutrition. 

“You start seeing guys gassing out really quick, so we really want our wrestlers, guys and girls, to be at their top performance,” Nguyen said.

With their old starting line-up graduated, Nguyen said there is more opportunity for younger wrestlers to take spots on varsity. 

“I think a lot of the younger wrestlers are really looking up to the older wrestlers, which is another part of our success,” Nguyen said. 

There has been a strong start for the program this season, as they finished 6th out of 30 teams overall in the Nova Classic tournament on December 2nd. Riddell has noticed the hard work and dedication of wrestlers in the program, giving her hope for this year.

“I am optimistic that some of our returning wrestlers and our new wrestlers will make it to states this year based on their effort they have demonstrated thus far in the season,” Riddell said.