OPRF girls wrestling team has made the most of its expanded opportunities this season.
While the team still has to compete against all-boys teams, it has participated in 16 tournaments that exclusively feature female wrestlers after not having any last year. Some of OPRF’s notable performers include Tiffany White (17-3), Kennedi Dickens (18-5), Sadie Sheer (19-4), Louise Calkins (15-15) and Camila Neuman (14-14).
“I feel like [the season has] been really successful so far,” said Neuman. “Last year was a struggle since there weren’t any girls’ events but this year it’s a lot more serious. We have to be more prepared because there are so many more competitions.”
The team also hosted its first all-girls dual meet on Jan. 25 versus York High School on senior night and dedicated the event to raising awareness around sexual misconduct.
After doubling the number of wrestlers on the team last year, OPRF’s girls wrestling head coach, Fred Arkin, has been impressed with how the team has developed over the season.
“The team has vastly improved,” said Arkin. “They have wrestled in what I would consider to be a full schedule. They are improving at a pace that is typical of the Huskies’ wrestling program.”
Tiffany White, whose brother is University of Nebraska wrestling star and OPRF alumnus Isaiah White, has been one of the standouts this season. After missing the first six meets for undisclosed reasons, White has gone up two weight classes this season and, despite this, is still dominating her opponents.
“I just don’t like to lose,” said White. “When you’re on bottom and you have to really get up, you can do it. You just have to really want it and that’s what I have been trying to do.”
Throughout the state, there has been an increase in participation in girls wrestling in Illinois.
According to Arkin, who is one of the co-chairs of the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association (IWCOA) steering committee, the state has seen the number of certified girls wrestlers rise from 641 last year to 835 (across 250 schools) in 2019-20. To be counted as a certified wrestler, athletes need to have their body fat tested before the season.
In a conversation with Wednesday Journal last year, Arkin said that the IHSA is seeking more data on participation in the sport before giving girls wrestling a sanctioned state event. Illinois is amongst the top-10 states in the country for participants in girls wrestling. However, Illinois and Florida are the only states on that list that don’t have a sanctioned state event.
Arkin said the IHSA has been supportive of girls wrestling and that there is “constant communication” going on between the IHSA and the IWCOA.
The IHSA’s bylaws state, “Students who participate on a school squad in Girls Wrestling may participate in no more than thirty-five (35) matches in any one season prior to the IHSA series, regardless of competition format.”
Under the bylaw, students can’t compete in more than 18 events in one season.
The future of OPRF girls wrestling
Even with certain limitations that come with the bylaw and the classification of being an emerging sport, OPRF has brought on more coaches to train the girls this year. The team also had the opportunity to attend a “Wrestle Like A Girl” clinic and worked out with Olympian Alli Ragan.
From the workouts intensifying to the rise of energy from the coaches at practice, there is a new atmosphere around the team.
“Our coaches get heated and are always yelling, but in an encouraging way,” said Dickens. “You can tell they want us to do well and to like the sport. They always want us to do better and it has been great.”
The opportunity to compete more frequently against girls has Neuman wanting to continue wrestling when she graduates high school.
“Yeah I am super serious about competing at the next level,” said Neuman. “It’s the one thing that I know that I want really bad. I don’t even know what I want my future job to be but I know that I want to wrestle in college and I want to go to state and impress people to get scholarships. I’m very determined to go for it.”