Behind the push to sanction girls wrestling
Girls wrestling is picking up steam across the country and coaches in Kansas hope to see it sanctioned by KSHSAA in the near future
This article, now with updates, originally appeared in the Kansas Pregame Winter Sports Preview. Check out the digital editions of our preview magazines at here.
McPherson’s Mya Kretzer was immersed in wrestling from a young age. Her dad, Doug, is currently the McPherson head wrestling coach and has coached for more than 20 years.
Mya has three brothers: Kaden, Cole and her twin, EJ. Kaden, six years older than Mya, was an elite high schooler and ranked in the top-10 all-time in state history in multiple categories. Cole is a year younger than Kaden and talented, too.
Mya enjoyed participating in household games with her brothers and their friends. She fondly remembers laying on the trampoline in a game called “dead man.” The boys jumped around her and tried to see how high they could bounce her in the air. She never wore pink or played with dolls. Kretzer loved camo, horses, monkeys and stuffed animals.
“She is a firecracker,” her dad said. “She has always been a handful.”
She participated in swim team and enjoyed activities that pushed her limits. In sixth grade, she tried Cross Fit and had soreness one day.
“Had no idea what that even was,” she said. “Where you actually push yourself to where you can’t even sit down, that was just like really cool to me.”
Before seventh grade, Kretzer decided to wrestle, initially against her father’s wishes.
“She just has a relentless personality, and when she makes her mind up, there is no bending her will,” he said.
She fell in love with the sport. Rich Settle, who coached the McPherson varsity for 23 seasons, served as Kretzer’s junior high coach and a great early influence on her career. Mya is normally at the YMCA before 6 a.m.
She has driven to other towns, including Kansas City, for a practice partner. Her dad said Mya searches for information as much “as any kid that I have ever coached.” Mya loves journaling and inspirational quotes.
She has an arm tattoo with the McPherson wrestling logo, “On a Mission” in her dad’s handwriting, and right above that, multiple stars.
The stars signify a conversation with her dad around the last Summer Olympics. He told her to “shoot for the stars.” She loves scheduling, including her meals and training, and would rather organize her week than go out.
“I just like to work hard all the time,” she said. “That’s kind of what gets me through it – is just working hard and getting through things that people don’t think I can get through.”
Kretzer, now a senior and an elite national wrestler with an Olympic dream, and her dad, are spearheading another movement: Get girls’ wrestling sanctioned as an official Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) sport.
Kretzer, longtime Burlington coach Doug Vander Linden and Nate Naasz, the current marketing and communications director for the National Wrestling Coaches Association, have met with KSHSAA three times.
Naasz is also the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association president and has coached for many years, most notably 11 seasons at Lincoln. Doug Kretzer serves as the state girls’ representative.
Girls’ wrestling would likely start with one class and two regionals. The top-four from each regional would qualify for state. The state tournament would likely conclude the day before boys’ state starts.
“There was a lot of good responses to the current proposal,” Naasz said. “I believe, from what I am understanding, it will go up for a vote this spring to add it for next year.”
In the last year, Kretzer has heard from multiple well respected coaches who believe girls’ wrestling needs to be sanctioned. In the last month, he has received near daily emails from coaches with questions about creating their own girls’ team.
As well, Kansas has performed very well at the national level. This season, six girls were ranked in the preseason national rankings. Nickerson junior Nichole Moore was No. 11 at 106 pounds. Moore, like Mya, has a leadership presence. An elite wrestler since she was young, Moore has boundless energy and enthusiasm. At Friday's Nickerson tournament Moore won the 106 pound class going 5-0 against boys and is now 25-6 against boys on the season and 74-23 against boys in her career. She is now 109-17 in her career against girls with 56 pins.
“She is very gritty, and what Nikki does really well in my opinion, is Nikki knows how to wrestle the best way for Nikki,” coach Kretzer said. “She wrestles her match.”
Paola sophomore Jordyn Knecht entered the season ninth at 117. Kretzer was ninth at 127.
At 132, Burlingame sophomore Gianna Culbert was 20th. At 152, Fredonia senior Mason Claibourn was ranked 19th. Junction City junior Elisa Robinson was third at 180.
Find updated national girls rankings here.
“We have also got a group of girls statewide that are just really good,” Naasz said. “They are top level, national level girls. They are finding their way onto collegiate rosters, and so it’s just become something that there were a lot of different things that tipped in its favor, and we are just really hoping that the board of directors from the Kansas State High School Activities Association acknowledges that, and they add it sooner rather than later.”
Multiple states have girls’ wrestling as a sanctioned high school sport, including Missouri this year. Missouri had around 800 girls weigh-in for high school wrestling this season, approximately triple who competed last season.
Several Kansas colleges have added women’s wrestling, including NAIA Baker and Southwestern College this school year. Southwestern College head coach Sarah Bollinger, from California, started to wrestle when she was four and followed her older brother.
Bollinger competed at a high level for Missouri Baptist, located in St. Louis, and has four women for SW this season. Bollinger believes sanctioning girls’ wrestling would “definitely double” the numbers in Kansas.
“The inclusiveness – you could really see anyone from anywhere with any type of problems or baggage and you are allowed to wrestle,” Bollinger said. “I mean you can be male, female. You can be black or white. You can come from a low income family or a rich family, and I just love that it’s really a sport that welcomes everyone.”
During the years, multiple schools, including Lincoln, McPherson, and Hoisington, have had girls on the roster. McPherson had talented Addie Lanning earlier this decade and was the KCAC Most Outstanding Wrestler at Ottawa last year. Rare ones have qualified for the high school state tournament, including Lakin’s Samantha Gonzales in the mid-2000s. The high school girls always had to wrestle boys.
“It seemed like there’s been a lot of girls, really good girls that have wrestled before,” coach Kretzer said. “And we weren’t getting any movement, and somebody had to pick up the ball and start to push, and now we have got a mountain behind us inside of in front of us saying that it’s the right thing.”
Two years ago, McPherson decided to form a girls’ team. Coach Kretzer had 13 girls come out, many whom had no desire to compete against a boy. Kretzer told them he wasn’t sure whether they would ever wrestle a match outside of the Bullpups’ practice room. However, he considered them an official team. The girls bought in.
For McPherson’s own tournament, Kretzer decided to add a girls’ division. Around 20 girls, including McPherson’s, competed. In 2017, McPherson decided to host an unsanctioned state tournament and had it again last winter. By Kretzer’s numbers, 36 schools and 56 girls participated in ’17. Last year, 57 schools and 145 girls were involved with the sport.
Mya Kretzer, a multi-time All-American, was 25-13 with 12 falls as a starter on the McPherson boys’ team last winter. She captured Kansas girls state the last two winters and was voted 2018 Outstanding Wrestler of the girls’ state tournament by the coaches. Naasz has watched Mya in multiple settings and said she has “some of the cleanest technique” he has ever seen – boy or girl- and has been impressed with her tenacity.
Kretzer wants to attend a Kansas college with ROTC and a wrestling program. She narrowed her list to Baker and NAIA University of St. Mary, which added wrestling before ’16-17. She has attended high-level development camps and wrestled in Estonia. Kretzer announced her commitment to wrestle at Baker in early January.
“She is just like any other girl walking around in the hallway at least in stature, but her guts sets her apart, and her drive is pretty special,” coach Kretzer said.
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