Girls outnumber guys on Soroco wrestling team
OAK CREEK — Soroco High School was at the forefront of girls wrestling 10 years ago when sophomore Lauryn Bruggink became the first female to win a match at the state tournament.
At the time, girls wrestling wasn’t a thing. There were just girl wrestlers, and Bruggink, now Lauryn Edmonds, was one of the first to do well against the guys.
Now, 10 years later, in the first-ever Colorado High School Activities Association-sanctioned season of girls wrestling, Soroco is making history again, boasting one of the biggest small-town teams with six girls.
Freshman Larhae Whaley, daughter of head coach Jay Whaley, has been wrestling since she could walk. It’s never been a foreign sport for her. She’s never felt out of place on a mat, since she’s always been there.
“It’s pretty natural. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said.
She’s also always wanted a state title, something she’ll get her first crack at this year in the state tournament at the Southwest Motors Event Center in Pueblo on March 20.
McKenzie Clark will also try to get back to state after missing the podium last winter.
Wrestling is not typically a sport athletes casually try out or pick up. But seeing the success of Clark last year and with the encouragement of Jay Whaley, the four girls who came in to check out the sport are now hooked.
“At the beginning, I was talking to Jay, and he said Larhae needed a wrestling partner her size. I was just going to come in and help Larhae out,” junior Emi Ramirez said. “I was kind of glad that (Jay) pressured me into competing. So far, it’s been really good.”
Clark’s participation last year has encouraged others, including her older sister Skyler.
“I’m going (to college) on a running scholarship,” Skyler said. ”I need to get back in shape, and I knew wrestling was going to make me stronger physically and mentally, as well. I was like, you know, it could be kind of fun, I guess.”
Skyler started out just casually practicing and not wanting to compete, but she soon realized that wasn’t going to make her a better athlete. So, she decided to wrestle with her team. She had a goal to win one match, which she soon did. Last weekend, she won a second, so now, her goal for the year is to win three matches.
“I’m actually shocked because I’ve won a few,” Skyler said. “I was not expecting to win any, but the hard work I put into it is really rewarding.’
Since then, her mindset has totally shifted. Wrestling is more than just something to keep her in shape, but a sport she truly enjoys.
Ramirez may be in her first year, but her hot start to the season has given her no reason to believe she can’t shoot as high as a state title.
Freshman Kasey Douglas also was intrigued by McKenzie’s participation and came to observe her classmates in action.
“I came in here once; I didn’t think I would like it. I didn’t think I would be interested. I didn’t think I’d want anything to do with it,” Douglas said. “I came in here, and it taught me a lesson while I was practicing. You can’t be on top and think everything is going to go your way. You’re going to get knocked down once in a while. All you can do is fight to get back up.”
Douglas had previously played basketball but didn’t enjoy having to rely on others to have success. Now, she controls her own destiny and enjoys taking charge.
The team’s rapid growth even attracted Swiss foreign exchange student Mela Luze.
“We have in Switzerland a very similar sport, schwingen. It’s not the same, but it’s similar,” she said. “I thought I can do something new, and I would try, and I really like it.”
Still a growing sport
Young women like Douglas, Luze and Ramirez making the brave leap into not only a new sport but a male-dominated sport is what’s making girls wrestling one of the fastest growing high school sports across the country.
Colorado is in its first year offering it as a sanctioned sport after two seasons of a pilot program and has already seen massive growth over the past few years. The 2018-19 season had 280 participants, and last year, participation nearly doubled to 526.
This year, girls have to wrestle girls in their own competitions For smaller schools, like Soroco, it’s hard to find nearby events for the athletes to compete at, but they’re making it work.
When the team travels, they’re joined by Steamboat Springs junior Adalia George, who finished fifth at state last year.
In the future, Jay Whaley is hoping to form an official Routt County co-op that could take in any Hayden girls who wanted to wrestle, as well.
The growth of the sport may seem speedy, but to Edmonds, it wasn’t fast enough.
“It’s happened quicker than I truly thought it would, but it’s a shame it didn’t happen quicker,” Edmonds said. “States like Texas and California have had it for years. It really is hard to put into words (what it means) to finally see it happen.
“It’s about damn time,” she added.
While wrestling for Soroco, Edmonds was just the second girl to attend the wrestling state championships in 2009. Three years earlier, Golden senior Brooke Sauer was the first female to compete. When Edmonds returned her sophomore year, she made history as the first female to win a match at the state tournament.
Thanks to the support she received from her parents and her coaches, she stuck with the sport and went on to wrestle in college at Wayland Baptist University in Texas.
The 2012 Soroco grad thanked Jay Whaley and the entire wrestling coaching staff, who have been proponents and supporters of girls wrestling for years. Whaley even offered to host a state championship at Soroco High School a decade ago, according to Edmonds.
“They have fought so hard for this to happen,” Edmonds said. “They probably feel just as speechless as I do and excited about what the future holds.”
Edmonds’ father Travis Bruggink still helps coach the team, and Edmonds keeps in touch with the team, occasionally talking with McKenzie Clark.
Seeing a relatively large group of girls from her home town participating in an official girls wrestling season was emotional for Edmonds.
“It made me cry,” she said. “It was something I always craved to have, and I finally got when I wrestled in college. They have somebody like them in the practice room and to compete against. Somebody that they can talk to about boys and do their nails with but also go out on the mat and just kick some butt. It’s pretty special.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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