Friday, January 4, 2008

PREP WRESTLING: Girls are holding their own

By Brittany Brevik, Herald Staff Writer
Published Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Katie Gavere observed many of her older brother Mike's wrestling matches when she was younger.

“It just looked really fun, so I thought I'd try it,” she said. “And I liked it.”

Katie, an eighth-grader at Valley Middle School, is a 103-pound wrestler for Grand Forks Central, while Mike wrestles at 215 pounds.

“If you ever watch her matches, he's right there on the mat side, probably doing as much yelling as the coaches,” Central coach Matt Berglund said. “He's the stereotypical protective big brother, but Katie can stand up for herself. She's very tough.”

Big brother helped season her as a wrestler.

“I kind of beat on her a little bit,” Mike admitted. “I help her practice moves and push her so she gets into shape faster.”

Their mother said the two horse around and practice at home.

“She started learning from him,” Tara Gavere said. “He shows her different stuff at home, and before her matches he gives her pointers.”

Early start

Katie had an early and successful start to her wrestling career, placing first at the Grand Forks Taste of Wrestling tournament as a fifth-grader.

She also had a strong start to this season, winning her first varsity match over Devils Lake's Jesse Aho by a score of 9-5. Katie placed fifth at the Valley City tournament Dec. 15, winning one match and losing two close ones. Her varsity record for the season is 3-6.

She also won the South Middle School tournament in early December, pinning two opponents and winning another match by decision.

Katie said wrestling at the high school level is different in terms of competition and the size and experience of wrestlers.

“She's a tough girl,” Berglund said. “She's not a tomboy though - she's not cutting her hair.”

Katie holds her own on the mat, but she does admit to getting frustrated at times. However, she said “good team members” and “great coaches” keep her in it.

“My team is always there for me,” she said.

Some have refused to wrestle Katie. More recently, that has lessened, due in part to her being elevated to varsity.

“She works hard just like everyone else, so she should have the right to wrestle,” Mike said.

Growing popularity

Berglund said that seeing female wrestlers is getting more commonplace.

“Now that (girls wrestling) is an Olympic sport and more and more high school programs are adding wrestling - like in Texas, where they have a girls state tournament - it's just really a growing sport,” he said.

Women's wrestling became an Olympic sport in 2004. Nationally, many states are holding girls state tournaments in conjunction with the boys tournaments. There also are tournaments with separate girls freestyle divisions, such as the Cadet-Junior National Championships held in Fargo.

“Really the long-term goal for her is to compete in the national tournament in Fargo,” Berglund said. “We think she could compete at the national level.”

Although she is a rarity in North Dakota high school wrestling, Katie isn't the only female wrestling for a Grand Forks team. Ashley Zeitvogel, a freshman, wrestles at 125 for Red River.

Zeitvogel, who got her start in sixth grade intramural wrestling, says it is a challenge - but that's why she stays in it.

“Guys have a little different body build than girls,” she said. “I have to be quicker than them and use more technique.”

Said Berglund: “The big thing with girls is the heavier they get in the weight classes, the tougher it is to compete with upper body strength against boys.”

Like Katie, Ashley is just one of the “guys” on the Red River team. Her coaches said she fits in well with the team, and sometimes likes to rub it in a little bit.

Red River coach Bruce Moe said he has seen a little reluctance from teams and wrestlers who have gone up against Zeitvogel.

“It's one of those situations where the guys are thinking, ‘If I beat her up, I look like a jerk, and if I don't . . .,' but that's just the way it's going to be,” Moe said.

The girls appear at ease when they step on to the mat and shake hands with their opponent. It's not male vs. female; it's just two wrestlers, like any other match.

Berglund said it best:

“I think they all respect (Katie) because she is a good wrestler. It doesn't matter if you're a boy or a girl; if you come to practice every day and work as hard as she does, you earn respect in a tough sport.”

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