Camden, HP begin varsity girls wrestling programs
Camden and Holland Patent are two of five schools in Section III that are rolling out varsity girls wrestling programs this winter.
In Camden, the team will be coached by Jeremy Calkins, a technology teacher at the high school. He wrestled at Peru High School, up in the northeast corner of the state, and then at SUNY Oswego. He was the head varsity boys wrestling coach at Dolgeville for 13 years.
Calkins wanted to be involved in Camden’s program but knew coach Bill Sullivan and “I didn’t want to disrupt it,” so he volunteered as one of his coaches for three years.
“One of the young ladies who has wrestled” in the youth program had asked about a girls varsity team, Calkins said. Coach Sullivan also “pushed to get a girls team going. The district put out an email to parents (early this school year) to see if there was interest. And there was a lot of interest in the sport.”
Now the team has a dozen wrestlers. There are 12 weight classes (the boys have 13). They are: 100 pounds, 107, 114, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 165, 185, 235.
The program held three open gym nights about a month ago to gauge interest.
The team has four seventh graders — Hailey Evans, Kamryn Gloude, Abigail Hebble and Rylie Meagher — and freshman Megan Trautner, three sophomores — McKenzie Aldridge, Hailey Bienvenue and Abigail Douglas — and four juniors — Nicolette Carpinelli, Wendy Kierpiec, Ava Platt and Madelyn Baker.
“I think we’ll be competitive,” Calkins said. “The girls are picking up the techniques quickly. We have a good volume of girls to fill the weight classes. And they’ve been working hard in practices.” Some teams might have trouble filling weight classes, he noted, and because there are so many participants who are new to the sport most teams will start with a level playing field.
Calkins has an assistant coach, Shannon McPheron, and while this is her first time coaching wrestling (and having not competed) she is head coach of the school’s accomplished field hockey team. There’s also volunteer assistant coach Kara Norton, whose daughter Rylie is on the team. Her son Conner is a senior who is on the boys team.
The Blue Devils will open the season Dec. 2 when Fulton hosts an event that will also include HP and possibly Homer. There’s a meet at HP on Dec. 7 with Fulton, a tournament at HP on Dec. 10, the Blindsman Tournament at Cicero-North Syracuse on Dec. 17 and a girls division at the Haynes Tournament in Fulton Dec. 28 and 29. Camden will host an event on Jan. 4 with HP, Fulton, Homer and perhaps other schools (such as General Brown, the other Section III school with a girls team). Jan. 11 Camden travels to Fulton. On Jan. 14, the Camden Blue Devil Tournament will include the girls. Jan. 22 the team has a tentative match at Homer. The season wraps up with the statewide tournament at Onondaga Community College, and while it’s not an official state championship, it’s the highest level of competition for the local schools.
There could be more too, Calkins noted. “Day by day we’re gaining more participation and more events.”
John Richard, the longtime head varsity boys wrestling coach at Holland Patent, is half of the co-head coach situation for the HP girls team. At least for the first year. He will handle more of an administrative role while the day-to-day coaching is in the hands of Samantha Doxstader. Richard got involved “to get the program going.”
Doxstader has been involved with HP wrestling since her son Eli was four. He’s 13 now and in his second year of varsity wrestling after going 25-7 last season at 110 pounds as a seventh grader. She also has four daughters who are all participating, ranging in ages from five to 11. She helped start the girls club program last year. She started wrestling at age nine growing up in New Jersey.
“I got involved when I was little because my oldest brother wrestled. My dad wrestled and he coached my older brothers,” she said. “I realized I really loved it when I got to high school.” When women’s wrestling was added to the Olympics in 2004, she said she knew it was something she could do beyond high school.
Doxstader attended Missouri Valley College and was on the women’s team for three seasons. It was NAIA competition (comprable to Division II) since there wasn’t Division I women’s wrestling at the time. There were only about a dozen programs nationwide. There are now four Division I women’s wrestling programs. Local Division III school Utica University announced this fall that it will add women’s and men’s wrestling teams in 2023-24.
“I wanted to be more involved in some way, push the sport forward,” Doxstader said. “I always loved coaching and being involved in any way I could. I still kind of feel like a wrestler and I love being in the room.” So she sought out coach Richard to make a club team with the hope that one day the school could have a varsity team. That day came much sooner than she had thought.
Now, she said, there is a progression for young girls in the district who want to learn and move up from club to the school team.
HP also has an assitant coach, Kay Fransman, wrestled for Poland and has helped with the Poland program in recent years.
“It’s a national trend,” said Richard. HP has already run several tournaments just for girls at the club level, before COVID-19. “I have a large contingent of young female wrestlers in the youth program.”
And, Richard said, “Turnout’s been pretty good.” Eight wrestlers practiced all last week, girls “who are working really hard.” He said he hopes to add more participants each season as girls see that the school is committed and the program is thriving.
The HP roster is: freshmen Claire Favata, Addison Snider and Autumn Fountain; sophomores Alyssa Russel, Hannah Kusmierczak and Ariana Montoya; juniors Autumn Raszzano, Crimson Fansis and Haleigh Southwick; and seniors Stephanie Grocholski and Cadence Torres.
HP also will be at Fulton Dec. 2. The team hosts Camden Dec. 7 and is hosting a girls tournament Dec. 10. There’s the Haynes Tournament and Camden’s event Jan. 4 and the event Jan. 22 as well as the state level tournament at OCC to conclude the season.
At Camden, running a wrestling practice for girls has been new for Calkins. Most “don’t have any history in wrestling, everything to them is brand new. The nice thing is you don’t have to fix bad mistakes they made in youth wrestling or that they got away with in youth wrestling that doesn’t work at our level.” It is nice, he said, to have “a blank slate to build on.”
Calkins’ 11-year-old son has helped with demonstrating moves and the program has crouching and standing dummies on which to demonstrate moves as well.
At HP, Doxstader and Fransman “are doing the teaching and the coaching,” Richard said. “It’s been a great fit. They’re female athletes with that female athlete psyche.” So far, the focus, he said, has been on teaching the basics.
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