Girls-only wrestling division proving to be a popular addition

The equipment is the same, and so are the rules.

But for girls wrestlers,  they can finally call the sport their own.

“We just pushed for so long, and to see it finally come through is just a huge relief for us and for the girl wrestlers, for their parents, it’s been a long hard road to get to where we’re at,” said Lebanon Wrestling Head Coach Matthew Neely.

That long road finally led to the creation of a girls-only division for high school wrestlers in Missouri, which is new for the 2018-19 academic year.

“I’m excited to see where the sport goes and how it’s going to grow,” said Buffalo junior wrestler Lizzie Miller.

Miller has already helped the sport grow to this point.

Two years ago, she wrestled in the boys state tournament, and just missed qualifying last year.

“I think wrestling the guys makes me a lot tougher and gives me more competition so I feel like when I get to the girls level it’s a lot simpler,” Miller said.

It’s simpler on the mat and in some ways simpler in practice.

Last year Miller was the only girls wrestler at Buffalo, but now she’s one of 11 Buffalo athletes under the new format.

“It’s starting to become fun getting bonds with more girls instead of just being on the guys team and I enjoy it,” Miller said.

At Springfield Central, Hailey Norman is following a path similar to Miller’s. She’s the only Bulldogs wrestler and paving the way for other girls to wrestle.

“People call me a pioneer because I’m the gateway to show all the girls this is a real thing, you can actually do this, you don’t have to be scared to do a guys sport,” Norman said.

Norman also has her eyes on the future, hoping the girls-only division will help her have more success.

“It also helps with college and stuff because they see you went to state and you won state, because it’s easier to wrestle with girls when you’re a girl than with guys, so it’s more of a chance to get to state,” Norman said.

Speaking of state.

“I would love to see us win the state title,” Neely said.

And why not? Neely has 19 girls on his roster.

“It’s great because we have all of the weight classes full so we can score all the points that are out there,” Neely said.

That’s thanks to a strong passion for girls wrestling within the Lebanon community.

But not all of the Yellow Jackets had previous experience on the mat.

“Several of our wrestlers; they were gymnasts or dance, they’ve never wrestled before, but because they have athletic background, they come in and do great,” Neely said.

Before long, Lebanon’s passion might spread to other schools.

Meaning Norman might not be the only Bulldog on next year’s roster.

“It’s fun to see the girls spark an interest for something that most girls wouldn’t even think about,” Norman said.

That spark wouldn’t be possible without girls like Miller and Norman leading the way.