Wrestling team welcomes three females, the first female Groves wrestlers to make a state cut
By Jo Shuboni-Ulmann and Kate Murawski
Before this season there had only ever been one girl in the history of Groves wrestling program. Now, there are three. This year will be the first Michigan girls’ state wrestling tournament. All three of the girls on the wrestling team made it there.
Freshman Samantha Koch, junior Isabel Sanchez, and senior Erica Alexander couldn’t join the wrestling teams at their previous schools because there wasn't a girl wrestling team, and the boy’s team wasn’t co-ed. When they came to Groves, they felt welcomed by the team.
“I feel like not only am I part of the team, but I'm part of the team of friends, and we have a group chat. It's just really fun. We're all really good friends. It's like a family,” Koch said.
Koch enjoyed moments the team pulled together into one big family, such as when one of the freshmen boys went into his first match.
“Everyone in the row, whenever he got to move right, we all stood up and cheered for him. Whenever he got to move wrong, we'd be supporting him. I think that was the moment when we actually felt like a true team. All the walls just got knocked down,” Koch said.
Photo by Jo Shuboni-Ulmann
Freshman Samantha Koch pins her West Bloomfield opponent after running a half nelson during a match on January 26. “The match can end one of two ways. The first way is by pinning someone, which is putting them on their back. If you pin someone, you don't wrestle for the other periods that you have left. It's just over. Or, it could go to the end of the third period, and just end based on points,” Koch said.
Four years ago, Celia Crompton joined the wrestling team as the only girl because she wanted to challenge herself, whereas the other three had different reasons.
Koch joined the team to help her with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
“I've never been really good at standing takedowns. So, I decided I wanted to start wrestling because a lot of my friends at jujitsu know how to do stand up, and I wasn't very good at it. So, I decided to start wrestling so I could get better at it,” Koch said. “My teammates at jiu-jitsu have said they've not only noticed I have better stand-up technique but it's also made me stronger and more aggressive as a competitor, and I realized recently that my bounce has become a lot better.”
Sanchez joined the wrestling team because her best friend had been a wrestler since he was little before he hurt his leg. He inspired her to join primarily, but a lot of people around her also wrestled and fell in love with it, so she wanted to see why they fell in love with it. Wrestling has become something they bond over, despite Sanchez moving away from him and coming to Groves this year.
“The way he talked about wrestling was the way I used to think about theater. Completely in love with the sport,” Sanchez said.
Photo by Jo Shuboni-Ulmann
One of the girls who made it to states for the first time in Groves’ history, freshman Samantha Koch, and her West Bloomfield opponent look for openings to acquire a takedown on January 26. “It's always a little bit stressful, and I'm nervous right before I’m about to go up in a match against someone else because I don't know their skill level. I don't know how the end is gonna happen. But I go in there, and I try my best,“ Koch said.
Like Koch, Alexander improved her moves this year and, like Sanchez, joined because of her friends encouraging her.
“I realized recently, my bounce became a lot better,” Alexander said.
At times, Alexander felt like quitting, but she persisted throughout her challenges and went all the way to states. She gave advice and support to other female wrestlers.
“Remember why you started. Look at yourself at the beginning of the season versus now. I almost quit on the first day of practice but look at me now. I'm able to do a lot of stuff I was not able to do before,” Alexander said. “Remember why you joined, and what about this sport makes you want to do it,” Alexander said.
Since it’s Alexander’s first year wrestling, her parents were worried about her wrestling, but her mom was especially confident in her abilities, her dad joining her later in the season.
“My parents are both very excited for me. At first, they were a little scared for me because I would be wrestling guys. They have always supported me though; they’re both happy I’m trying something new,” Alexander said.
Photo by Kate Murawski
Senior Erica Alexander, one of three girls who made it to states for the first time in Groves’ history, walks with her dad during senior night on January 26. “My dad really helped me calm down before matches in ways he doesn’t even know. I would just breathe and listen to classical music or songs my parents used to play when I was younger,” Alexander said.
The boys on the team have been helping the girls with certain moves and grips, and the girls have been helping each other too.
“Samantha is a fast learner. When she and I practice together, she's able to slow it down for me and teach me step by step if I don't get it. Sometimes I'll blank out, they say 'put your left arm here’ and I don't know where to put it, so she'll demonstrate how to do it,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez felt unprepared for her first match, but still persevered against a larger competitor and came out on top, literally. She won that match in a matter of seconds by pin.
“We got on the mat, and we were both beginners. Then we went in, he had his hands around me and we were in a wrestling position tied up. He tried making a move, and I hit a high C to get him down on the mat. He fell on his back, then it was the end of the match because I had him pinned,” Sanchez said
Junior captain Colin Campbell applauded Sanchez’s drive and was impressed with the growing number of girls on the team.
“There's not a lot of girls in the state who wrestle. But next year, I bet there's going to be a lot more. Girls wrestling's a very growing sport, in college too,” Campbell said.
Photo by Kate Murawski
Junior Colin Campbell cranes his neck to look at coach Jones for a call-out during a match. Later in the match, he won against his West Bloomfield opponent by pin on January 26. “On the mat, you need to disregard your emotions. You just got to focus on being aggressive towards other people because that's how you win in wrestling,” Campbell said.
Girls wrestling is becoming more popular within colleges as there are currently 48 programs in the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association (WCWA). Alexander is also looking to extend her wrestling career during or after college.
“I'll probably continue competitively if I can find a team since I'm going to OCC, so it might be hard to find a team, but if I can find a team, I’ll continue wrestling,” Alexander said.
Principal Dr. Susan Smith told the school over the PA system this state match “a historic event” because it was the first time any girls from Groves, much less three, competed in the Michigan state championship.
“These four grapplers gave tremendous effort throughout their matches. While they may not have placed, our wrestlers showed heart as they competed against the best in our state. Great season Erica, Colin, Sammie, and Izzy,” Smith said. “With agility, dignity, power, and perseverance our Groves wrestlers battled the entire 2021-22 season. The combination of our upper and under-classmen lent itself to a season of growth. The team is poised for the 2022-23 season.”
For the girls to make states, they had to go through sectionals first. Koch placed fifth in her weight class. Sanchez and Alexander both placed sixth in their respective weight classes. After the girls wrestled at sectionals, they then made their way to states the weekend of March 6. At states, Koch was one point away from placing, but she lost to a senior.
Photo by Jo Shuboni-Ulmann
Freshman Samantha Koch runs a half Nelson on her West Bloomfield opponent, attempting to pin her to the ground on January 26. “It's always a little bit stressful before I’m about to go into a match against someone else because I don't know their skill level. I don't know how the end is gonna happen. But I go in there and I try my best,” Koch said.
Campbell hopes this historic event, with the first girls' state tournament will promote girls’ wrestling and inspire more young female wrestlers to start wrestling.
“They’re not only inspiring other girls to join, they’re adding to the number of female wrestlers participating in the sport, leading women’s wrestling to a greater future,” Campbell said.
Sanchez mirrors Campbell’s prediction that more females will now participate in wrestling and at a higher level.
“Being a female wrestler, you have everyone's eyes on you when you're on the mat. It keeps me going. It feels like every female wrestler is resting on your shoulders. That can be a lot of stress. But it's also inspiring because even though you're on the mat by yourself, you're not alone,” Sanchez said. “You're representing something bigger than yourself. Female wrestling is brand new; it’s not common. Wrestling is a male-dominated sport. The fact that girls are now coming in and taking over is empowering.”