Just 40 seconds in, Alyssa Augustin ’15 threw the champion of the 148-pound weight class to the mat and locked her in a pin in the final match of the NEPSAC Girls Wrestling Tournament last Sunday.
As the host of the first all-girls tournament among New England prep schools, Andover hopes that the event will inspire more female participation and debunk any social stigmas about female wrestling.
Nine girls from five schools participated in the tournament hosted at Andover, four of whom represented Andover Wrestling. Rebecca Somer ’15, Nicole Navarrete ’15 and Isabella Flynn ’15 placed second, third and fourth respectively in the 148-pound weight class, falling to a wrestler from Hotchkiss. The only wrestler in the 160-pound weight class, Augustin toppled the 148-pound class champion in an exhibition match.
“I saw some pretty remarkable sportsmanship among the girls in the tournament,” wrote Flynn in an email to The Phillipian. “While on the mat they went hard, off the mat, everyone was high-fiving and congratulating each other.”
Due to the gender imbalance, girls currently in the wrestling program usually face boys on the mat in Varsity and JV matchups. The tournament was a product of the hard work of Coach Kassie Archambault ’06, who was a wrestler at Andover, to level the playing field for female wrestlers. As the first female wrestling coach among New England prep schools and the first female wrestler to place in an interscholastic tournament, Archambault has been a major proponent of female wrestlers at Andover.
Of the 30 members currently in Andover Wrestling, only five are girls, although Archambault has tried to increase participation by talking to Junior girls’ dorms every year and emphasizing the co-ed nature of wrestling.
Archambault hopes that the girls tournament has set a precedent for female wrestling.
“I hope that this tournament will continue to grow and we will draw more participants each year,” said Archambault. “I think some girls may be intimidated to join a wrestling team because most of their competition will be against boys.”
“I think it is equally important to get them competing against other female wrestlers, and if we have an established tournament that girls can look forward to, this could encourage more girls to join wrestling teams,” she added.
For first-time wrestler Somer, the transition to wrestling has not been easy.
“The biggest social stigma relating to being a female wrestler would be that it is ‘unladylike,’ and to be honest, it has affected me at random moments throughout the season,” said Somer.
“At first, I really struggled with the physical aggression; it just felt so unnatural. I had been conditioned to believe that it’s weird for a girl to be physical, and I continue to struggle with this whenever I have matches with people watching,” she added.
“Before each of my matches, I always get extremely nervous, sometimes on the verge of tears. I don’t think it’s the same kind of butterflies that my other team members get, but rather it’s some bizarre insecurity that stems from the fact that I’m a female wrestler,” she continued. “Fortunately, in most of the cases, the feeling disappears the second I start wrestling.”
Archambault had to face stereotypes when she wrestled for Andover as well. By the end of her
Senior year, however, she had recruited seven girls to the team, working even then on building the female sector of Andover Wrestling.
“When I first made Varsity, other wrestlers would comment that this was Andover’s way of ‘being liberal’ by putting a girl on the mat,” said Coach Archambault. “My teammates stood up for me and told them I worked just as hard as they did, and [I] beat two other boys on the team for my Varsity spot.”
“By the end of my high school career though, people knew who I was and accepted that I was just another wrestler,” she added.
Similarly, Somer now feels no different from the boys on the mat.
“The other wrestlers on the team treat me the exact same as they would treat any other member. I am so shocked at how much I’ve grown to love wrestling and can only hope that more girls discover it as well,” she said.