The first female wrestler to place in the Interscholastic Wrestling Class A tournament and qualify for New Englands was Phillips Academy’s own: Kassie Archambault ’06. In 2019, she was named as the head coach of wrestling at Andover, which also made her the first female head coach of a New England prep school. But in 2014, she was already bringing change as a coach by creating a female wrestling tournament for schools in the area. In its first year, the tournament hosted only nine wrestlers, four of which were Andover students. This year, the tournament hosted 103 girls from 30 schools, 18 of which were Andover students. In the fall of 2020, when I had just entered Andover as a Junior, Coach A., as she’s known, was a house counselor in my dorm. I had not wrestled before Andover, but I needed a winter sport and Coach A. was encouraging everyone in the dorm to try wrestling. Since then, Andover Wrestling has ended up as one of the most influential groups in my time at Andover so far because of the community it has provided.
In my first competitive wrestling season, there were eight Andover girls. Three became National Prep Champions. Five of us were completely new to the sport. In joining a sport with no experience, it was comforting to know that I would not be the only person new to wrestling. Wrestling has given me the opportunity to connect with people I would have never become close with outside of the sport, and being one of few female wrestlers amplified that. Especially in my Winter Term of Upper Year, the team’s ability to uplift and motivate me has been unbelievably helpful. The support I received from my entire team made every day of the term better. Although practices were challenging and at times frustrating, the progress I made and the support I received from my teammates helped me feel accomplished. Coming off the mat after a loss or a hard practice and having teammates to hug you in a sport that literally throws you down every chance it gets is vital. The wrestling room made me forget about all of the stress that came from school, and for that hour and a half, I got to focus all of my anger on the mat. I did not have to think or talk about anything else for two hours, and that was incredibly liberating. No matter how horrible the day had been, wrestling never failed to improve it.
In a worldview perspective, being able to witness and even participate in the exponential growth of women’s sports is spectacular, yet not an experience I expected to have at Andover. Every sport I’ve played in the past had a fair amount of female participation, and I never considered what being a girl meant in sports such as wrestling. Now that I have been a wrestler for three seasons, I have learned about the community that’s born from the isolated feelings that come with being one of few female wrestlers in our New England circuit. It felt awkward to come into a space that I was so unfamiliar with, but girls at Andover as well as other schools made up a community that welcomed and sustained me. They helped me to recognize that I, along with every other girl, deserve a place in this sport.
I remember feeling ecstatic when our team came across a female wrestler from another school for the first time. She was the only girl on her entire team, and she seemed just as happy to see us as we were to see her. I can recall Coach A.’s speech at the girls tournament, where she reminded everyone of the importance of seeing ourselves, as women, in a sport like wrestling. From this, wrestling has taught me that you should be welcomed and appreciated in every space you enter.
In addition to the whole team and the presence of female wrestlers within it, the specific girls I began my Andover wrestling experience with have taught me to value my own presence in every space, which helps whenever I am trying to prove that I belong somewhere. As with every aspect of my Andover career, the best part has been the people I’ve found along the way. Wrestling has made such an impact on my life precisely because of the group I came across. In the locker room, we continuously talk about how hard practice was, reflect on our days, and admire all the progress we have made. Being a part of this group feels like a breath of fresh air that I did not realize I needed before finding it. Often, I hear people talk about how relieving it would be to connect with people outside your usual circle, and I have found that in wrestling. I may not see them often outside of the sport, but like many parts of Andover, being part of this team has felt like a facet of “home.”
I may not be one of the National Prep Champions, but a crucial lesson I’ve learned at Andover is to always try new things. I tried wrestling, and I absolutely fell in love.
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