By MICHAEL LETENDRE
Many states have added girls scholastic championship wrestling to its winter line-up and coming in 2019-20, Connecticut will finally follow suit.
The Nutmeg State has become the 19th state to offer a scholastic wrestling tournament for girls.
It will be a state invitational run event and takes place at the same venue – and time – that the boys will be competing at on Feb. 28-29.
“Over the past 99 years the CIAC has been committed to providing student-athletes with exceptional education-based experiences,” CAS-CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini stated. “The inaugural CIAC Girls Wrestling Invitational Tournament exemplifies the CIAC’s innovative approach toward empowering student-athletes through school-based sports. We have every belief this will be a great showcase for talented student-athletes who are certainly deserving of this spotlight.”
Ten weight classes will be offered and medals will be awarded to the top six wrestlers at 99 pounds, 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 145, 160, 182 and 235 pounds.
“I think it’s good. I’m really excited about it,” said Bristol Eastern coach Bryant Lishness of the tournament. “I think it’s about time. A lot of other states have girls wrestling as sanctioned sports so this is kind of our first step. We’ll see. Hopefully, we can grow the numbers and we can turn it something that’s a sanctioned, all-girls sport.”
Team scores will not be tallied at the event and each scholastic program can enter as many as two wrestlers in each weight class.
All first, third, and fifth-place matches will take place with the corresponding matches in the Boys State Open competition.
Brackets and seeding will be released over the final week of February and all female wrestlers are eligible to enter the Invitational.
Its good news for Bristol Eastern sophomore Ella Nichols who has been competing on the boys team over the past season – helping the squad earn the Class L state title in the process.
Now, she’s going to be able to strut her stuff on a state level against other girls at the Open Event.
Nichols earned All-American honors this past year at the former Cadet Nationals 16-and-under division, taking third place honors at 144 pounds and can compete against both genders on the mats.
“I’m pretty certain she’s the most talented girl in the state,” said Lishness of Nichols. “I know Southington’s got Ashley Reed. Ashely’s very good and then we had Dakota Dinielli from Plainville. She’s now down at Wyoming Seminary but Ella has consistently beaten them and those two girls are All-Americans as well.”
Over the years, the girls that wrestled – going through all the workouts, the long hours, and dedication needed to hit the mats every night – never had a chance to wrestle at that next level.
Now, Connecticut has come through with a tournament challenge that lines up with the boys State Open event.
“There was tremendous enthusiasm to create this Invitational with the members of the CIAC Wrestling Committee, and there is great hope this will create even more excitement and growth for girls wrestling in the state,” said Bob Lehr, CIAC Executive Staff member and Wrestling Committee liaison.
The girls Wrestling Invitational Tournament in conjunction with the Boys CIAC Wrestling State Open (February 28-29), held at the Floyd Little Center in New Haven.
While the sport has not reached the numbers needed to be a sanctioned CIAC Championship sport, the Invitational will allow girls to win titles at the scholastic level.
“I think it’s a big deal,” said Lishness. It will be great to promote it. I’m pretty confident Ella’s going to be dominant and do very well.”
If Nichols continues to improve and takes the leap Lishness and the rest of the program knows she can make, is it possible she qualifies for both State Open events?
That’s where things get a little murky as the two tournaments commence simultaneously.
Eventually, a female grappler is going to earn a shot in both tournaments and someone as talented and tough as Nichols might be such a challenger.
“My one reservation is the way they have it set up,” said Lishness of the recently minted girls tournament. “They have it set up where the girls only tournament is the same day as the [Boys State] Open so if a girl is in the starting line-up for the co-ed – for lack of a better word – piece of it and she places, this girl or girls, if they place in the class tournament to qualify for the Boys Open, they now have to make a choice.”
Nichols is in the varsity line-up for the Lancers this year and “she’s put herself in position to be there,” according to Lishness.
While Lishness admits there’s going to be competition in those middleweight spots in Eastern’s line-up, she’s definitely in the mix.
“That’s 100-percent,” said Lishness of Nichols’ chance in earning a spot in the varsity line-up. “Some of the guys on my team, during wrestle-offs, it’s always, always extremely close.”
If she’s in the varsity line-up and places in the Class L’s, does she immediately go to the Boys Open – earning the right to face the boys due to her Class L standing – or does she grapple at the Girls Open event?
That’s the $10,000 question.
“Am I going to wrestle in the Girls Open or the co-ed Open” is the question Nichols could be faced with said Lishness. “I was hoping they could have worked something else out for that because I think a girl like Ella has the potential where she could place in the class for the co-ed team. And I think that would be unfortunate if she would have to choose between them.”
“I guess we’ll cross that bridge if and when we get there but that’s my only reservation with [the Girls Open].”
But the gate has been busted down for girls to get some equal footing in terms of the newly formed tournament and Lishness and several coaches around the state are looking forward to the event in February.
“Either way, I’m still very happy that they’re doing it,” said Lishness. “It’s a really positive step and I think it’s a necessary step.”