Kylee Tafoya grew up watching her older siblings at wrestling tournaments, so it was only natural that she eventually gravitated to the sport.
When she got to Rangeview High School as a freshman, the opportunities for female wrestlers were few and far between.
Contrast that to her senior season, when Tafoya has seen girls wrestling explode in popularity and work its way to the very cusp of coveted sanctioned status from the Colorado High School Activities Association.
“My freshman year, the only other girl that I ever saw was on my team; my sophomore year I went to the first-ever girls tournament and there were probably 80 girls there and my junior year they had three different girls tournament and a girls state,” Tafoya said.
“The amount of girls wrestling has grown tremendously over the years and I love seeing it.”
The growth from something only a few girls did when they wrestled on boys teams to a completely separate thing has girls wrestling among three sports (also including boys volleyball and Unified bowling) currently under pilot status with the state’s governing body.
So far so good for all three, which all cleared the first hurdle Jan. 17 when it got the OK from CHSAA’s Equity Committee. The Sports Medicine Committee (Feb. 20), Classification, Appeals and League Organizing Committee (Feb. 26-27) and the CHSAA Board of Directors (April) must approve the sport before before it can go in front of CHSAA’s Legislative Council for final approval.
The sport has made a case with an estimated 300 participants — roughly double last year, when the sport’s first state tournament was contested — and 114 schools with at least one girls wrestler.
It’s attracting more and more girls like Tafoya, whose stepfather encouraged her to go out for the sport and she got hooked immediately after making Rangeview’s boys team as a freshman.
“My younger siblings wrestled and I was at their tournaments in middle school and I found it fascinating,” Tafoya said. “I kindof just fell in love with the sport. Nothing persuaded me to stay with it, I always wanted to.”
Tafoya got another unique experience when her former boys coach at Rangeview, Tim Corby, put together a girls dual match for her and a handful of other girls wrestlers from the Aurora Public Schools district against Chatfield Jan. 23 at Rangeview.
“One of the things our families don’t get to experience is the dual match environment,” Corby said. “The tournaments we go to have weigh-ins before sunrise and we leave after sunset, so it’s long days for the families. I really wanted them to see what a dual match format was like.”
The APS team — which featured Tafoya, Kaitlyn Shriver and Skye Garcia from Rangeview, Te’Ovyon Jackson and Ashley Jaramillo from Vista PEAK, Citlalli Barrega from Hinkley and Lotus’ Salem Scobee — won four of the seven matches contested against a Chatfield team with several talented freshmen girls Corby said were “as technically sound as any high school wrestlers I’ve ever seen.”
Not wrestling in that dual match was Vista PEAK junior Elisa Abeyta, last season’s girls state champion at 111 pounds who chose to wrestle in the Bison’s dual against Rangeview instead.
The growing popularity has created a good problem for the proponents of the sport.
The large number of competitors created the need to contest two regional tournaments for the first time to determine the state field.
Sparky Adair and Eaglecrest have the hosting duties of one regional on Feb. 2, which will include a whopping 45 teams. Most of those teams — which also includes the Aurora Public Schools group — will be of the smaller size, while the larger teams head to a regional hosted by Mead High School.
Adair expects upwards of 115 girls to be registered for the tournament, with the top four placers in each of the 10 weight classes (100, 105, 111, 118, 127, 136, 147, 161, 185 and 215 pounds) advance to the girls state tournament, which is set for Feb. 9 at Thornton High School.
“The sport has grown to the point where the younger girls coming in are better than the older ones still learning the sport,” Adair said. “State champions from last year aren’t guaranteed anything.”
Just as with boys wrestling, and especially as the intensity and skill increases, comes attrition and injury, which have taken a toll on the girls ranks.
Eaglecrest’s Emily Llamas won the state championship in the 100 pound weight class last season, but she’s been unable to compete at all during her senior year due to a serious neck injury that caused doctors to keep her away from the sport.
Other names such as Douglas County’s Tristan Kelly — Flowrestling.com’s No. 1-ranked wrestler in the country at 164 pounds and last season’s 161-pound state champion — will not compete due to injury.
Llamas’ loss and another to a broken leg are part of the reason why Adair has a team without a single returner from last season’s state team. The other problem is finding wrestlers who don’t have the concurrent demands of another activity/sport as well as those who are willing to stay dedicated from the start of the season to the end.
“I think there was a burst at the beginning of the season and a lot of interest, but as with the boys season, when people realize it’s not all fun and it’s a lot of hard work, not everybody sticks with it,” Corby said.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or email@example.com. Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Sentinel Prep Sports
2019 GIRLS WRESTLING REGIONALS
EAGLECREST REGIONAL: Air Academy, Arapahoe, Bennett, Calhan, Cherry Creek, Coronado, Denver East, Denver North, Denver South, Denver West, Doherty, Douglas County, Durango, Eagle Valley, EAGLECREST, Englewood, Far Northeast, Fountain Fort Carson, George Washington, Heritage, Kennedy, Lamar, Las Animas, Legend, Liberty, Mitchell, Overland, Palmer, Peyton, Ponderosa, Pueblo Central, Pueblo County, Pueblo East, Pueblo West, Salida, Sierra, Grande/Centennial Standley Lake Thomas Jefferson, Thunderridge, VISTA PEAK (APS), Vista Ridge, Widefield
MEAD REGIONAL: Adams City, Brighton, Brush, Burlington, Central of Grand Junction, Chaparral, Chatfield, Delta, Fort Lupton, Fruita Monument, Grand Valley, Holyoke, Horizon, James Irwin, Lewis-Palmer, Longmont, Loveland, Manitou Springs, Mead, Montrose, Mountain Range, Mountain View, Mountain Vista, Mullen, Northglenn, Northridge, Olathe, Palmer Ridge, Poudre, Prairie View, Skyview, Steamboat Springs, Thompson Valley, Thornton, University, Valley, Wiggins, Yuma