Cassandra Ledger’s shyness nearly kept her from wrestling and it nearly kept her from sharing her story.
The Hinkley senior — now a four-year member of the Hinkley wrestling program — overcame her trepidation on both counts and hopes that it might lead to more stories like it in the future.
Ledger is a rarity in the world of Colorado prep wrestling, where very few females try out for the traditionally male sport predicated on toughness, but even fewer stick with it for four years.
“I actually didn’t want to do the interview because I’m kind of shy, but my mom said, ‘You need to do it, because what if your story helps other girls?’” Ledger said shortly before the Thunderbirds’ opening dual meet of the season.
“You know that one girl that you love who went to state (Denver East’s Maya Nelson)? You could be that girl for the girls who are afraid to try out,” she continued.
“I was like, ‘That was deep mom, I’ll do it.’”
Nelson captivated the state’s wrestling world when she qualified for the Class 5A state wrestling tournament the past two seasons and very nearly became the first female to earn a top-six place at the event.
Ledger’s wrestling story is a bit different, but hers started back in middle school.
Shy by nature, the self-described “tomboy” decided to try something different when she heard about wrestling tryouts. Ledger was met with doubt, even from her own mother.
“I asked my mom if I could stay for wrestling tryouts and she was like “You? Haha!,’” Ledger recalled. “Everyone told me, ‘You’re not going to do it, you’re too shy.’ So now, if I wasn’t going to do it, now I was. The day of tryouts, I told my mom I was staying. Nobody believed me.”
Ledger found she could compete in middle school before puberty hit for the boys she wrestled against, but she decided to continue with the sport when she got to Hinkley. The reception she got in the room wasn’t exactly welcoming.
Thunderbirds coach Terrance Goodroad had to assign partners to work with her in practice and they did so only grudgingly.
“My first year, the guys didn’t talk to me and they didn’t want to work with me,” Ledger said. “I really had to prove I wasn’t just there to say I was a wrestler, but prove that I am a wrestler.”
Ledger didn’t win a match her freshman year, but attended every offseason workout, dropped significant weight and showed vast improvement as a sophomore.
It was in that season that she recorded her most memorable win to date in a match at a season-opening tournament at Fairview, which was particularly satisfying given the type of opponent she faced.
In Ledger’s words, wrestling jargon included, a description of her improbable victory:
“So I walked in and there’s two types of boys when they see a girl wrestle: one is like “Pfft, a girl? I got this” and there’s another like “A girl? Where do I touch her? I don’t know how to wrestle a girl!.” So this guy was one of the first kind and so right away he slams me to the ground. There’s a move called a tomcat, and he kept tomcatting me and I just happen to really flexible, so I kept getting out of it. You could tell he was getting tired so he started slamming me. This goes on for two periods and then in the third period with about 20 seconds left he takes a shot, and you can tell he’s really tired but I wasn’t tired, just dizzy. He takes the double, I sprawl, cross-face for my life, banana-split him and now he’s on his back.
“My arms were tired and he would just not lay down, but finally the referee blew his whistle and raised my arm. All his team members came up and said ‘good job,’ but you could just see the kid laying there face down.”
Ledger’s flexibility is her biggest asset in wrestling terms, but her determination is nearly equal. She takes pride in how few times she gets pinned and she’s surprised more than a few opponents with her will to compete.
“I don’t like getting pinned and I don’t like losing, so I give it all I’ve got every single time,” she said. “Even if I lose, but put up a fight and make guys respect female wrestlers, that’s what I live for.”
Goodroad has seen countless boys — a few other girls — come through the program who have ended up quitting, yet Ledger remained.
He’s seen a transformation in her coming into this season, where she’ll compete in the 132-pound weight class where she seems to be best suited and where she can fit in the middle of Hinkley’s lineup.
“She really has that attitude in the room that she goes right at guys,” Goodroad said of Ledger, who had a 24-33 record coming into the season. “She’s not just a girl who is wrestling, she’s a wrestler.”
Ledger’s teammates — who voted her to be one of the team captains this season — can’t wait to see what she can do. The team’s three returning state qualifiers — seniors Ben Rhoton and Rafael Garibay and junior Serj Chavez — do what they can to help her improve.
“I’m very proud of her; it takes a lot to not get discouraged and keep working,” said Rhoton, who knows all about resiliency as he was 3-16 as a freshman and is not ranked in 5A.
“A lot of people would have quit, but she didn’t, so there’s a lot to be said for that.”
Courtney Oakes is the Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel