Photo courtesy of Maria Diaz
The Girl’s Wrestling team is on the path to a potentially historic win — the state title. A win would mark the first state championship for the OPRF girls team, as well as any girls wrestling team in Illinois. This is the first year of an official IHSA state tournament series for girls wrestling in Illinois. Previously, there have been unofficial state tournaments, run by the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association.
The official tournament will allow athletes to get recognition for their hard work. “Their names are going to be in a record book forever, it’s quite a legacy, ” said Girls Wrestling Coach Arkin.
Senior Tiffany White said it feels “like this is a mark in history.”
The fairly new program has seen significant growth. Officially started in 2018 with only around six girls, Arkin says it has since “grown substantially” and now has around 20 athletes. Only three girls wrestled during the 2017-2018 season. The IHSA followed the lead of other states, finally made it a sport due to an “exponential increase in statewide participation of girls.”
While the program growth is important, the individual athlete’s growth has always been the primary goal. “The goal for us for our girls to grow as student athletes (and) to realize their highest potential,” Arkin says. He believes the team’s development will be the ultimate way to win state.
The team is still focusing on competing in individual and team state titles. “We will need to do whatever it takes to ready ourselves for the (state tournament). If we have to go back to Zoom workouts in our bedrooms and basements, we will,” Arkin says.
The legacy of winning would be an impactful one. “We have the opportunity to be part of history,” Arkin says.
Their first meet, which took place Nov. 24, started the team off on a good note with a win against Batavia High School who, Arkin says, is one of the better teams in the state.
Due to the limited number of girls on the other team, most girls did not wrestle. However, Arkin says “The ones that did wrestle wrestled really well.” The enthusiasm and team spirit was apparent throughout the meet. “You could hear us cheering for our teammates from outside the building,” White said.
Their success sets them up for a successful rest of the season.
The team’s spirit is apparent by the way members joke around with each other. White attributes that to their personalities. “I feel like they vibe very well. And it’s like a goofy type,” she says.
Barajas said the team listens to “a lot of music, hypes each other up and reassures one another.” But the team also helps each other improve through honesty, says Barajas. “Teammates aren’t afraid of giving hard feedback because we all know… the intentions are good and not meant to bring anyone down,” she said.
Barajas says one of her favorite parts of wrestling is the team atmosphere. For example, “after school, (when) we talk about our days.”
The boys and girl’s wrestling teams “support one another,” Barajas says. They watch each other’s matches and cheer each other on. Boys parents also support the girls team, with some having athletes on both teams.
“We often have mixed practices with the girls and boys teams together,” says sophomore boys wrestler Porter Hays. “We support each other by encouraging and pushing each other.”
“I’m friends with most of the guys,” says White.
For Arkin, the best part of coaching the team is “watching (the girls) develop into a team (and) watching them build relationships.”
As the season progresses, the athletes hope to have continuous improvements working up to the state tournament.