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South Valley Journal

Numbers increasing—as well as overall quality—for girls wrestling program

Feb 23, 2022 06:17PM ● By Travis Barton

The Riverton girls wrestling team, in its second year, sent all 11 wrestlers to state. (Photo courtesy Becca Hamilton)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

Eleven girls form the Riverton girls wrestling team. All 11 went to state in February.

This is the second year for girls wrestling as a sanctioned high school sport.

The growth from seven participants simply learning the basics of the sport in the program’s first year to its second year sending all 11 wrestlers to state (with nine of them finishing in the top six at divisionals) is pleasing to say the least for second-year head coach Becca Hamilton.

“Growth wise I see a lot more aggression, more passion in the girls this year than I did last year,” Hamilton said of the team’s improvement. “This year it’s been a total flipped switch.”

The first year of the program, Hamilton said, was about “getting the ball rolling.” She understood there would be a learning curve “throwing girls into a new sport,” knowing they had to get their feet wet as beginners.

“You have to doggy paddle before you learn how to swim, and we definitely doggy paddled last year,” she said.

More of them, she said, “have graduated from the paddy cake to actually wrestling. It’s just that learning curve of getting mean.” Which was necessary, she added to prepare them for matches.

Junior Rachel Johnson, who took second in divisionals in the 190 weight class, was one of those girls who joined the sport last year. “It was so new, especially for all the girls. It was just different because not a lot of people knew how to do it, so you’re learning with everyone else.”

But this year, “we’ve gotten a lot better at technique,” she added.

In her first year, Johnson had 18 victories. As a sign of the team’s improvement, heading into state this year, she had 28.

Hamilton said Johnson started the year on the light end of the 245 class, but moved down to the 190 class to be on the stronger end.

“She would get her butt whooped so she cut down (to 190) and then would slaughter the whole lineup,” Hamilton said.

Sophomore Bella Butterfield took first at divisionals in the 115 weight class. “She worked her butt off and the results showed,” Hamilton said.

Ashlea Larson might be the most seasoned on the team. The senior wrestled with the boys her first two years of high school before the sanctioning. Hamilton noted there are few opponents who can give her a match.

“Sometimes she’ll jump in with the guys to get harder practice,” Hamilton said.

As for the program’s future, Hamilton is positive. The team grew in its second year and she expects more growth as they transition to having a fourth period specific to girls wrestling. Right now they practice after school with the boys. Having the dedicated class time will make it “girls wrestling and not boys and girls wrestling,” she said.

Johnson also hopes more girls join the program, strengthening it, making it bigger.

“It’s so fun, it just helps you gain so much more confidence in wrestling and everything else in life,” Johnson said.

Hamilton hopes to one day have at least two girls in every weight class so they have equal weight partners. But perhaps more importantly for Hamilton, she just wants to see the love of the sport grow.

“Seeing the passion of the girls wrestling is one of my favorite things because I enjoyed it so much, so just seeing it light a fire under them,” she said.  

Hamilton is a trailblazer for Riverton girls wrestling. She wrestled with the boys team as a student from 2015-2018 when she graduated as only one of two girls on the team. She then took over as the program’s first-ever head coach when the sport was sanctioned.

She originally got into the sport for her younger brother.

“He didn’t have a partner so my mom threw me in there,” she said of her beginnings with the sport. “I was tired of being his dummy so I was like, ‘I want to wrestle.’”

Obviously she enjoys beating opponents on the mat, but it’s also the life skills about the sport that stands out to her.

“I really appreciate how much hard work it has taught me. In normal life, you have those flaky people and others who have grown with hard work,” she said. “(For me) it’s helped teach that hard work and accountability.”

“You get out what you put in,” she added.

But it’s learning what you’re physically and mentally capable of that might be what she values most.

“Just how hard you have to push your body,” she said. “That feeling that you can do anything that you really put your mind to.

“What you feel can be like the brink of death, but you can come back and do it again tomorrow. It’s kind of exciting.”