This year was the first year for high school girls wrestling in Missouri, and 144 girls joined the usual 896 boys at the three-day state championships in Columbia.
Year 1 was a really good start for the girls, and it's an event that's only going to grow.
The Missouri State High School Activities Association has added a number of activities in recent years — bass fishing, bowling, chess and archery (which has become extremely popular) — but girls wrestling is the first athletic event Missouri has sanctioned in many, many years.
And, for a first-year program, it had some growing pains this year.
Not many schools jumped on the bandwagon this season. Around here, the Jefferson City Lady Jays had one wrestler, Celeste Cash, and Helias and Blair Oaks didn't field a girls wrestling program.
At the dual meets I covered during the regular season, I seldom saw a girls wrestling match. The only one I recall was when Buffalo visited Jefferson City in December, and the Lady Bison brought a roster of 11 girls. One of them, junior Lizzie Miller, wrestled that night against the Jays, not the Lady Jays.
But this newly created state tournament is for girls like Miller, who was a state qualifier in the Class 2 boys state wrestling championships in 2017. She posted a 2-2 record at 106 pounds — winning her first-round match by fall — but came up short in the third-round wrestlebacks, missing a state medal by one win.
That was a phenomenal feat for a freshman girl on such a big stage. And it was no surprise when Miller breezed through the girls 116-pound bracket this weekend. She won her championship match by fall Saturday night, and is one of 12 girls who can now say they won a state title in the first Missouri girls state tournament.
Miller got up off the mat after her win, faced the crowd and flexed her muscles. Just like many of the boys do.
Our area had a pair of state medalists, as Versailles junior Alana May finished second at 235 and School of the Osage junior Abbey Cordia took third at 131. Both wrestled on the boys team in the past, but they jumped at the opportunity to compete in girls wrestling.
"I think there will be so many more girls (competing next year)," May said. "Our school has plenty of girls already looking into it."
Wrestling is also becoming more prevalent at the college level. Within the past two years, Westminster College started men's and women's wrestling. Central Methodist University announced last week it would be doing the same next school year.
This year's girls state tournament consisted of just one class, but that won't last for long. As more girls take on the sport, more classes will likely be added. When that happens, the girls could get a state weekend to themselves, although it may have to come at a different venue.
But the growth is inevitable. Girls wrestling is definitely here to stay.
"We finally have a chance to prove that we're as good as the boys and we can be like the boys," said Cordia, whose younger brother, Chase, was also a state medalist this weekend for the Indians. "This sport isn't just for the boys. Girls can do it too."