From left, Sequim High girls wrestling team members include, from left, Aleah Chen, Brooke Hodges, Skye Henning, Jordan Hegtvedt, Amara Sayer, Alexi Rampp-Taft, Kaydence Hilliard, Petra Bernsten, Chayil Briggs and Emily Dodson. Not pictured is Lilly Peterson. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

From left, Sequim High girls wrestling team members include, from left, Aleah Chen, Brooke Hodges, Skye Henning, Jordan Hegtvedt, Amara Sayer, Alexi Rampp-Taft, Kaydence Hilliard, Petra Bernsten, Chayil Briggs and Emily Dodson. Not pictured is Lilly Peterson. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Wrestling: Wolfpack girls take to sport, mats

Some started the sport at an early age, but most are kind of athletic transplants from other sports and recreational pursuits — soccer, acrobatics, ballet, and even some from rugby.

But at some point this winter, they found themselves on the mat, bonded together as a team in one of the most individual of prep sports.

About a decade ago — when Washington Interscholastic Activities Association recognized the growth of girls wrestling by creating a separate division at the MatClassic state tourney — and for several years afterward, Sequim High boasted a handful of female competitors while their teammates on the boys team often outnumbered them by ten-fold.

Fast forward to the 2018-19 season, and Sequim’s girls squad of nearly 20 nearly matches the boys’ turnout.

And, despite their relative youth, these Wolves are impressing coaches early on at tournaments and makeshift (mostly) girls-only league matches prior to regular matches.

“We have pretty high hopes of getting (many of them) past league and into regionals,” Rich Hay, who co-coaches the team with Erik Wiker, said.

Despite losing state runner-up Kiara Pierson to graduation, the Wolves saw the return of seven wrestlers with district tourney experience back to the mats this season — including regional qualifier Aleah Chen.

“I was just a really aggressive child,” said Chen, a sophomore who started wrestling in the youth Mat Rats program in elementary school ages.

Chen posted a 15-12 record last year and missed out on state by two wins. Drawing on her experience in acrobatics and swimming, Chen said she set a goal to get to state this year.

Sophomore Amara Sayer, who started wrestling at age 13, developed her athleticism from other activities.

“I got all of my body strength and discipline from ballet,” said Sayer, who also posted 15 wins last season and was one win from a regional berth.

“This year I want to try to change my mindset (to be) a better wrestler.”

As with other Wolves, for junior Alexi Rampp-Taft wrestling runs in the family. She said her father was a wrestler in high school and encouraged her to try the sport.

“I played soccer a lot (but) I was kind of done with soccer,” Rampp-Taft said, before picking up wrestling at age 13.

“I had no idea what I was doing. I was just rolling around.”

She added, “It’s the hardest sport I’ve ever done.”

Rampp-Taft, who earned seven wins as a sophomore last season, said she appreciates the individual nature of wrestling.

“I like how independent it is,” she said. “It is still a team sport and a family, but I am pushing myself to go as hard as I want.”

Sophomore Kaydence Hilliard, who picked up nine wins last season for the Wolves, said she was scared at first to try the sport at age 13 — but that trepidation didn’t last long.

“I loved it the first day,” Hilliard said. “My dad wanted me to do it and I fell in love with it.”

For Chayil (“Charlie”) Briggs, another sophomore who was a newcomer to the sport last year, wrestling fit her interest in contact sports; she plays rugby in Tacoma in the off-season.

“I played some basketball (but it was) not as hands-on as I need it to be,” Briggs said.

“I get scared before every match,” said Briggs, who saw action in 17 matches in her rookie season. That seems to increase, she said, when she’s going up against someone she’s wrestled before — wondering if her opponent has gotten better.

In the relatively small world of Washington state prep wrestling — and perhaps even more so in girls wrestling circles — Sequim girls wind up seeing familiar faces at league meets and at tournaments. And, unlike a decade ago, Sequim’s squad and other growing girls prep teams can attend a tournament nearly each weekend during the wrestling season, Hay said.

Chen said she and the Wolves will often be at tourneys for 10 hours at a stretch.

“You get to watch so much stuff,” she said.

“You get to know other teams, know their wrestling style,” said Sequim teammate Emily Dodson, a 12-match winner as a freshman in 2017-18.

Hay said he’s been impressed with his returners along with newcomers like freshmen Petra Bernsten and Lilly Peterson, and sophomore Brooke Hodges.

With a half-dozen former SHS wrestlers helping out Hay and Wiker, the Wolves have a chance to make some noise in postseason tourneys this winter.

“Time will tell,” Hay said.

Hawkins Memorial

Four Sequim boys competed at the North Mason Hawkins Memorial on Dec. 22, with two grapplers coming away with two wins each.

Senior Murray Bingham earned wins against a pair of Olympic League foes, earning an 8-2 win over Anthony Poggi of North Kitsap and a pin of Kingston’s Robert Collier in the 160-pound weight class.

Freshman Kobe Applegate was 2-2 in the 126-pound weight class, earning a pin of Aberdeen’s Ethan Trader in the tourney’s opening round.

Sequim sophomore Logan Laxson (182 pounds) and senior Jakob Pyeatt (138) also competed, with Laxson earning a win over Aberdeen’s Tyler Andres in his weight class division opener.

Amara Sayer, bottom, and Alexi Rampp-Taft work on some moves in a late December practice. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Amara Sayer, bottom, and Alexi Rampp-Taft work on some moves in a late December practice. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

As coach Rich Hay provides instruction, Amara Sayer, bottom, and Alexi Rampp-Taft work on some moves in a late December practice. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

As coach Rich Hay provides instruction, Amara Sayer, bottom, and Alexi Rampp-Taft work on some moves in a late December practice. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Emily Dodson, left, and Kaydence Hilliard get some practice time in at the Sequim Community School gymnasium in late December. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Emily Dodson, left, and Kaydence Hilliard get some practice time in at the Sequim Community School gymnasium in late December. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Kaydence Hilliard, bottom, gets some practice time with volunteer coach Jilian Hutchison-Blouin, a 2018 Sequim High graduate. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Kaydence Hilliard, bottom, gets some practice time with volunteer coach Jilian Hutchison-Blouin, a 2018 Sequim High graduate. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Sequim’s Amara Sayer, right, takes on top-ranked Holly Beaudoin of North Kitsap on Dec. 12. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Sequim’s Amara Sayer, right, takes on top-ranked Holly Beaudoin of North Kitsap on Dec. 12. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Sequim’s Alexi Rampp-Taft grapples with Bremerton’s Jenna Adams in the 125-pound weight class at a dual meet in Sequim on Dec. 12. Rampp-Taft won by pin. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Sequim’s Alexi Rampp-Taft grapples with Bremerton’s Jenna Adams in the 125-pound weight class at a dual meet in Sequim on Dec. 12. Rampp-Taft won by pin. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

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