Cedarcrest Girls Wrestling -
The Impact is Just Beginning
Sophomore Serena Smith competes in the first match, during Senior Night, against a competitor from Edmonds-Woodway High School.
As equally unassuming as they are quietly confident, the nine members of the 2019-2020 Cedarcrest Girls Wrestling team look, interact, and relate to one another as if they have been competing together for years. Mere moments into talking with them about this team and this sport, it is hard to believe that two years ago, Cedarcrest Girls Wrestling simply did not exist.
Representing all four grades at Cedarcrest High School, the camaraderie is apparent as soon as you see the team together. The bond is unbreakable. The support for one another unyielding.
When assistant coach and team advisor Christine Hillestad asks, "What is the goal next year? How many (girls) does (Boys Wrestling coach Mark) Ward want on the team next year?"
The response from all nine girls, without any hesitation whatsoever...
In the State of Washington, girls' wrestling first became sanctioned in 2007, the third state in the nation to include it as a recognized sport. Increasingly, girls are no longer forced to compete against boys on a regular basis. According to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, 112 girls competed nationwide in wrestling in 1990. By 2016-17, that number was estimated to be as high as approximately 14,600 students.
Although four girls on the Red Wolves Girls Wrestling team had competed at Tolt Middle School, and club wrestling was an option for girls wanting to explore the sport, Cedarcrest saw their first team come together in 2018-19. Beginning with five girls, injuries reduced the team down to nominal numbers by year's end. This year however, four of those five girls returned and more joined. Once the nine-member team was solidified, the 2019-2020 season began falling into place and the team began winning a whole lot of matches and impressing a whole lot of coaches with other programs around the conference and region.
By the end of the team's second season, sophomore Abby Varady became the first-ever Cedarcrest Red Wolves girls wrestler to place at the Mat Classic State Wrestling Tournament, standing on the podium in 6th place overall. And when you see these girls together, read about or learn of their successes, then see Varady's 6th place finish just two seasons into their existence, that number of "Twenty" does not seem so lofty after all.
Recently, Communications Coordinator, Mike Ward, had the opportunity to sit down with Hillestad and the team for an interview, held just prior to the 2A District Subregionals in February 2020.
From L-R: Mary Painter, Bethany Smith, Alyssa Adams, Olivia Hillestad, Jessica Wonder, Abbi Link, Abby Varady
Seated: Krystal Britton; Not pictured: Serena Smith
Q: WHEN DID YOUR INTEREST IN WRESTLING TURN INTO SOMETHING YOU WANTED TO PURSUE?
Abbi Link (Junior): "My dad put me into wrestling when I was about 10 years old, I think. I admit, I hated it when I started - they didn't have girls' singlets, for example, and I was self-conscious participating. Then, I came into it in 8th grade. My cousin, who graduated last year and wrestled for Tolt and Cedarcrest - he and I were really close - and I wanted to get back into the sport. I did really well in 8th grade and decided to continue when I got to the high school."
Alyssa Adams (Freshman): "In sixth grade, I didn't compete as I was just trying to get used to middle school and understand how the system worked. So, in 7th grade, I went sports crazy, signed up for everything and wrestling kind of stuck with me."
Olivia Hillestad (Sophomore): "I liked the physicality of soccer and I liked the idea of wrestling. I convinced my friend to join and be a partner with me. She stayed with it for two years, but she was a good partner for me. I really liked middle school wrestling, so I joined club and that got me into it completely."
Q: THERE'S A BUZZ GROWING AROUND GIRLS WRESTLING, AND CERTAINLY HERE AT CEDARCREST. WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO BE A PART OF SOMETHING LIKE THAT?
Varady: "I feel like since the sport feels so new and is up and coming around the state, let alone across the country, athletes seem to always have a desire to achieve bigger things. Boys will talk about hoping or dreaming to play basketball in the NBA, for example, but they know it's a hard stretch to achieve that success. Or even to go to the Olympics. For girls, with wrestling, those dreams just feel realistic. There are so many opportunities, it feels like something you can achieve and not at all hard to imagine for ourselves one day."
Christine Hillestad: "This is the fastest growing sport in the nation."
Varady: "People may look at wrestling and see it as this cool sport, because it is so physical and aggressive. There's just something about it. But only some people have the will to put in the work for it. In Washington though, we have the best girls in the country. I competed in Fargo, North Dakota this past summer, and our team were national champions in freestyle. Back home, with the best girls here, you get to see and experience this sport on whole different level."
Q: YOUR TEAM'S SUCCESS AND GROWTH IS STARTING TO MAKE AN IMPACT IN THE COMMUNITY AND CULTURE AT THE HIGH SCHOOL...
Link: "Wrestling brings a whole different kind of team relationship. It might begin as something you think is individualized, but you quickly want everyone to push further and go harder and succeed because we all see ourselves with a bright future in this. Sometimes, our coach makes fun of us, but we all hang out and talk to the other girls and make friends with girls on other teams. Everyone just wants everyone to do well!"
Jessica Wonder (Junior): "I pinned a girl last year on Senior Night and I saw her at Subregionals and she wanted my phone number!"
Christine Hillestad: "The vibe between a boys' tournament and a girls' tournament is considerably different. There is definitely a community growing within girls' wrestling."
Varady: "We all have so much respect for each other. So when you are leaning on each other and sweating, maybe crying (laughter from the team), you understand how it feels and you understand what it means to see your teammates pushing through the same things you are pushing through."
Wonder: "When Mary (Painter, a senior) got her first pin, we were all so happy!"
(The team cheers for Mary.)
Q: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU HAVE FACED THESE FIRST COUPLE OF YEARS?
Wonder: "For myself, Abbi (Link), Abby (Varady), and Serena (Smith, sophomore), there are so many girls within that same weight class. Some of us want to have good matches against good girls, but the opportunities are not always there for us."
Christine Hillestad: "Because we are in a scramble division (a team of 14 wrestlers can qualify for dual tournaments), some of our more advanced wrestlers have not had a chance to wrestle great matches, except in tournaments - which is why we try and go to as many tournaments as we can. Last year, we didn't have uniforms, transportation - we didn't have a coach in that first year. We suffered from a lack of funding and things came together rather quickly. We knew Olivia was going to wrestle, but we weren't sure who else would turn out for the team. So, on the fly, we got uniforms, got a schedule, I drove, I coached - we made it work!"
Q: AND YOU GOT TO HOST A HOME SCRAMBLE!
(Note: The snowfall in February 2019 caused the first-ever Red Wolves Girls' Wrestling scramble to be cancelled. The team was able to finally host one in the 2019-2020 season.)
Christine Hillestad: "We tried for two years, but we finally got one!"
Adams: "When we competed at the Puyallup tournament, that may have been the best moment of the year."
Christine Hillestad: "Everybody made it into the finals, for either 3rd or 5th place. That was a really good tournament for us."
Q: WHAT OTHER MOMENTS STAND OUT FOR THE TEAM THIS YEAR?
Varady: "When we all get to go out and eat afterwards!"
(The team laughs.)
Link: "The feeling that we know we made weight after we weigh in!"
Varady: "Finding a way to win a tough match, then turning around, and seeing your whole team cheer for you. I think it's what keeps us coming back, me for sure."
Adams: "That feeling of winning your first-ever match is something you never forget. And then you chase after it again and again..."
Varady: "Last year, boys would see us wrestling and, I dunno, it just seemed like they didn't care all that much? The more they watched though, boys would come up and tell me that girls wrestle so much harder. Boys seem to try and beat opponents with technique, whereas I want to go out and mentally and physically break my opponent down."
(The team laughs, loudly.)
Olivia Hillestad: "Sometimes when I go to camps, they will ask me to show technique or show a proper way to execute a move.We have to have strong technique, especially back when I was wrestling boys in middle school. I think it just goes to show how hard we have to work, and how hard we are willing to work, to make sure we are as good as we can be. Honestly, practice can be really, really hard, but we try and make it really fun for everyone because we want people to keep coming back."
Alyssa Adams and Abby Varady
Q: WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR THE FUTURE, EITHER FOR YOURSELVES OR THE GIRLS WRESTLING TEAM?
Wonder: "We will definitely be growing next year. Mary will be graduating this year and Bethany (Smith, Junior), Abbi Link, and I will be graduating next year. I have plans of going into the military right now, but I need to know if wrestling is a part of my future. Overall, as a team, we are only going to continue to grow if people know more about us, watch us, and come support us in our matches. Honestly, let's see where we can go with all of this!"
Olivia Hillestad: "I can see some of us taking this to college and pursuing those goals. I can also see us, in a couple of years, having this room be completely full of wrestlers earning awards and recognition. We have amazing girl athletes at Cedarcrest in soccer, track, and other sports. If the program can really grow at the middle school, once you start building it there, it only makes girls wrestling better for the girls when they get up here. I definitely can see some of us also coming back and coaching and continuing to find ways to support the program in the years coming up."
Varady: "My goal for the program, overall, is to have us make that impact you mentioned on not just our school but this community. This really can stretch beyond one high school in Duvall. I want girls to come and watch us, see us wrestle, and tell their parents that they want to work just as hard as we do. 'I want to be like them.' What could be better than that?"