Girls wrestling: Conant's girls invite continues to grow

Since 1994, the number of girls in the United States who wrestle in high school has grown from 800 to nearly 32,000 as of 2022.

A quick visit Saturday afternoon inside William Perry Gymnasium at Conant High School would confirm the dramatic growth in this sport.

With 32 teams and over 200 wrestlers on hand, tournament officials would nearly double the weight class divisions from 14 to 27 to accommodate the terrific turnout to the Conant girls wrestling tournament.

Fifteen area wrestlers won championships.

"We (still) had teams calling yesterday to join the field, so we'll look to expand the tournament next year to meet the demand," said Conant athletic director John Kane.

Conant's Mannie Anderson, No. 4 in the state at 135, and teammate Natalie Aguirre (190-198) would treat the home crowd when they would climb atop the podium at their respective weight divisions.

Anderson would execute a third period escape, then defend two high singles in the waning moments of her 134-144 final against Bella Cyrkiel (Minooka) to earn a hard fought 1-0 decision.

"I did a lot of lifting to build muscle during the offseason, so I feel a lot stronger this season," said Anderson after she collected her fourth major of the season.

MSL West rivals Palatine and Schaumburg would claim two titles on the day, while Laura Kowalczyk (Fremd) added another for the division at 131-137, as did Eunice Ji (Hoffman Estates, 123-128) who registered a trio of pins to win.

"It was the will to win today that carried me through," offered Kowalczyk, who swims, and is just in her first year in the sport.

The dynamic duo of Sabrina Cargill and Jasmine Hernandez (152-162) would provide back-to-back titles for Palatine.

No. 2 Hernandez would defeat Alicia Tucker (Plainfield Central) while her teammate Cargill pinned her way to her 151-160 crown to cap a terrific all-around effort.

"I never give up when I train, or when I go out an wrestle, and if you put in the work, good things will happen," said Cargill.

Karen Herrera (Elk Grove) impressed at 113-121 to give the MSL East its lone title on the day, while St. Viator junior Natalie Gubernaut collected her third top 5 finish at this weight with a fourth-place medal.

Buffalo Grove senior Julianna Conroy, fifth last season at state at 155, was second overall at 155-171.

Valeria Rodriguez (129-138) and Madyson Meyer would lead a contingent of five from Schaumburg to state a year ago, with Rodriguez, No. 2 at 140 in the state, coming away with the best finish of the bunch.

"I had to work on being more confident in myself, and with the help of our coaching staff, I feel so much stronger in the area (and) ready to get back downstate, and finish higher than third place," said Rodriguez, who was 32-2 last season, and would defeat No. 6, Dyani Torres (Kaneland) via a fall at 4:22.

Meyer would join Rodriguez atop the podium when she capped a marvelous performance with her third pin of the day in the 114-118 final.

"Coach (Matt) Gruszka is best coach ever - helps all of us in so many ways, and has really made me a better wrestler," said Meyer, who also plays softball for the Saxons.

Warren would celebrate a pair of champions: Sophie Dolinar (127-130) and Alyssa Bentley (104-110) overwhelmed the competition by combining for four pins and a pair of tech-falls on their way to victory.

The Blue Devils nearly had a third champion, with Ashley Bridges fall to Clara Ugas (Highland Park) at 132-136.

Lockport would claim a tourney high four individual champions, but Round Lake was right there with: Autumn Turner, Vianey Hernandez and Brianna Perez having far too much for their opponents.

Turner and Hernandez would give the Panthers the perfect start to their final session with each turning in marvelous efforts as they each pinned their way to glory.

"My opponent (Dani Turner, Yorkville) was very good, so it felt good to beat someone that good, and to win here at such a big girls tournament," said Hernandez after claiming her second major of the season.

Perez opened play with a pin in just nine seconds, and added another two to win the 122-126 weight class.

Emily Pizano would thrill the Elgin fans with her devastating attack all day long, which included a superb six minute effort in her 122-126 final against Paige Bonilla from Conant.

"It's all about going out there and getting the lead, and just keep adding as many points as you can, and not give your opponent the chance to get back in the match," said Pizano, who after she opened the second period with an escape to take the lead for good (4-3) would explode for another seven points to head into the final period with a 11-6 advantage en route to a 15-6 triumph.

Sofia Gold, from Neuqua Valley, and Uliana Shevtsova (Metea Valley) earned second place medals.

  Elgin's Emily Pizano, top, and Schaumburg's Paige Bonilla compete in the 122-126 pound finals match during the Conant girls wrestling invite in Hoffman Estates Saturday. Joe Lewnard/
  Fremd's Laura Kowalczyk, top, and Warren's Paige Forbes compete in the 131-137-pound finals match during the Conant girls wrestling invite in Hoffman Estates Saturday. Joe Lewnard/
  Schaumburg's Madyson Meyer, top, and Metea Valley's Uliana Shevtsova compete in the 114-118 pound finals match during the Conant girls wrestling invite in Hoffman Estates Saturday. Joe Lewnard/
  Lockport's Claudia Heeney, top, and Yorkville's Yamilet Aguirre compete in the 121-127 pound finals match during the Conant girls wrestling invite in Hoffman Estates Saturday. Joe Lewnard/
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