Girls wrestling continues growing, and there’s no shortage of local athletes winning big

According to a recent national poll of high school girls wrestlers, there are 18 from Illinois who are rated among the best in the country in their respective weight divisions.

When Illinois became the 28th state to sanction its first state championship series, it would illustrate just how quickly the sport has grown.

Over 200 schools in the state are now registered, and although some have just a few wearing their school singlets, there are others that have over 30 girls in the room -- producing quality wrestlers, many of whom have shown to be worthy of national recognition.

Batavia senior Sydney Perry is one such athlete.

Rated No. 5 in the country at 145, Perry would reaffirm her lofty status following a superb 2022/23 campaign that saw her claim her second state title.

“There is no offseason for Sydney, who is easily the most accomplished high school athlete in the history of our school by far, yet she remains humble and loyal. And while perfectly selfish about her own training, she is totally invested in our program, and the girls in the room,” said Batavia coach Scott Bayer.

Perry overpowered the field a year ago at 145 pounds to finish her season with a dazzling 34-0 overall record. Along with Glenbard North junior Gabriella Gomez, No. 4 in the nation at 115, they are two of the brightest stars in the area this season.

Glenbard North’s Gabriella Gomez celebrates her win over Eliana Paramo of Joliet Central in the 115-pound state championship match in Bloomington. Sandy Bressner/

Gomez, 33-0 a year ago, will go in search of her third state title in as many years.

“(Sydney) is a remarkable person, and leader, and is the reason that we’re able to get the level of buy-in from our girls. They see (her) and know that if this Junior World Team member believes in them, they had better believe in themselves,” said Bayer.

“Sydney just loves the sport, her teammates, coaches, and each and every girl that has walked into our room during her time at Batavia, and we could not have asked for a better ambassador for Batavia girls wrestling.”

Schaumburg coach Matt Gruszka, who watched his son Logan claim a fifth place state medal in 2016 at 170 pounds, knows the importance of leadership in the room in order to keep the interest. But he also suggests another reason for the continued growth in the sport.

“When Illinois finally separated into girls wrestling, the fear of training and competing against boys ended,” said Gruszka, whose Saxons recently won the 43-team Normal Invite by out-scoring its closest rival by 85 points with 225 overall points, and four individual champs.

“(Girls) knew they could wrestle other girls, so we had a lot more wanting to give it a try. With it being a winter sport, there are not a ton of other sports to compete (in) so it gives the girls a way to compete, and use it to complement another fall or spring sport they are involved with. I’ve been a wrestling guy my entire life, so to see the sport grow and evolve as it has is all very special to me.”

The Saxons boast a quartet of talented wrestlers: Madyson Meyer (125), Madeline (Hope) Zerafa-Lazarevic (140), Valeria Rodriguez and Nadia Razzak (190) all of whom are state qualifiers, with Rodriguez (37-2) No. 3 in the state at 155.

  Schaumburg’s Madyson Meyer, top, is one of four returning state qualifiers for the Saxons. Joe Lewnard/

Zerafa-Lazarevic and Rodriguez are two of 21 in the area that enter the new season rated in the top 10 of their weight class.

Sajra Sulejmani of Stevenson is the No. 1 at 145, while at 110 pounds, a real battle for top honors is on the horizon with No. 1 Ayane Jasinski (Grant, 21-3) and Bartlett junior Emma Engels (37-12) the two favorites ahead of No. 6 Victoria Macias (31-9) from Burlington Central.

Jasinski is the reigning champ at 110, while Engles won it all at 100 last February in Bloomington.

“Winning a state title was amazing. It was the first state title in wrestling at Bartlett since 2012, so it was great being a part of history in our program,” said Engels, who matched the championship trophy won by Sal Annoreno at 130 pounds.

“I worked a lot on my take-downs during the off-season, but also played a lot of softball as well,” said Engels, a middle infielder, who has been wrestling since fourth grade after deciding it would be more fun competing than just watching her brother, also a wrestler.

“I think a big reason for the growth in the sport has been when girls wrestling became its own sport, now we can train and compete against other girls -- although I still compete at boys tournaments during the season,” said Engels.

“I think that Ayane’s success has created a road map to success for other girls in our program, and it is her work ethic and leadership that will help our program continue to grow,” said Grant coach Mark Jolcover.

Around the area, Huntley, now coached by former Red Raiders star Gannon Kosowski, has a trio of state qualifiers back this season: Janiah Slaughter, Taylor Casey, and Aubrey Rohrbacher.

Slaughter (27-5) was third at state at 100 pounds.

Others who are state ranked include: Ireland McCain (Round Lake, 115), Sophie Ball (120) and Abby Ji (130) from Hoffman Estates, Ava Babbs (Lakes, 125), Perli Lomeli (Dundee-Crown, 140), Yamilia Penalize (Fenton, 155), and Wheeling sophomore,Jasmine Rene, who as relative newcomer to the sport has found her way to No. 27 in national polls.

St. Viator has a new head coach this season, former Warren star and 2021 third place state medalist Adriana Demos, whose path towards becoming the Lions head coach is an interesting one.

Demos competed in the 2021 state finals with a torn labrum that would eventually require her second surgery within a year and put an end to wrestling at Carthage.

“My love and passion for the wrestling will always be there, but my long term health was more important. So when I met Viator head coach Mike Schneider at the Conant tournament while I was coaching at Warren (he) would reach out asking if I would ever be interested to moving over to St. Viator,” recounts Demos, who was named Miss Teen International in 2022.

“When an opportunity to be an assistant at Warren went rightfully to someone in the building, it became quite clear when that door closed, the one at St. Viator opened for me.”

A strong advocate of women’s wrestling, Demos said it made far too much sense to give girls in Illinois their own sport and schedule, just as their counterparts.

“The sport is growing so fast because of great coaching, and the chance for young women to train and compete with each other instead of boys. And I can tell you the opportunities on the collegiate level are growing just as fast,” said Demos, who balances her time in the room with professional modeling.

Aurora University and North Central College are among the over 150 colleges in the nation that have women’s wrestling programs.

A big change is in store for girls wrestling this season is the addition of regionals in the state series following the 2022/23 campaign that featured sectionals only.

The top six at each regional will advance to sectionals, with the top four from sectionals moving on to the state tournament in Bloomington on Feb. 23-24.

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