Once exotic and branded as a troubling development by some, girls wrestling in high school becomes more mainstream each year.
In 1990, according to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, 112 girls participated in high school wrestling. That number has increased for 27 consecutive years, rising to 14,587 during the 2016-17 school year. Officials acknowledge that number is less than the actual participation level because some high school state athletic associations do not report how many girls are involved.
Hawaii was the first state to have a girls state championship in wrestling, sanctioning the event for the first time in 1998. Texas followed a year later, since joined by Washington (2007), California (2011), Alaska (2014) and Tennessee (2015).
New Jersey will sponsor a state tournament for the first time later this winter, and the Garden State recently saw its first match between two girls wrestling teams. But the vast majority of female wrestlers compete on boys teams, sometimes in the relative anonymity of junior varsity matches and usually in the lowest weight classes.
Which is where Mason Prunchak and Garrett Cosper come in. Prunchak (106) and Cosper (113) wrestled female competitors in back-to-back matches against Liberty during the Patriot Duals at Liberty High School in Henderson, and while the two Pahrump Valley freshmen have become more accustomed to wrestling girls than their older and heavier counterparts, it is impossible not to be aware of the pitfalls of wrestling a girl in a sport in which “Go for the crotch!” has been heard from the sidelines.
“I just try to stay away from that,” Cosper said of the anatomy issue. “If I touch them here and there, I pull my hand away as soon as I can. It’s awkward kind of, but you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do in wrestling.
“When you’re wrestling, you wrestle. You really can’t control where your hand goes.”
Cosper, who pinned Maegan Rivera in 3:45 at Liberty, said he has not wrestled that many girls, just “at practice here and there” over the years, and he said he is always willing to help out a teammate of either gender. Prunchak has been in that situation more often.
“I’ve been wrestling for like five years now, and over the years I’ve wrestled plenty of girls,” he said. “It’s accepted.”
Putting aside any potential awkwardness, both of them were enthusiastic about girls who want to wrestle getting out on the mats.
“I’m 100 percent comfortable that boys and girls should have the right to do whatever sport they want,” Prunchak said, noting you see more girls in the sport as you get older.
“If girls want to do it, they can do it,” Cosper agreed. “Of course.”
It wasn’t long ago that those attitudes were uncommon, but these boys got used to seeing girls competing at an early age. Plus, the winter season is not filled with athletic opportunities for females. The NIAA lists only basketball, flag football and skiing as girls sports for the season.
At Pahrump Valley, the only winter sport specifically for girls is basketball, so options between the fall and spring seasons are limited. Trojans coach Craig Rieger said because the nature of the sport means everyone earns his or her place, gender is not incredibly relevant.
“It’s more common in those lower weights, and strength-wise they’re right there with those boys,” he said. “And it’s such a respect sport that I’m good with it.”
Of course, respect comes with competing hard and winning. And with many varsity rosters not including girls, in most instances, if a girl wins a bout, a guy lost it. Regardless of how mature your attitude might be, it’s hard to imagine many boys handling losing to a girl very well.
But Cosper and Prunchak both say that’s old-fashioned thinking.
“I lost to a girl last week,” Cosper said. “When I went against this one (at Liberty) I put my mind to it and said, ‘I can’t lose again.’ If you lose to a girl, you lose. You just get motivation.”
“There’s nothing wrong with losing to a girl,” agreed Prunchak, who finished off Brandy Basia in 3:27 at the Liberty Duals. “It’s just motivation to get better, to push yourself harder.”
So if it’s no big deal losing to a girl, is beating one just as satisfying as a win over another male? “Of course,” Prunchak said.
Rieger said the possible stigma over losing to a girl still exists, but only to a point.
“Yes and no,” he said. “You don’t want to lose to a girl as far as just the muscle mass, but in those lighter weights I don’t think there is (any stigma). Wrestling is wrestling, and those girls are busting their butt.”
Rieger said there are girls in the Trojans’ wrestling room. “They’re JV girls, but they scrap,” he said.
Rieger added there are some very strong female wrestlers in Nevada, and it’s probably for the best that younger wrestlers such as Prunchak and Cosper are mostly comfortable with that. Because girls clearly will not be leaving the mats any time soon.