HARWOOD, Md. (AP) — Ashley Knapp says she feels like one of the guys as a member of the Southern wrestling team.
Only thing is, she’s not a guy. The only female member of the team just completed her third year and has a goal of cracking the varsity lineup next year as some of the current lightweight wrestlers move up to higher weights.
She’ll have something else to shoot for next year.
In an effort to highlight girls wrestling and to educate and increase the popularity of a growing division in the sport, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association last year held the inaugural girls wrestling state tournament. The event, held at Northeast High School, included roughly 80 female wrestlers from across the state, including participants from county schools Annapolis, Broadneck, Glen Burnie, Northeast, South River and Southern. Lacee Schmidt of Northeast won a title at 125, while Knapp finished third at 115.
The event was held again this year and attracted wrestlers from 47 schools across the state. While last year’s event was more of a round robin format, this year there were brackets for each weight class.
Knapp received a first-round bye at the 117-pound weight class, then after a pair of pins, found herself locked in a tight bout with Taylor Stone of St. Charles in the final. Knapp held a 4-2 lead in the third period, then was able to prevent Stone from scoring the rest of the way and locked up the state title.
“At first, I wasn’t really sure that I had won,” Knapp said. “Then I saw my family and coaches and they were so happy, so I knew I had won.”
Wrestling isn’t just a hobby or a sport Knapp uses to stay in shape for other sports. She started wrestling in sixth grade after seeing her younger brother, Justin, participate. She would go to his matches and practices and found the sport to be “interesting.” She’s also a defender on the Bulldogs’ girls soccer team.
“She’s always there and she works hard. Her goal this year was to win that female state championship,” Southern coach Jeff Schrumm said. “She goes to camps and does work in the offseason. We don’t make any special exceptions for her and she is well-liked by her teammates.”
Though Knapp’s season ended following the junior varsity tournament on Monday, she’ll be supporting the varsity wrestlers still in contention for region and state titles. Justin Knapp, just a freshman, is coming off a second-place finish at the county tournament and is the top seed at 106 at this weekend’s Class 2A/1A South Region tournament at River Hill High School.
It can be tough being the only female on the team. Ashley Knapp is not the first female wrestler at Southern and says she is treated no different than her male teammates.
“It’s not that bad at all,” she said. “They help me out a lot and think of me as one of the guys and part of the family. They’re all so supportive.”
One of her goals is to make that varsity lineup next year, while also repeating as a state champion at the female state tournament. She’ll use the spring to play travel soccer, then shift her attention to wrestling over the summer.
“She’s going to put the work in and she’ll be there,” Schrumm said. “There’s a cluster of really good kids, but I would love to have a spot open up for Ashley. Even if one doesn’t, she’ll still be there working hard.”
BULLDOGS WELL-POSITIONED AT REGION TOURNAMENT: Justin Knapp is one of four Southern wrestlers seeded first or second at this weekend’s Class 2A/1A South Region tournament at River Hill. Knapp (30-4) is seeded first at 106, while Andrew Ruel (32-2) is the top seed at 113. Devin Ball (31-7) is the No. 2 seed at 120 and Averum White (27-6) is seeded second at 170. JoJo Herring (third, 195), Kaleb Neal (fourth, 145), Michael Segreti (fifth, 132), Mykiah Bonhom (fifth, 182) and Griffin Tucker (eighth, 285) also qualified for the Bulldogs.
“We feel good. We have five guys in the state rankings, which might be the most we’ve ever had,” Schrumm said. “We’re definitely hoping to take at least five to states. The kids are wrestling well.”