Two state place-winners return to lead wrestling girls as team size mushrooms

Scott Swanson

One thing is certain, going into this year’s wrestling season: Sweet Home’s girls program is on a significant upward trajectory – size-wise, at the very least.

But if last year was any indication, the girls are following the footsteps of the boys in success on the mat as well.

Last year the Huskies, who numbered five wrestlers, finished second behind 5A-Division Thurston, which had 21 members.

All four of Sweet Home’s girls who made the state tournament last spring placed: seniors Jessy Hart and Sicily Neuschwander finished second and juniors Paige Chafin and Kami Hart were third.

With Jessy Hart and Neuschwander gone to graduation, the latter two return to lead the 15 – count ’em – girls who’ve decided to pursue wrestling.

“They’re exactly the type of leaders I need as I’m building our women’s program,” Head Coach Steve Thorpe said.

The girls team has grown to the point that Thorpe decided it needed its own leader, so he has brought Gracie (Olson) Stutzman, one of the pioneers in Sweet Home’s girls wrestling program, in as an assistant to coach the girls.

“You can’t run two programs and give them the same attention,” Thorpe said, noting that he will continue to head both programs.

“You have to have a specific focus, and because of that need and the numbers, our school got behind us and supported us hiring a women’s coach. We hired Gracie Stutzman.”

Stutzman was a third-place finisher at state as a senior, in 2017, and her twin brother Kobe was a two-time state champion.

Thorpe said his staff held a girls mini-camp prior to the season that drew “a great response.”

He said the Mat Club has approximately 25 girls and Sweet Home Junior High has “a bunch.”

Add to that the 15 signed up for wrestling at the high school and it’s clear where this is going, he said.

Rounding out the roster for the girls are juniors Zoey Erevia, Kendra Jamison and Kelsie Rush, sophomores Ivy Dewitte, Trinity Landtroop, Cadence Makinson, Miah Miller, Natalie Templin, Riley Watkins and Kaylene Zajic, and freshmen Akemi Jimenez, McKinzi Neese and Alyssa Peterson.

The girls will wrestle a schedule very similar to the boys, he said – basically the same events with an added women’s/novice tournament on Dec. 10 at 4 p.m.

“They have 14 dates, 18 weigh-ins,” Thorpe said. “Almost everything we do on our schedule is also for the women.”

Girls wrestling currently includes all divisions, and Thurston is once again one of the likely top contenders, Thorpe said. McKay and Bend also look good, he said and Dallas is stepping up with its girls program.

“Women’s wrestling is growing so fast, everybody’s getting good,” he said. “I do know that the numbers of women’s wrestlers are way up.”

Sweet Home intends to be in that mix.

“Make no mistake, we’re not just trying to create an opportunity for women to wrestle,” Thorpe said. “We want to be successful. We want a trophy.”