SHORELINE — As it turns out, getting cut from a middle school girls basketball team wasn’t such a bad deal for Edmonds-Woodway’s Whitney Anderson.
Initially forced into a change of sport, she has enjoyed a change of heart. She made it pay off on Friday by advancing to the second day of the Western Conference South Division sub-regional wrestling tournament.
Yup, you read that correctly: Wrestling tournament.
Anderson and Jackson’s Tawnyrae Richards each won a match and lost one Friday in the Shorewood High School gym. They aren’t trying to make a statement. They are simply two girls among 152 high school wrestlers who brought hopes of qualifying for next week’s regional meet.
Kamiak placed 11 wrestlers into today’s semifinals, four behind Everett’s 15. Everett led the seven-school tournament with 152 points, followed by Kamiak’s 127.5 and division dual-meet champion Mariner’s 106. The top three in each of the 14 weight classes qualify for the regional tournament, while the fourth-place finisher must face the No. 5 wrestler from the North Division meet to qualify.
Though the road through today’s consolation bracket will be a long one for the girls — four matches long if all goes well — Anderson is glad she kept her word to a Meadowdale Middle School teacher that she’d join the wrestling team if basketball didn’t work out.
"I’m so glad I got cut," said Anderson, a sophomore who was pinned in the second round of her 135-pound match to begin the day but later bounced back with a 6-3 victory over Mountlake Terrace’s Matt Carrasquillo.
"I think wrestling is a much better sport. You are out there for you, but you still have that team atmosphere."
Anderson and Richards, a freshman 103-pounder, both started wrestling in the seventh grade. They say the boys are a bit tentative at first — until chivalry causes them to hit the mat. That’s when genders are forgotten.
"At first, they all said, ‘There’s going to be a girl on the team, what are we going to do?’" Richards said. "But once I got on the mat, they treated me like one of the guys."
Jackson coach George Schwope said he was thrilled to see a girl join his team. He wasn’t worried about the gender issue, with one exception.
"We weren’t sure if we’d have to order a different singlet for her," Schwope said.
Richards won and lost in dramatic fashion. She pinned her first opponent with five seconds remaining in the first round. In the quarterfinals, she held off what appeared to be a certain pin by Kamiak’s Jon Baldwin for nearly a full minute before her second shoulder blade touched with 16 seconds remaining.
At times, the cruelty of the sport has gone far beyond grappling with boys. Both have overheard the comment "girls shouldn’t be allowed to wrestle" more often than they’ve practiced the half-Nelson. Anderson said she and another female wrestler were once verbally accosted in a tournament restroom by a woman concerned about the close physical nature of the sport.
The insults and dirty looks sting like a belly-flop in the wrestling room, but it’s the occasions when boys refuse to wrestle them that hurt the most. Anderson said a Kamiak wrestler chose to forfeit a match this season rather than compete against a girl.
"It’s really upsetting," Anderson said. "It’s just a sport. I just want to go out there and do my best whether it’s a guy or a girl."
Richards also has won, she said, because a boy or his coach didn’t want a girl involved in the match. Some boys are afraid of losing to a girl, she said. Others are simply uncomfortable. Though most boys take losing a match to Richards in stride, some have cried or refused to shake her hand after losing.
Though there was a small amount of anxiety in the Heatherwood Middle School wrestling when Richards joined the team, it quickly went away.
"She’s really intense," said fellow Jackson 103-pound wrestler Pat Crivell, who will face his daily practice partner today for a right to continue on in the tournament.
Richards and Anderson aren’t the first girls to give wrestling a shot. A girls exhibition state tournament will be held this year for the first time.
In 1998, Arielle Bradbury of Montesano became the first girl to win a state-meet match. Aspen Crouter of Concrete won her opening-round match at the Class A meet in 2003, becoming the first girl to claim victory in the winner’s bracket. Newport’s Leilani Akiyama won a Class 3A consolation match a few hours later to push the list to three.
Anderson and Richards have lost more than they have won this season, but the belief that anything is possible drives them toward the goal of lengthening the list.