BILLINGS — If the first day of its two-year trial period is any indication, girls wrestling is here to stay in Montana.
“I didn’t know wrestling was this fun until I started doing it," said Kendal Tucker, who decided just last month to go out for Billings Senior's wrestling team. "I was never really interested in it. Then I decided to try it and I really like it.”
“They just came out in droves," said Billings Senior head coach Josh Beeman. "We have just over 20 girls who have signed up.”
“Given the fact that girls wrestling is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country, we felt we could promote it and get kids out," added Billings School District 2 Activities Director Mark Wahl.
But even Wahl didn’t expect it so soon. With about 10 more at Billings Skyview, it’s shaping up to be a busy first season. Thus, SD2 has announced a district-wide coach position - one person to oversee all three girls' programs.
“I’m going to have to kind of scrub my budget to pay for that coach," Wahl said with a laugh, "but it’s a good problem to have. It’s good for the girls, and it’ll be good for the sport overall.”
COVID-19 restrictions are making the logistics tough for now. Wahl says wrestlers will practice at their own schools for now instead of bringing all girls into a central location. Many of the girls hope it stays that way.
“When you’re not practicing with your opponents, they don’t learn how you wrestle, you don’t learn how they wrestle, so it’s more like an element of surprise," said Tucker. "I would rather stay here.”
The boys' coaches are happy to have them. Jeremy Hernandez has seen several girls come through his program at Billings West in years past, two of whom - Glory Konecny and Brooke Cicierski - went on to wrestle in college.
“Those two were amazing," Hernandez said. "They went through the workouts we put them through. I worked out with them, I wrestled both of them, and they never complained once. We tell them to run through a wall and they do it.”
"(My girl wrestlers) have been doing outside lifting, working together," Beeman said. "They’ve been coming in groups and pairs. It’s pretty cool.”
During the regular season, girls will be able to wrestle against both girls and boys, but they’ll have their own state tournament. That’s the No. 1 reason most believe the sport will thrive.
“Our club team had a girls’ sanctioned state tournament last spring, right before all the closures and everything. It was way bigger than we expected," Beeman said. "I’m fully assuming all the programs around within the next year or two will have the same situation. It’s going to be fun to watch the sports just boom.”
The Montana High School Sports Association has not announced locations for any state wrestling tournaments yet. Wahl confirmed to MTN Sports that each tournament will be held at a separate site. MetraPark in Billings will not host its customary all-class event.