The fight for girls wrestling to get the proper attention and recognition has led up to this moment in Kansas. The first-ever wrestling state championship exclusively for girls took place on Thursday in the Jayhawk State and the wrestlers in attendance not only spent time preparing for the event but also reflected on their journeys to get there.
In the sport, the spotlight has not always been on girls and women who wanted to take part and those who did want to join were often forced to join the boys' team, as there was no other option. Some girls were bullied, questioned or not taken seriously when they got on the mat and have been fighting for opportunities for quite a while.
As of March 2019, and nearly 50 years after Title IX, around 15 states had a separate state wrestling tournament for girls. Kansas is now added to this list. Two up-and-coming wrestling stars from that state, Nicky Moore and Maddi Miller made their mark at this historic event.
Moore is an 18-year-old senior and on the varsity boys' wrestling team, as well as the new girls' team, at Nickerson High School in Nickerson, Kansas, though the Kansas State High School Activities Association ruled a squad needed to declare as boys, girls or mixed ahead of states. Moore did not choose mixed, so her teammates, specifically Miller, would have a chance in the state tournament.
Moore has eyes on the 2024 Olympics and and took the lightweight state title on Thursday, going up 14-2 and winning by pinfall to close out her career as a Panther.
The star wrestler already has a wrestling scholarship to Baker University and entered the biggest competition of her high school career as the No. 1 seed, living up to the expectations and taking the win.
"This was all very exciting. It was new, and the feeling in here is awesome. It was my last high school match ever, so it's all been very emotional. It's been pretty great, though. I couldn't be happier with how it turned out,"
Outside of her own drive and talent, her success has also been made possible by coach Doug Kretzer and his daughter Mya, who have been adamant about create a space in the sport for girls.
The two worked to make girls wrestling teams the norm in Kansas and spent four years lobbying for their cause.
Mya was a wrestler herself, but given the time it took for there to be a girls' team, she was out of high school by the time it happened.
She is not dwelling on her missed opportunities, but rather looking forward to the girls she has helped going out and showing their best on the mat on Thursday.
"It's my girls now, they can definitely go take the championship, so I definitely am just excited they can do that," Mya said.
Mya is in her first year of college at Baker University, but returned to see first hand what her hard work for all those years has resulted in.
Coach Kretzer said the impact of on these athletes is seen clearly when they compete "I didn't have to look very far today to see a lot of girls with big smiles on their faces and excited about their wins and heartbroken when they lost ... because they had a chance to compete," he told CBS.
Another athlete feeling the hard work of Kretzer and his daughter is Maddi Miller, who looked to take home a win in the heavyweight division.
When asked what her goal was she said, "I wanna get a state title as a freshman, like let's go!"
The freshman wrestler has seen mainly success this year, going into regionals undefeated, but the sport has given her much more than just wins.
"I don't think I would be such an outgoing and a happy person like I am now if I didn't do wrestling," Miller said.
Miller was unable to take the state title in her weight class this year, but the freshman impressed by finishing fifth. Already off to an incredible start, Miller will only improve as her high school career progresses.
The Kansas state championship is just more proof there is a demand for girls wrestling and that girls are passionate about their sport. Each year, as more state championships exclusively for girls are taking place and as more all-girl teams are formed, the numbers are increasing and are expected to continue rising.