CASCADE -- Earlier this week the Montana High School Association executive board accepted a proposal to become the 21st state to sanction girls wrestling.
While the move will open the door for a lot of new athletes to try the sport, it wouldn’t have been possible without the handful of trailblazers who didn’t back down from the challenge of wrestling boys.
Though it’s been incredibly common the past few years, there was a time not long ago when seeing a girl on the wrestling mats caused spectators to double take.
Cascade sophomore Lily Grismer has been wrestling since grade school and has heard the noise.
“Girls shouldn’t wrestle.”
“Girls stand no chance against boys.”
“Girls should be cheerleaders instead.”
“Oh yeah, definitely I’ve heard it,” Grismer said. “And I kind of just push it off the shoulder and keep doing what I'm doing.”
Grismer is not the first female wrestler to wrestle with boys or to beat a male counterpart - but she might be one of the best in Montana’s short history of girls wrestling. She’s posted an 18-8 record, has placed in several tournaments and spent time in the Class B-C individual rankings.
“I like going out there and beating boys and proving to them that I can,” Grismer said. “I just really like adrenaline and when you're out there, you don't really think about anything else. You just think about what you're going to do next or what your opponent is going to do next.”
She’s not just a good female wrestler, she’s a good wrestler – full stop.
“She's not as strong as a lot of these kids, but technically she's the most sound in our room, for sure,” explained Cascade head coach Jason Lorang. “She's probably sounder technically than a lot of kids in the state. She's absolutely far and away a top-notch wrestler.”
This summer against female competition, Grismer finished fifth in her weight class at the Cadet and Junior National Championships in Fargo, N.D. The placement earned her all-American status. She’s currently ranked 14th in the nation among high school girls in the 112-pound weight class.
Next year she’ll compete full time against other girls when the MHSA introduces girls wrestling, but in 2020 she has her sights set on making history in Montana. Only three girls have ever placed at the Montana high school state tournament – Laurel’s Abi Gontarek, Kalispell’s Tilynne Vasquez and Chinook’s Rebecca Stroh.
Grismer would like to be the fourth.
“That's my main goal for the upcoming season, would be placing at boys state this year,” she said. “I would love to place top three. Fourth is the record right now for women in Montana. I would love to make Montana history, and that's definitely what I'm shooting for.”
The success of girls like Grismer and the growth of women’s wrestling around the country has helped attract new blood to the sport. That number includes coach Lorang’s daughter Kyleigh, a sophomore at Great Falls High.
Kyleigh wrestled in her youth but gave it up to focus on swimming seven years ago. After watching Grismer, her sister and other Montanans compete well at national tournaments over the summer – she decided to get back on the mats.
Both Grismer and Lorang have spent time training with the women’s wrestling team at the University of Providence.
“I decided that if I put dedication into it that I could become a better wrestler,” Kyleigh Lorang said. “And I know how long (Grismer’s) been wrestling. And she's a lot of motivation for me seeing how good she is. And one of my goals is to become all-American and be as good at wrestling as they are.”
When Kyleigh Lorang stepped on the mats for the first time this year at Great Falls High wrestle-offs, Grismer was right there in the stands offering support.
“She's been a lot of help. She's given me a lot of inspiration. She always encourages me even when I say I don't want to do it anymore,” Kyleigh Lorang said. “She pushes me and tells me that I can do it and she knows how far I actually have come with wrestling.”
Grismer encouraged her friend to give wrestling another shot and hopes more girls come out for wrestling in the coming years.
“I was so excited when I heard Kyleigh was going to wrestle again, because I'm always trying to get girls out. I'm trying to motivate them,” Grismer said. “I know some might be a little bit intimidated, but I'm always here for pointers and I know wrestling is a really tough sport and it beats you down. But I'm always there for Kyleigh and I might be a lot like her dad and pushy, but I know that it'll help her and it'll motivate her. Because I think if she keeps going, she's going to go far.”
Girls wrestling is growing because people like Grismer and Kyleigh Lorang have pushed it forward – and even now that it’s a reality in Montana, they don’t plan to stop now. Because the only reason girls wrestling exists is because those that came before never gave up.
“Girls bonding together and pushing for women’s wrestling and going the extra step definitely helps,” Grismer said.