CHESHIRE, November 18 – In March, Connecticut will become the 19th state to host a state championship wrestling tournament for girls.
Competition will be held in 10 weight classes with the tournament being part of the CIAC State Open tournament at the Floyd Little Athletic Complex on the campus of Hillhouse High in New Haven on February 28-29, 2020.
Medals will be awarded to the top six wrestlers at 99 pounds, 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 145, 160, 182 and 235 pounds. No team scores will be kept and schools will be able to enter two wrestlers in each weight class.
Girls will continue to wrestle on boys teams throughout the regular season. But girls will have to choose which post-season tournament they want to compete in – the CIAC divisional tournaments (Class LL, L, M and S) or the Girls State Open. They cannot participate in both tournaments. The CIAC Wrestling Committee approved the proposal.
Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maine both hosted a girls wrestling state tournament last winter for the first time. Massachusetts and Maine each had 60 wrestlers in their respective tournaments.
Other states that offer girls wrestling state tournaments include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Washington. Nebraska is planning to add a championship tournament this winter.
The National High School Coaches Association added a girls national championship tournament at Virginia Beach last March. Three Connecticut girls earned All-American honors with Southington’s Ashley Reed (144) taking third, New Milford’s Joanne Ortiz (106) finishing fourth and Bristol Eastern’s Ella Nichols (126) finishing seventh.
Connecticut officials estimate that there will be 120 wrestlers competing in the Girls State Open tournament.
“There are many states jumping on board and I’m really excited that (Connecticut is) joining the movement (to add girls wrestling),” Southington High head coach Derek Dion said. “I’ve been getting notifications from colleges that are trying to add programs for the girls to give them opportunities.”
“It will be good for the sport,” said Danbury head coach Ricky Shook, who is also a member of the CIAC wrestling committee. “It will help us out a lot. In the past, girls always had to wrestle boys. This levels the playing field.”
The CIAC has been hosting wrestling for boys since 1966. Girls have competed over the years on many boys teams. Windham High’s Jenn Ottiano was the first girl to win a medal at a CIAC wrestling tournament by finishing fifth at the Class L tournament at 112 pounds in 1992.
Five girls have placed in CIAC wrestling tournaments with Montville’s Jessica Bennett having the best finish, taking second at 103 pounds at the Class M championship meet in 2009. Bennett and Jonathan Law’s Sam Rebentisch (106), who was sixth in Class M in 2013, are the only girls to have wrestled at the CIAC State Open.
Girls from Connecticut have excelled in wrestling in national tournaments. Plymouth’s Cara Broadus earned All-American honors six times at USA Wrestling’s Cadet and Junior national championship tournament. Broadus won a national championship at 115 pounds in women’s Cadet in 2016.
Last March, two Connecticut girls earned All-American honors. Plainville’s Dakota Marie Dinelli was second in the 16-and-under division (formerly the Cadet Nationals) while Bristol Eastern’s Ella Nichols was third at 144 pounds in the 16-and-under division. Nichols will wrestle for Eastern this winter while Dinelli is now going to school at Wyoming Seminary in Pennsylvania, a high school girls team that competes across the country and internationally.
Broadus won a U.S. Girls Wrestling Association national title in 2014 at 105 pounds while Branford’s Cheyenne Carden (138) won a U.S. Girls Wrestling Association championship at 128 pounds in 2010.
The best women’s wrestler from Connecticut has been Waterford’s Stefenie Shaw, who had success on the national and international level. Twice, Shaw finished fourth at the U.S. Olympic Trials at 63 kilograms (138½ pounds) in 2004 and 2008.
At the 2004 trials, Shaw, then a 17-year-old junior from Waterford High, beat Sally Roberts, who won a bronze medal at the 2003 world championships. Shaw also tried out for the U.S. team that would compete at the world championships and finished second in 2006 and third in 2007 and 2008.
She did represent the U.S. at the 2004 Pan American Championships in Guatemala and won a bronze medal. Shaw earned All-American honors nine times and for five consecutive years from 2005-09, winning the national championship at 67 kilograms in 2008.
In 2009, she won a WCWA (Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association) national championship at 67 kg, wrestling for Oklahoma City University and helping her team capture a national championship.
Shaw is the first and only woman currently in the Connecticut Wrestling Hall of Fame. She was part of the initial induction class in 2016.
Hawaii was the first state to host a girls wrestling state championship tournament in 1998 followed by Texas in 1999. Women’s wrestling became an Olympic sport in 2004.
“There was tremendous enthusiasm to create this invitational with the members of the CIAC Wrestling Committee, and there is great hope this will create even more excitement and growth for girls wrestling in the state,” said Bob Lehr, CIAC Executive Staff member and Wrestling Committee liaison.
The growth of the sport in Connecticut has not risen to reach the threshold in which it can be sanctioned as an official CIAC championship sport, but the girls championship event will join several other CIAC-organized events to provide the athletes with a championship-level experience.