The Emporia High women’s wrestling team enters its third season with high hopes.
After a fifth-place finish in the 6-5A State Tournament last year, the Spartans are looking to take another step forward.
“Overall, our goal is always to win a state championship or get into the top three and bring home some gear,” third-year head coach Shawn Russell said. “Because we’re in Division I – it’s all 6A schools and all 5A schools – so anything in the top five we’ll be happy with.”
Although each team sets out to win a state championship, it’s more realistic for some more than others. But Russell thinks his team has a legit shot.
“We’re going to be tested this year,” Russell said. “…We should be strong and competing in all weights by the end of the season.”
They will have a solid foundation to do so, with three returning state placers: Madelynn Griffin (125) was third, Virginia Munoz (138) was fourth and Megan Olson (235) was sixth.
Evelin Geronimo (101) is also a returning state qualifier.
“They’re going to do really well,” Russell said of his comebacks. “They’ve already stepped up and taken on leadership roles, so it’s fun to see and I’m glad they’re positive like that.”
Behind them is a large group of other wrestlers looking to make a name for themselves. Emporia’s women’s team is growing every year. Last year’s 18 was an incredible improvement over Year 1, but this year Russell has 32 on his roster.
“We’re really excited about this,” he said. “We have a lot of freshmen and a few sophomores, so that’s something to build our base on even more. … We continue to build. We have a culture here that is inclusive. It’s very positive and everyone encourages each other, so I think that helps. I’m kind of on my five-year target for my numbers and hopefully we’ll continue to hit them.
And while the Spartans are looking to push the schedule forward, they’ve also stepped up the competition a bit.
“We’ve included some big tournaments across the state,” Russell said. “Some of them will be even bigger than our state tournament because we’ll have almost all the big schools there and the little schools that are top five, top six in their divisions.”
If Russell has faith in this team, the wrestlers on it could be even more so.
Olson, a senior, went undefeated until substate last year and said the first loss of the season made her want to work even harder, earning her a sixth-place finish at state. .
This year, she plans to do even more.
“My goal is to rank higher,” she said. “My goal is always to work harder and fight from the last time.”
She said the key to her success would be to believe in herself and her abilities.
“It’s hard sometimes because you compare yourself to other athletes, but I know I’m strong and I know I’ve worked hard,” she said. “Just keep training, keep drilling, keep working as hard as you can.”
When she looks at the team as a whole, she is excited about how it has developed from year one to year three.
“There are some really natural fighters here,” she said. “They’re super talented and everyone works really hard, which you don’t always find in every sport. I’ve been on a lot of teams and this team works really hard.
Fellow senior Griffin competed in a national tournament in Fargo, North Dakota after finishing third at the state last year. She said this and other experiences helped her become an even better wrestler.
“I had the opportunity to work with excellent technicians, so my technique improved considerably,” she says. “Also, I did a lot of conditioning over the summer and weightlifting, so overall I came back more conditioned and stronger and better technically.”
Her goal for this season is to be state champion in her weight class and also “to be able to work my way through this season.”
His assurance also extends to his team.
“I think we could honestly win the state this year,” she said. “I think we have a very strong squad and we have a lot of girls with a lot of ambition and drive, so I’m excited to see how far we can go.”
Munoz shares Griffin’s team goal of being state champions and believes it can happen.
“That’s what we all want,” she said.
After being declared a freshman, she plans to focus more on her technique and be aggressive in her second year. His goal is to “perform better and do better than last year”.
Although each individual wrestler has their personal goals, none of them strive to achieve those goals in a vacuum.
“It’s as much an individual sport as it is a team,” Munoz said. “You have to perform well yourself for your team to do good. And it really helps to create a family bond, because when you’re there all alone, you feel like you don’t have anyone, and then you look outside and you see your whole team next to your match, t encouraging, hoping for the best for you.”