Girls bring energy, new perspective to Hillcrest’s wrestling teamJan 08, 2019 01:50PM ● By Heather Ernst
Hillcrest has an all-girls wrestling club in its third year at the school. (Hillcrest High wrestling Facebook)
By Heather Ernst | [email protected]
Success for Hillcrest High School’s wrestling has fluctuated over the years. However, there has also been growth and change in recent seasons.
The team welcomed new coach Nicholis Pappas, a former Taylorsville High School wrestler this year. Pappas is no rookie to coaching or the wrestling scene, having wrestled since fourth grade and coached junior high the past five years.
“I didn’t see myself doing this at first,” Pappas said, “but it’s a passion of mine and I like seeing the kids progress. That’s the cherry on top for me, the reason why I do it.”
Pappas brings new goals and motivators for the team coming off a 2017-18 season where they didn’t quite meet their goal of becoming region champions. Pappas recognizes the steps that were made last season in strengthening the team he is now dedicated to coaching.
While Hillcrest High’s wrestling has had its fair share of exciting seasons and influential players and coaches, coming into the new year they’re looking to widen their talents. Hillcrest’s new additions give a different face to the boys wrestling team — a female one.
Girls wrestling has been around in Utah for a bit, but it has definitely had a slower start with districts like Granite voting to prohibit female wrestling in junior high and high schools in 1997. Nationally, girls wrestling participation has grown from the 2010-11 school year with 7,351 wrestlers to the 2016-17 school year with 14,587 female wrestlers, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations’ participation data. In Utah, there is even a separate state tournament for girls wrestling gaining support.
Hillcrest’s boys wrestling team isn’t just welcoming a new coach this year, but also its second season with girls competing on the team. The new coach, who speaks highly of the one female wrestler on their team, Elisa Madison, welcomes the change.
“She’s brought a whole different perspective and energy to the team,” Pappas explained. “She has a whole different level of maturity, she keeps us in check.”
Madison, a junior at Hillcrest, joined the boys wrestling team last season after seeing a sign at school advertising the team. After speaking to the coach and proving her interest, Madison joined the team and is now competing in her second season.
“I was nervous at first,” Madison said. “I didn’t really think I’d stick with it but I met some friends that welcomed me and it made it a lot better.” Madison also said that her nerves made her stronger in competitions. “It made me not want to give up.”
Pappas described how the addition of girls on the team has had a great deal of positive impacts for the team, breaking down walls and showing them what being a team means. However, with new changes come adjustments that everyone on the Hillcrest wrestling team has had to learn.
Having a girl on the team hasn’t just been an adjustment for Madison, but for the whole team. Pappas explains how it’s hard sometimes to feel like part of the team when the majority of the team uses one locker room and she uses another, but this is a challenge he is more than willing to take on.
The team dynamic and strength on the Hillcrest wrestling team is one for the books, a team that doesn’t want to separate athletes, but wants to build group of athletes who support each other regardless of gender, race or any other separating factors. They are truly a team that doesn’t let each other give up and Madison can account for that personally.
“My favorite part about wrestling is the relationships you make with your teammates, because they don’t give up on you and cheer you on in your matches regardless,” said Madison.
Pappas recognizes that physically there are differences between boys and girls and, with strength being a huge part of wrestling, sometimes girls aren’t seen as competitive. Madison, who admits that her biggest challenge is strength, explained that with hard work and dedication girls are every bit as competitive in this sport.
“I remember my coach coming up to me and telling me that all the effort I put in helped me get to this point,” Madison recalled, “and when I got off the mat after winning I almost started to cry because of all my team’s support, I was just so happy.”
When talking about other girls who might be nervous to join traditionally male-dominated sports, Madison advised them to “be confident, don’t worry about what the boys think or what anyone else is thinking, just focus on getting better, working moves, and to improve every day and don’t give up.”
Hillcrest is also sponsoring its first all-girls wrestling club that is coming up on its third year and gaining quite a bit of interest from girls at the school. Similarly, Hillcrest has a youth program run by Eddie Gist that is looking for more members to establish a junior high team for fifth- to eighth-graders.
More information on the wrestling team can be found at Hillcrest Junior Huskies Wrestling on Facebook.