Hillcrest on the podium as girls compete in own state wrestling tournamentApr 13, 2021 01:43PM ● By Julie Slama
Four Hillcrest High girls made up its first UHSAA-sanctioned team: freshman Hailey Pedersen, freshman Laney Sorenson, sophomore Briona Love and freshman Lilly Hutchings. (Nick Pappas/Hillcrest High)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
Wrestling wasn’t her thing—it’s her sister’s.
She’s a softball player, but when classmate Hailey Pedersen, her dad, coach Nick Pappas and her 11-year-old sister all told her to try it, freshman Lilly Hutchings did—and was glad she did.
It was the inaugural year of Utah High School Activities Association-sanctioned girls wrestling and Lilly made her mark in the 140-pound weight class, snagging the sixth-place medal in a competition that combined 1A, 2A, 3A and 5A. After walking in the parade of champions, a medal with a red and blue ribbon was given to her in front of her parents, about 200 student-athletes and coaches, and because of health and safety guidelines with COVID-19, a livestream audience that included her siblings.
Although Lilly has watched her sister wrestle for a couple years, she said it was still “very intimidating” to walk into the wrestling room. There were only two girls there—Hailey and sophomore Briona Love.
“They were super welcoming and kind; we really have good coaching at Hillcrest,” she said. “They talked me through the moves, showed me what to do and corrected it, but then, Bri, who is a weight class or two higher, jumped right into it with me. She wasn’t going to take it easy on me and I’m OK with that. I’m definitely willing to put in the hard work.”
After practices, Lilly went home, and her sister asked what they did, and she’d help her out. She’d watch videos with her dad, so he could point out tips.
“I’m not close to learning all the moves. I’m not advanced, but I just want to get better,” she said. “I like the grind; it’s fun.”
Lilly competed in four duals and two tournaments, and she pulled out a winning match in the 5A divisionals.
“I really had to push for it, but I pinned her,” she said. “It was real and very cool in the moment. It was definitely worth it.”
While at state, she almost got fifth. “It was close—it went down to a couple points,” her coach said. Lilly is using her first medal to motivate herself as she “definitely could place higher” next year with hard work. Still when “all the girls were cheering me on, yelling my name and I was announced a medalist, it was just so amazing and awesome,” she said.
Those girls also included Hillcrest state-qualifiers Hailey, who competed in the 124-pound weight class, and freshman Laney Sorenson, who wrestled at 108 pounds.
“They both made huge strides in their wrestling; they’re super positive and work hard,” Pappas said. “They need to take more chances and they’ll learn that. Briona is a great coach. She wrestled in North Carolina before she moved, and she is able to reach them and help set that high standard of work ethic.”
Briona, who last year wrestled against the boys, placed third this year in Best of the West in Tooele and sixth at Christmas Clash at Westlake High.
Hailey said that Briona also was quick to take “shots at me” three days after she joined.
“I just got destroyed,” she said. “She’s really good and bigger and stronger.”
For Hailey, it was a sport she could try after soccer season and was encouraged by Pappas, who also is her teacher.
“I fell in love with it,” she said, but had to “sell” her mother on it. “I told her, ‘Hey Mom, I’m going to go to wrestling’ and she said, ‘Oh, OK, but you don’t seem to be the kind of person who wrestles.’ Once she saw me, she said, ‘OK, that fits her.’ I’m known for being aggressive on the soccer field.”
But on her first day, when Briona wasn’t there, it wasn’t what she expected.
“It was extremely difficult. We ran 17 laps (2.5 miles on the indoor track), then we stretched. They had us get in four lines to do cartwheels, back tucks, somersaults and handstands for warm-ups and it felt like basically we were doing gymnastics,” she said before she even learned a shooting drill. “Each day, I told myself I would just come back tomorrow, and it would be better. I was dead sore, and I would barely walk upstairs, and I had more bruises than I could count, but I knew I could put in hard work and that’s pretty cool.”
She was excited for her first matches, which came in a tri-meet against Taylorsville and Gunnison high schools, despite recovering from a kidney infection that had landed her in the emergency room.
“I was so nervous and so anxious and right before the match, Briona asked me, ‘Do you know how to pin?’ So, she and the assistant coach told me how to do that and that was what was rushing though my head the whole time,” she said, adding that she didn’t pin her opponent, but instead, was pulled from the competition after two periods since her back was cramping. “By state, I knew quite a few moves, I could get up and out, and I knew how to pin.”
Hailey also talked Laney into joining, who said she agreed to it as it would keep her in shape for volleyball.
“It was exhausting, but the people were nice and accepting,” Laney said. “Hailey and Lilly taught me the monster grip and how to pin and even though they are different weight classes, they practiced with me. I only had two matches before state and my teammates would yell for me to do things during the match and I didn’t know what it meant.”
Still, Laney as well as the other freshmen plan to put in some time offseason and return next season.
“I know I have other positions to learn next season,” Laney said. “It’s definitely fun. It’s fun bonding with the team.”
Pappas, who has coached boys wrestling at the school for three years, said while the boys team supports the girls and vice versa, girls wrestling differs from boys in the sense of the bonding.
“There’s a feel, the vibe is new. The girls are more friendly with their competition. They know each other by name and when they aren’t competing, they will cheer on girls on another team. There’s camaraderie. The boys are out to just destroy one another,” he said.
That camaraderie doesn’t end on the mats, but it extends into the locker room.
“I put on my playlist and blast it on my phone and all the girls come in and we’re singing and jamming. It’s a fun environment where we’re meeting new friends, traveling and having karaoke sessions in the locker room with no boys getting in the way,” Hailey said. “We want to grow and get better, but we’re having fun.”
Lilly agrees: “It’s so much more fun than I imagined. I’m going to get some of my friends to wrestle; it’s definitely a growing sport for females and now, we don’t have to share it.”