Although popular, wrestling and hockey face tall odds of expanding to girls' varsity

July 22, 2013 Updated: July 22, 2013 at 8:20 pm
photo - Junior Summer Truong wrestles 106 pounds for the Palmer High School wrestling team. She is pictured before practice Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Junior Summer Truong wrestles 106 pounds for the Palmer High School wrestling team. She is pictured before practice Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Summer Truong and Lizzie Saxer don't mind being just one of the guys. That's just the way it has to be when competing in wrestling and hockey.

But with the skyrocketing popularity of girls taking up the two sports, maybe the day is near when the Colorado High School Activities Association makes the decision to add either to its palette of sports.

"I've seen a lot of girls wrestling in the past three years," said Truong, a Palmer senior who competed on the boys' team last season to improve her skills in judo, her preferred sport. "I think in Colorado, with the Olympic Training Center and interest in the sport, I could see enough schools that girls' wrestling could be a varsity sport."

For the foreseeable future, girls such as Truong and Saxer won't get the chance to compete against their gender in varsity competition in Colorado. In the meantime, both, while enjoying the coed competition, have found different arenas in which to put their talents on display.

Saxer, an incoming junior at Discovery Canyon, recently finished her first season on the Colorado Select 16 girls' team, which meant getting to know I-25 to Denver quite intimately.

Previously, Saxer honed her hockey skills over the years with the boys on the Colorado Springs Rampage club teams.

"It's definitely worth it in the end, but driving an hour each way sucks," said Saxer, whose father, Ed, formerly served as an assistant on Frank Serratore's Air Force hockey staff. "We took nine trips this past season, and all the girls on the team are serious about playing college hockey."

Saxer credits a few of the pioneers, graduates of Colorado Springs high schools who have done historic things on ice as women's college hockey players. She relished the chance to befriend Emily West, a Pine Creek grad and former Minnesota captain who scored the game-winning goal in the NCAA championship game.

To that end, Truong, who wrestles with other girls at the OTC, knows the opportunity to wrestle on a women's team in college exists. In recent years, fellow Palmer graduates Angel Deaton and USA Wrestling Junior Women's Freestyle All-American Amy Stolzmann, among others, have earned college scholarships to wrestle.

"There are only a handful of programs that have women's wrestling, but I'd be all for adding girls' wrestling if CHSAA wanted to look at something like that," longtime Palmer wrestling coach Martin Davidson said. "It's not everyone's cup of tea, but there's an opportunity to be had there. Just look at the MMA and females in the MMA. It's one of the fastest growing sports out there, and a lot of the successful fighters are ex-wrestlers."

Interestingly, girls are allowed to play certain boys' sports, such as football, baseball, wrestling and hockey. However, boys cannot play sports that aren't offered, such as volleyball, softball and field hockey.

Although 19 states offer girls' wrestling and 14 play hockey on the high-school level, CHSAA assistant commissioner Bert Borgmann doesn't see either sport making a convincing enough argument to explore expansion.

"From our perspective, until it becomes a larger population of young women who wrestle and play ice hockey, I don't think we would ever expand to that," Borgmann said. "But both are growing sports. Only time will tell."

While both Truong and Saxer enjoy the challenge of competing with the boys, they accept that their futures will be dictated in at atmosphere where they're on a level playing field.

"Playing with the boys makes you better and stronger," said Saxer, an aspiring defenseman. "It's definitely a more physical style of game, and I wasn't going to go around hitting everyone in the corners."

For one more year, Truong will take to the mat at CHSAA-sponsored wrestling meets with Palmer. And although judo will take her to the next step, she hopes her efforts in crossing a barrier will make it easier for other girls to go out for wrestling.

"I heard more girls were interested in wrestling," Truong said. "I think it'll be less weird for the new people, knowing there was a girl already on the team. It'd be nice to see our own league someday."

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