Seneca Valley forms girls wrestling team
JACKSON TWP — Izzy Leighty never felt out of place on the wrestling mat, even when she was the only girl on a youth team at Seneca Valley.
"I always thought as long as I worked hard and kept up with the boys, I belonged on the mat," she said. "For the most part, people involved with wrestling have always been so accepting of me."
Leighty's interest in the sport was sparked by watching her two older brothers — Caden and Teagan — compete at SV. She took to the mat herself in sixth grade and said she loved it from the start.
But she often thought of being on an all-girls team, a dream that will be realized in November following the announcement earlier this month that Seneca Valley will add girls wrestling for the 2022-23 season.
"I'm so excited," exclaimed Leighty, a junior. "There's a big push now to get girls to come out for the team. I want us to be competitive."
The district is currently searching for a head coach for the team.
Leighty and three other girls — juniors Natalie Tofanelli, Caelyn Dipietro and sophomore Lilly Tirado, who all wrestled on SV boys teams last year — are committed to the squad.
"We will be holding a girls wrestling night Sept. 28," said SV boys wrestling coach Kevin Wildrick. "Any girl interested can come and get some exposure to the sport. Just talking to some girls who have brothers who have wrestled for me, I think there's a lot of interest there."
It was two years ago when Izzy Leighty's mother, Jessica Leighty, began inquiring of Wildrick and Seneca Valley athletic director Heather Lewis about the possibility of the district adding a girls team. She saw how the sport benefited her two sons.
"It's a great confidence builder and teaches kids to take responsibility for themselves," said Jessica. "Unlike other sports, you can't hide behind teammates in wrestling. If you are focused and put the work in, it's going to show up on the mat. If you're not focused and you haven't put in the work, that's going to show up, too."
Wildrick, who will assist the girls program in getting started, believes announcing a girls team is in place is the best way to attract wrestlers.
"We didn't want to require a minimum number of girls to sign up before we followed through with installing a team," he said. "They're more likely to sign up if they know they'll be competing against other girls.
"All three of my daughters wrestled last year at the youth level. It's an amazing opportunity to learn life lessons and increase strength and leverage that can carry over into other sports."
Lewis said she's hopeful that 10 to 12 girls will be on the roster by the time the winter sports begin practice in mid-November.
"There are girls out there who already have an athletic background," she said. "Others may be looking for the opportunity to try something different.
"There are now over 10 schools in the WPIAL who have a girls wrestling team, but they've been added at different times, so our schedule for the upcoming season will probably be more tournament-based than dual matches."
A strong advocate of wrestling, Lewis said: "I expect girls will realize the same benefits from wrestling as boys do.
"I love the sport. If you're a competitor, I'm not sure there's another sport that brings out that competitiveness more than wrestling."