Girls’ Wrestling Grows in Popularity on the Main Line

Photos by Tessa Marie Images

Girls’ wrestling is growing in popularity around the Main Line, with teams popping up at local schools in the region.

Cordy Zalota paces on the mat before her match, a warm-up technique she learned from an older brother, Lukas. Over her singlet, she’s wearing a loose-fitting black hoodie. The hood comes off, and the 11-year-old shows off her braided pigtails. “I walk back and forth, and it gets me into a zone to go out and try my best to win,” says Cordy.

She wastes little time, wrapping a high school junior in a leg lace, a freestyle wrestling move that concludes a 36-second technical fall. Held at Newtown Athletic Club in Bucks County, the 2022 SEPA Quaker Duals tournament includes 10 boys and six girls teams, plus a mixed-gender club out of Kennett Square. On this November day, 100 girls are participating.

Cordy Zalota
Delaware County’s Cordy Zalota, an 11-year-old girls wrestling sensation.

A sixth-grader who wrestles at 110 pounds, Cordy also takes the mat with an eighth-grader, two high school freshmen and another junior. She’s now in her seventh year wrestling, and she hasn’t had a problem winning. Already a three-time Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling state champion, she’s also won the Keystone States youth tournament series. Cordy is a student at Holy Family Regional Catholic School in Aston, and she plans to enroll at Villa Maria Academy in Malvern next year.

- Advertisement -

For at least five years now, organizers have been plugging away at promoting girls wrestling statewide, pressing the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association about sanctioning the sport at the high school level and concluding the season with a state tournament. The PIAA has responded with a requirement of at least 100 dedicated girls wrestling teams. Three regional tournaments yielded a 20-girl bracket at each weight class for this year’s MyHouse PA Girls High School State Championship. Sanctioned by Pennsylvania USA Wrestling, it happens March 12 at Central Dauphin High School near Harrisburg.

Prior to 2018, only Hawaii, California, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Alaska recognized girls wrestling through their state associations. Since then, 34 states are on board, including neighboring New Jersey and Maryland. “So why not Pennsylvania?” poses Chris Atkinson, the women’s director for Pennsylvania USA Wrestling and the head girls coach at Souderton Area High School.

At the time of our interview, Atkinson cited 75 approved high school girls wrestling teams. Nationally, there were some 15,000 scholastic-aged girls competing in 2017. Last year, there were over 33,000. “With spring, I think we’ll have opened the floodgates in Pennsylvania,” he says. “We figure to hit 100 [schools] by the end of the school year, which would force a meeting of the PIAA.”

The wait for PIAA approval has allowed organizers to establish a more solid infrastructure. “We’re building tons of excitement,” says Atkinson. “For those who don’t support it, get ready. There’s going to be an explosion.”

“It’s real,” adds Downingtown West wrestling coach Drew Breese, who has two girls wrestling for his boys team, including Sienna Landrum, a junior who’s been in the varsity lineup the last two years and went 7-10 at varsity and 8-3 in junior varsity bouts a year ago. “The PIAA has a lot of deep tradition, and it’s fought and fought us on this, then put up that ridiculous number of 100 teams,” Breese says. “I think they thought we’d never get there, but now that it’s happening, they’ll be forced to deal with it.”

- Partner Content -

Cordy probably wouldn’t be wrestling if it weren’t for her two older brothers. Both play football and wrestle at Malvern Prep. Stosh, 17, is a sophomore. Lukas, 14, is an eighth-grader. “I always had to go to their tournaments—and I was bored,” she says. “So I wanted to wrestle too.”

When she was even younger, Cordy was the “trophy collector” for her brothers, according to her mom. “Now, she gets them—and gets more than them,” says Jameson Strickland, Cordy’s friend and Kraken Wrestling Club teammate.

girls wrestling

Jameson has collected trophies too—as a Pennsylvania Youth state champion and an undefeated all-tournament team member at the 14-U Girls National Duals. She’s also a Keystone States champion. An eighth-grader in the Sun Valley School District, she wrestles at 150 pounds and also has two brothers with wrestling experience. “Sun Valley doesn’t have [a girls program] yet‚ but we’re working on it,” she says. “I only started because of my brothers, and I didn’t start liking it until I began getting good at it. It’s a tough sport to get the swing of. But if I’m asked by someone if they should start wrestling, I say yes all the time.”

Girls can wrestle in the youth leagues with the boys, but the prospects dim at the high school level. This past fall in Downingtown, Breese held three “try nights” that drew 30 new girls to the sport. Kennett High School has five girls wrestling with the boys, and there’s movement at Avon Grove High School thanks to Jennifer Jennings, whose efforts on behalf of daughters Kaitlynn and Emma Rose have led to meetings with the administration. “We have coaches, mats and a facility, so all we need is to promote it,” Jennings says.

- Advertisement -

Atkinson has an eighth-grade daughter, MacKenna, who’s a state and USA Wrestling national champion. She took to the mat in her pre-K years. It was “totally niche,” says her father. At events, he’d be greeted with, “Why bring her? Our boys aren’t going to wrestle her.”

“But if you have a daughter, and she tells you that she wants to wrestle, what are you going to say—no? Of course not, you’re going to support her,” says Atkinson.

When the time comes, Jameson’s goal is to wrestle at either Penn State University or Ohio State. Neither has a women’s wrestling team at the moment, but the University of Iowa, a fellow Big Ten school, launched one this season. It’s one of 115 collegiate women’s programs in the nation. “It just feels cool because it’s such a tough sport,” Jameson says. “To be able to win matches feels really good. Wrestling is fun—exclamation point.”

Visit sanctionpa.com.

Related: Swarthmore Basketball Phenom Dana Bandurick Is the Shot Doctor

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!