Wednesday, January 17, 2018
The Ronald Reagan High School wrestling team has only existed for two seasons, but the program is already making enormous strides on the statewide level. The Reagan girls recently captured titles in the girls-only division at the Badger State Invitational in December and the Bauer Brawl in January.
Girls-only wrestling divisions are rare. There are only four Wisconsin high school tournaments that will include girls divisions this season, three of which have already been played. The Wisconsin Challenge Series will feature a girls division on Jan. 20 at Wausau West High School.
The limited opportunities for tournament titles makes Reagan's recent run even more impressive. Coach Cesar Pequeno knew he had a talented squad, but even he is mildly surprised at the Huskies' immediate success.
"These girls work so hard during practice to get better every week, I knew they were going to do [well]. I just didn't know how [well]," Pequeno said.
But even though this is an inexperienced team, the coach believes there is a simple explanation for the newest additions to the school's trophy case.
"I believe the key is having a group that has a common goal, which is to be the best and to have fun. For most of these girls, it is their first year wrestling and they love the sport, which also helps."
Reagan has 11 female wrestlers on the roster this season, with eight of them participating in the two tournaments. Nine of the 11 girls are new to the team this year, and according to Pequeno, they are already "making boys cry off the mat."
One wrestler that stands out in particular is sophomore Raquel Rojano, who is in her second year with the Reagan wrestling squad. Pequeno credits her work ethic as one of the biggest reasons for her development over the last 12 months.
"She is always giving 100 percent... [She] is usually the last one off the mat, and it shows when she is competing."
And even though Rojano and her team will go back to taking on the boys for most of the rest of the season, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) is reportedly looking at creating a separate girls wrestling division in the future. According to a La Crosse Tribune story from earlier this month, the current tournaments with girls divisions are serving as part of a pilot program while the WIAA looks at further expansion. There are 208 girls on wrestling teams across the state this season.
Reagan's Pequeno is looking forward to more and more opportunities for the girls' portion of his team.
"I think [expansion] would be excellent for the sport. If we want the sport to grow, it needs to have it's own division. In my opinion, it would also attract more potential female wrestlers if they knew they were wrestling other [girls]," Pequeno said.
"I have seen a change since I last wrestled in 1999. Back then you rarely saw girls wrestle, and when you did, they weren't that good. However, now you see at least one in every tournament. These young ladies have excellent technique and speed, and are sometimes better than the guys, especially in the lower weight classes."
Six states across the country - Alaska, California, Hawaii, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington - already have a girls-only division in their respective state tournaments. Wisconsin could soon be the seventh.