Girl Power: Meet the new all-girl wrestling team at Callaway High

Published 8:30 am Saturday, December 2, 2023

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The Callaway all-girls wrestling team is here to take names and kick butt. This is the first year of the program’s existence in which the girls will compete in tournaments with only other female athletes, an exciting prospect for these girls.

“I didn’t know what to think and I wasn’t expecting to go out here and love it as much as I do. I was kind of just like, I’m gonna try it out for a practice or two and if it’s just not meet my criteria anymore I’m good, but it clicked as soon as I got back out here,” Gatens said. 

The Callaway wrestling team had just one wrestler last season — Harlie Foster — who returns to the fold after a successful freshman season.

“It was definitely harder last year because I was wrestling mostly guys last year,” Foster said. “I wrestled in a few all-girls tournaments last year and they went really well, but we had to add more people for me to go to more tournaments, so I’m glad that we’ve started this all-girls team.”

The program now has five girls — Mikayla Blankenship, Foster, Lakyn Gatens, Abi McGownse and Savannah Rice — all sophomores. They vary in experience with McGownse and Gatens having experience from their middle school years before taking their freshman seasons off from wrestling.

“Not having wrestling for a year was different,” McGownse said. “Wrestling is my place to get away from everything else, so it feels good to get back into it.”

Rice has never formally wrestled as part of a team or in competitions until this season but comes from a wrestling lineage. Her father Jacob Rice wrestled in his younger years and is now going into his second season as an assistant coach at Callaway High School.

The time on the mat over the last month has been a bonding experience for the father-daughter duo.

“I’ve had to slow down and be more patient because it’s all new for her, and you just gotta be patient with her, but I’m proud of her. She’s doing really good, and She’s working hard,” Jacob said. “It’s a learning curve for any new wrestler, you’re going to have your ups and downs. You just have to push through it, but I’ve enjoyed it so far. I know it’s stressful for her to have to listen to me.”

Blankenship has the least amount of experience to call upon but has some experience with Gatens.

“I used to do wrestling moves with her when I wrestled in middle school, so she knew a little bit about it,” Gatens said as they shared a laugh. “She was like my little wrestling dummy.”

For Blankenship, it has been a tough yet fun acclimation period.

“It is a different kind of sport than softball which I wasn’t used to at first,” Blankenship said. “I didn’t expect it to be this much conditioning, but it will help me for softball season.”

The quarter of Blankenship, Foster, Gatens and Rice jumped straight from softball season into wrestling.

“Right after softball we are jumping right into wrestling,” Foster said. “It is a non-stop cycle of work, but it is fun.”

Rice added, “In softball, you think you’re strong because you can hit the ball really far, but some of these girls are really strong and can make you feel weak.”

McGownse is also a multi-sport athlete but missed the cross-country season with a hip injury. In fact, the injury held her out of the first few weeks of wrestling practice as well as the first tournament. With her first tournament since middle school scheduled for next Friday, she is getting excited about the competition.

“I’m excited for next Friday,” McGownse said. “I’m really excited to start doing it again and going up against all girls.”

Blankenship, Gatens and Rice have all had their first taste of tournament experience this season. Blakenship and Rice learned a lot about themselves in their first competitive matches.

“It was much more difficult than I imagined,” Rice said. “It was very humbling.”

Gatens went on to medal at the tournament, finishing fourth, to become the first female wrestler in Callaway history to place at an event.

“I was so happy to see the expression on her face,” Blankenship said. “She actually accomplished something that she wanted to do and it was awesome to cheer her on. When she is in the mood, she’s aggressive.”

The five came together at the first practice and were already friends, but this last month of practice every day has only strengthened the bond between them. They are trailblazers who are building some excitement around the program.

“Having Lakyn place at the tournament for us has only built excitement around the team,” coach Robbie Adams said. “We are really young on the girls’ side with five sophomores, but that gives them a chance to grow together.”