New Rifle High School girls wrestling program pins down historic first season
Just having this opportunity is paramount for students like Madison Farris.
Rifle High School for the first time in its history now offers a full girls wrestling program, and this wouldn’t exist had Farris not showed up. Before, girls interested in grappling had to do so exclusively in the Bears’ boys program.
In 2008, in fact, Rifle High School’s Keaton Long won the 147-pound weight class title in the USWGWA Colorado Girls Wrestling State Championship.
Farris, a former participant in wrestling programs offered by the previous 12 schools she attended, uses this ancient one-on-one combat as a major outlet. Her parents are divorced. She’s moved around, a lot. This settles her down, she said.
Farris started lobbying for a girls wrestling program when she began as a senior this school year, advocating tirelessly with Rifle Athletics Director Chris Bomba until, finally, her wish came true.
Farris now has six wins under her belt this season.
“I’m not worried about my record, I’m not worried about making state again this year or anything like that,” Farris said on Wednesday. “What I want to do is leave a mark on this team and leave it to where it’s not just going to be one and done.
“Hopefully, going on after this year, they will have a girls team from here on out.”
There are now five girls, including Farris, participating in Rifle High School girls wrestling. And because they’re competing strictly with other girls, it’ll be the first time Rifle is eligible to send a girls team to the girls state wrestling tournament. Girls wrestling was officially sanctioned by the Colorado High School Activities Association in 2020. But according to CHSAA, any girl who competes with boys can only compete in the boys state tournament.
“A lot of the other girls teams have more girls,” Farris said. “So running a dual, we end up losing due to forfeits. I think it’s just hard finding girls with our weights.”
Still, that hasn’t stopped Rifle High School girls wrestling from capturing some pretty monumental moments. In November, Bears freshman Mikhayla Washington recorded Rifle’s very first pin by a girl in school history. Rifle got its first girls wrestling varsity win. Rifle also hosts its very first girls dual in school history at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Washington said she was nervous and scared before locking down that pin in November. Once she got it, however, “I just felt good.”
“She was on her stomach and then I went through her arm, put my hand on the back of her head and just flipped her over,” Washington said. “I just felt strong.”
Washington joined girls wrestling this season after Rifle wrestling coach John Wisniewski, also a teacher, recruited her during physical education class. Since then, Washington has been greatly inspired by Farris.
“She’s there for her team, she’s an amazing person, she’s strong,” Washington said. “She’s really good at wrestling.”
Brawling with boys
A shiner the size of a silver dollar and five fresh stitches sit just below the right eye of sophomore wrestler Isaac Valencia. These battle wounds are the product of a match he had Tuesday.
Valencia, at 21 wins and eight losses, is one the top wrestlers in Colorado for his weight class. But in addition to his exploits on the mat, Valencia gets to watch people like Farris conquer opponents.
“She’s tough,” Valencia said of Farris. “I haven’t seen her lose.”
Farris had her gallbladder removed after a wrestler landed on it last year. She was in and out of the hospital afterward. Still, however, she came back at the end of the season to compete in regionals and qualify for state.
“I wish more girls would join,” Valencia said. “Maybe it’s confidence, or they think they don’t have much support behind them, so they won’t come out.”
The first week of boys practice was when Wisniewski received notification they could finally begin a girls team. This presented multiple challenges. Will teams with larger programs give up the points to face off against girls? Are there enough of the same weight classes to match up against?
Wisniewski said girls wrestling on the Western Slope continues to grow and, internally, more girls at the Garfield Re-2 School District continue to show interest.
“I had a meeting down at the middle school for wrestling, and there were 10, 15 girls,” he said. “Now hopefully they all wrestle. That would be way cool for next year.”
Wisniewski for now has his five girls practicing with the rest of the boys. Jokes run rampant, rapport is palpable through smiles and support for one another is nonstop — and it’s paying off.
Rifle last weekend was wrestling up in Green River, Wyoming. There, Wisniewski’s 85-year-old father saw Farris step onto the mat and couldn’t help but speak up.
“My dad goes, ‘Wow, she even looks like a wrestler,’” Wisniewski said. “She got an eight-second pin in the finals match. It was phenomenal.”
Plan of attack
Possible moves cycle through Farris’ head when steps onto the mat. Wrestling at 155 pounds, she envisions exactly how she’s going to subdue her opponent.
“If I’m doing neutral, I at least go for the snap down. If I can get the snap down, then a cow catcher, and then just from there, pinning them,” she said. “If on bottom, it’s a switch, a sit up and a stand up.
“If on top, I’m just trying to break them down and run a power half, mainly.”
This meticulous wherewithal is exactly what Farris wants for other girls teetering toward becoming a wrestler.
“With me being new, I didn’t really know many kids,” she said. “It was more of, there were girls that had already (wrestled) in middle school and wanted to continue, but they didn’t have the fight and the advocation for themselves to do it.
“With me being at so many other teams and schools, as soon as I came in, I wasn’t taking no for an answer.”
Farris, adamant about getting back to the state tourney this year, also said she looks to wrestle collegiately at Lakeland University in Wisconsin and study kinesiology.
Until then, she’s trying to leave an indelible mark — something strong enough to grow the Rifle girls program for the ages.
“There’s a lot of adversity you’ve got to beat with that,” she said. “Obviously, with not many girls wrestling here, a lot of people get scared. They say something about it that they shouldn’t.”
The long drives to Denver to play competitive club softball and fine-tune her skills during the offseason are paying off for Glenwood Springs High School senior Kiera Larson.