By TED SILLANPAA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The debut of girls wrestling as a team sport in the North Bay League puts the spotlight on Ukiah High.
“It’s going to be a great season,” Ukiah co-head coach Shane Roberts said. “We’ve been pushing for the league to have a girls wrestling league for a while. Now that we have it, the girls will rise up and live up to the challenge of making it work.”
Ukiah had eight female wrestlers in each of the past two seasons; this season there are 18 working with Roberts and co-head coach Justin Gygert.
“We don’t go out and find girls,” Roberts said.
“The coaches can’t recruit them. The girls who wrestle are the people who go out and talk about wrestling and get other girls to try it.”
Ukiah is led by Shane Roberts’ daughters Harmonie and Alyssa. Serenity Voboril returns after a strong season a year ago.
See photos of Harmonie Roberts here
“I don’t think any school will field a full roster of girls at a meet this season,” Shane Roberts said. “Everybody has 8-10 girls signed up or out wrestling. It’ll be a success if teams field half a lineup, fill half the weight divisions. That gives a team a chance to win, even with forfeits.”
Ukiah and other schools are struggling to fill upper-weight divisions.
“It’s hard to find bigger girls. The key is making them understand that just because they weigh 189 or 200 pounds doesn’t mean they can’t be involved in a sport and be on a team,” Roberts said. “They can feel important parts of a wrestling team.”
This will be a building year at powerful Maria Carrillo and other schools that lost top girls to graduation.
“I think it’s a year where there will be lots of new girls,” Windsor coach Rich Carnation said. “There are some good girls out there.”
Rancho Cotate’s Vickie Espinoza and Windsor’s Samantha Hayman are expected to shine. Carrillo coach Tim Bruce will field a team with talented female wrestlers.
“Tim is the girls league representative and has done a great job helping build girls wrestling,” Roberts said. “He’ll have a good group of girls.”
Roberts said that depth of talent won’t be what makes the first season of the girls wrestling league succeed.
“Every school just needs to find one girl who can really wrestle,” he said. “Girls need their own wrestling environment where there aren’t boys looking over their shoulders. Girls have to be girls and that’s why a girls league is so important.”