Girls wrestling embarks on new journey at Horizon

Andrea Horanzy wrestles during a match last season. (Photo Courtesy of Jen Litt/Horizon Student Photographer)

Standing among a weight room full of boys is Andrea Horanzy, one of two female members on the Horizon High School wrestling team.

She and her teammates settle in for a fast-paced workout involving a mixture of weights and aerobics. Music blares over the loud speakers as the many wrestlers push themselves ferociously for a short amount of time, leading into a brief rest period before doing another burst of exercise.

During it all, Horanzy’s eyes stay focused forward as she exerts herself throughout the workout, never missing a beat. At times, she helps her fellow teammates, including another female wrestler.

Horanzy is about to start her second season wrestling with Horizon. Before, she was part of a co-ed experience for wrestling, but this year, she will have a chance to wrestle other girls.

In May, the Arizona Interscholastic Association announced the addition of girls wrestling as an emerging sport. This puts girls wrestling on the same path as beach volleyball, which recently evolved into a full-fledged sport last year.

What this means for Horanzy and other female Horizon wrestlers is they now have the option to wrestle other girls. Horizon is one of 103 schools listed as having a team, though the school’s team consists of two.

Girl wrestlers can still wrestle boys — and at Horizon, the girls still train and workout with the boys. There will be all-girl tournaments but female wrestlers still can wrestle with boys if they chose throughout the season. They are not restricted to one or the other until the postseason.

At the end of the season, however, there will be a bracketed individual championship tournament that will coincide with the boys wrestling state tournament. This is where female wrestlers will have to decide whether to wrestle with the boys or girls.

D’Juan Thomas, an assistant coach, will take the lead on the girls side and will focus on coaching the two girls. He said the AIA informed him that competition for the girls will be different from the boys, utilizing on-the-feet wrestling.

Coach Thomas said periods will be two minutes with wrestlers starting on their feet for each period. After a take down, wrestlers return to their feet unless one of them is in danger of near fall points, which are awarded for near pins, or gets pinned.

“It’s kind of a blend of your folkstyle and your freestyle, which is what the women wrestle in the Olympics,” he said.

Wrestling at Horizon

Prior to the AIA’s announcement, Horizon Head Coach Chris Hayes said there wasn’t a ton of interest in girls wrestling. That being said, Coach Hayes said he hasn’t looked in depth for female interest.

Andrea Horanzy stares down her opponent during a wrestling match last season. (Photo Courtesy of Jacob Meyer/Horizon Student Photographer)

Coach Hayes works with wrestling at a club level and said there are several females wrestlers there, especially among the younger children.

“To get girls wrestling at a competitive level with the boys, you have to start at the grassroots level,” he said. “That’s when the interest is there. When they get older, it gets harder to recruit them in.”

Coach Thomas said while the team has two girls, there a few others interested in the sport.

With the AIA’s decision, Coach Hayes says he thinks putting the sport on the path to be fully sanctioned will change interest, especially among families.

He thinks girls might check out practice with their brothers and become interested, ultimately becoming more motivated to continue because there is a sanctioned sport to work toward and join.

Horanzy isn’t only a wrestler. She also takes Muay Thai classes at the mixed martial arts and fitness gym Fight Ready, 8666 E. Shea Blvd. Her coach encouraged her to try wrestling because of the benefit it has on her fighting.

Last year, she was the only girl on the team. She described that as a “different experience.”

“I’ve always been used to being around all guys, so it didn’t really faze me that much,” she said. “But, it was still different because obviously (I) didn’t fit in with all of them but it also felt like having brothers so it was cool.”

Even though matches didn’t always end in her favor, Horanzy did enjoy wrestling boys because of the challenge of it all. She is excited to wrestle girls because she doesn’t anticipate it being so lopsided anymore.

That’s not to say the matches will be any easier. Horanzy had her first wrestling match against a girl a couple of weeks ago. She described the match as “fun but more intimidating.”

“It was more high stakes against actual girls that you are expected to (compete) with better,” she said. “With guys, it’s not like a big deal because ‘oh, you wrestle guys.’ With girls, it’s a little more of a pride thing. It was actually a lot more fun because you actually got to match your talent.”

Coach Hayes said in his time working with girl wrestlers, they’ve accepted they will likely lose a match against a boy but look for ways to improve themselves and have fun. Pitting female wrestlers against each other, he said, levels the competition and makes the girls have a stronger resolve to win.

Changing the stigma

For some, wrestling has been seen as a boys sport and one where girls don’t belong. Coach Thomas said the process of changing that stigma has taken root across numerous levels.

Recent successes of Adeline Gray, a four-time world gold medalist who won most recently in 2018, and Helen Maroulis, a gold medalist in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, show what women in the sport can accomplish.

“(USA) wrestlers are very successful and competitive nationally,” Coach Thomas said. “Showing that it’s not just the guys being successful in the sport and showing that women have just as much success if not more than their male counterparts and they can compete just as well.”

On a more personal note, Coach Thomas says he remembers wrestling a girl in high school and not wanting to face her. This wasn’t because she was a girl but because she was talented and a tough opponent.

Coach Thomas said the sport is growing across the nation, which leads to added excitement regarding participation. With that growth also comes another opportunity for high school players to obtain athletic scholarships.

In his pitches to those girls interested in wrestling, Coach Thomas said he emphasizes the opportunities for scholarships. The Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association has a women’s division that features primarily smaller schools.

“It’s something that before, we wouldn’t have this conversation about women’s wrestling and scholarships for our students because we didn’t have high school wrestling,” Coach Thomas said.

“It’s definitely an opportunity not only for us as coaches and as a program to reach more athletes but for our students to improve themselves and move on and get a higher education and prove themselves as life goes on down the line.”

With the upcoming season looming with a plethora of changes, Horanzy said she has clear goals in her head for the upcoming season.

“I want to go to state,” she said. “I just want to be better and start kicking people’s butts.”

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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