Gwinnett girls have strong debut at state wrestling tournament

Mountain View’s Kennedy Shropshire won her weight class at the King of the Hill junior varsity tournament last January at Collins Hill High School. (Special Photo)

Mountain View sophomore Kennedy Shropshire was wrestling up a weight class last week at sectionals.

Shropshire, who doesn’t typically wrestle in the 116-pound weight class, had to move up if she was going to seize a first-time opportunity presented for her and fellow girls wrestlers at sectionals: the chance to wrestle at the 2019 GHSA traditional state championships in a girls-only bracket.

The meet was in Valdosta at Lowndes High School. Shropshire placed first in her weight class and improved her overall record to 12-5 this season. That record combines matches against boys and girls.

“I knew it was going to be harder, but I feel like I did pretty good,” she said. “I was pretty confident going in I could win and qualify, so afterward I just felt relief.”

That confidence seems to have translated to the early rounds of GHSA’s traditional state tournament at the Macon Centreplex on Thursday. Shropshire advanced to the semifinals by winning her first two matches by pinfall. She won her first in 45 seconds and took the second in 3:01. She’ll wrestle her semifinal match today and, if she advances, wrestle in the finals on Saturday.

The 2019 traditional state tournament marks the first in which girls will wrestle in their own tournament. There are 10 weight classes, and all of the state’s classifications are combined. Weights start as low as 95 and up to 225. Girls could always wrestling in GHSA varsity matches, but have not had their own division until sectionals qualifying last week.

While girls wrestling is still not yet officially sanctioned by GHSA, Mountain View coach Jim Gassman personally believes that girls teams are on the way in the next two to three years.

“It’s just good timing,” Gassman said. “There are more girls participating throughout the state. … It’s always a process, but there are enough quality girls wrestling.”

Shropshire won Collins Hill’s junior varsity King of the Hill tournament and was the freshman champion in her weight class. All of those matches were against boy wrestlers. It’s not unordinary for Shropshire to pin boys since she’s been doing so since sixth grade at Atlanta Wrestling Academy.

Shropshire said she’s not only looking forward to competing, but also the impact an additional girls sport will have on athletics scholarships available to female athletes.

“I feel like girls wrestling is really growing and that’s going to help us for college, as well,” she said.

Shropshire is one of eight Gwinnett County girls to win their weight class at sectionals. The local champions were North Gwinnett’s Diana Holmes (106 pounds), Duluth’s Aki Choates (126), Norcross’ Genesis Ruiz (146), Collins Hill’s Tiyahna Askew (156), Berkmar’s Itzel Vega (166), Parkview’s Stephanie Felix (176) and Peachtree Ridge’s Lauren-Ashley Miller (225) . A handful of local runner-up finishers — Berkmar’s Ally Graham (106), Discovery’s Violeta Rios (146), Central Gwinnett’s Ayitagraha Louifils (136), Parkview’s Rebecca Juarez (156) and Meadowcreek’s Mi’Kel Jiles (225) — also made the trip to the state tournament.

Gwinnett County’s representatives had five semifinalists from five different schools. Holmes, Choates, Askew, Graham and Shropshire advanced to today’s semifinals.

Shropshire has experience against one potential opponent in the 116 bracket, and it’s perhaps the opponent she’s most familiar with. Ola’s Amani Jones is also a sophomore and tallied a record of 37-5 on the season. Their rivalry goes back to youth wrestling days when she started in sixth grade. Their matchup history goes back and forth. Jones was not just the first girl Shropshire wrestled, she was her first opponent ever. That both are hurtling through the girls bracket bodes well for the future of the rivalry beyond the state championship, if classifications continue to overlap.

“For me to be successful, I have to focus on takedowns,” Shropshire said. “In practice, I’ve been working on my shots and finishing. Just perfecting things.”

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