Girls wrestling is still a novelty in most of the U.S., but don’t tell the girls who train, compete and excel in one of the world’s oldest, most competitive and sometimes brutal sports. Nearly 20 high school girls wrestlers took part in a portrait series that sought to illustrate the intensity of the sport by being photographed between matches. Some of the girls were nursing fresh wounds after being defeated while others were anxiously awaiting their next match. However, all the girls shared a common trait — a fiercely competive spirit.
Up until 2004, only a select few girls knew what it was like to compete on the mat, but there was a caveat; girls would have to compete with a much larger and more experienced group of competitors — the boys. All that changed in 2004 when the Washington Interscholastic Athletics Association introduced a girls wrestling invitational alongside its marquee state tournament, the Mat Classic, at the Tacoma Dome to boost the sport’s visibility and to gauge interest in girls. It was a success. The invitational brought enough attention and participation to girls wrestling to warrant full recognition as a state tournament in 2007. Hoquiam High School, with two individual state champions (Kelsey Klein and Alex White) leading the way, won the inaugural all-classification state team title over Kelso, Mount Baker and Kentwood that year. In 2008, Mount Baker edged out Hoquiam by one point to win the state team crown. Since then, traditional boys wrestling powerhouse Sedro Wooley has won four straight state girls team titles (2009-12) and the sport has grown every year. At the 2013 Mat Classic XXV, the all-classification girls tournament fielded wrestlers from 104 schools throughout the state. The girls follow the same format as the boys, competing in league and regional tournaments to qualify for the Mat Classic. The 2014 Mat Classic XXVI runs two days, starting Friday at the Tacoma Dome.