History was made when two girls walked to the center of a wresting mat on the evening of Dec. 14 in front of an overflowed crowd at Manalapan High School.
Just before 6 p.m., Manalapan High School’s Sabrina Maniscalco and Jackson Memorial High School’s Shannon Stroud walked to the center of the mat, shook hands, lowered their bodies into attacking positions and waited for the referee’s whistle.
With that, the first all-girls’ dual meet in the history of scholastic wrestling in New Jersey had begun. Cameras flashed and video cameras rolled as the whistle pierced through the gymnasium. Then, just as in a boys match, the wrestlers started wrestling, the coaches started coaching and the fans began hollering.
The Maniscalco-Stroud bout was the first of 10 matches at 10 different weight classes. Nine matches counted toward the final score and the 10th was an exhibition. Jackson Memorial eventually won the historic match, 30-21, but in reality, everybody won. Fans from both schools were cheering for both teams.
In New Jersey, female athletes have wrestled on boys teams over the years, but the match between the Braves and the Jaguars of the Shore Conference was the first that fielded two all-girls squads.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association sanctioned girls wrestling this year for the first time. Team dual meets will not count toward varsity records, but girls matches will count toward individual records.
About 120 high school girls in New Jersey wrestled last year, when they were restricted to boys teams. With the sanctioning of girls teams this winter, that number is expected to grow to more than 300 female participants statewide.
Forty-three New Jersey high schools have female students who are participating in wrestling this year, according to the NJSIAA. Four schools have full female wrestling teams.
Administrators in the Freehold Regional High School District and in the Jackson School District approved the addition of girls wrestling teams to the Manalapan and Jackson Memorial extracurricular offerings.
The wrestling coaches at each school – Manalapan’s Scott Pressman and Jackson Memorial’s Doug Withstandley – then added a separate girls team to their wrestling programs.
Once word spread, girls started joining the teams. Manalapan had 16 wrestlers on Dec. 14. Jackson Memorial had 12 wrestlers.
“The main goal was to have these girls come out and compete,” Pressman said. “I don’t know about history. I’m a wrestling coach. At the end of the day, we just got our athletes ready to compete.”
The girls on both teams were ready. In seven of the nine matches that counted toward the final score, the winning wrestler was skilled enough to pin her opponent.
At 225 pounds, Jackson Memorial’s Jordyn Katz pinned Manalapan’s Samantha Albujar her opponent in :56. Jackson Memorial’s Brandi Rado pinned Alyssa Curcio in 1:00 at 136 pounds.
At 111 pounds, Manalapan’s Julia Manolas pinned Jackson Memorial’s Gianna Tandari at 1:02.
At 147 pounds, Manalapan’s Jess Johnson pinned Jackson Memorial’s Skyelar Smith at 1:03.
Jackson Memorial’s Kayla Gregory managed the boys wrestling team for two years. She enjoyed watching and cheering for the boys, but she wanted her own shot on the mat, too.
“I just always loved the sport. I would get frustrated when the guys wouldn’t win,” said Gregory, who wrestled at 127 and fell to Manalapan’s Angelina Vitola, 5-3. “Once they were talking about making a girls team, I wanted to be a part of it.”
Stroud said she wanted to play a contact sport, like wrestling or football.
“They have never had any opportunity for girls to do it,” Stroud said. “Now there is and it’s awesome.”
Vitola and Johnson wrestled on the boys team last year, but they did not always get a chance to compete at the highest level. The Dec. 14 meet was a big step forward for them, too.
“It’s cool that now the girls have a chance to wrestle and get better opportunities,” Vitola said. “I didn’t expect this many people to be here. There was a lot of support and I thought that was cool.”
“It was so cool. I loved how it was the first one ever,” Johnson said. “I think it was a great experience for everyone, like the crowd and everything. Next year and years later I think it could be huge.”
Both teams are hoping to schedule more dual meets this winter. Either way, the girls will be eligible to participate in the NJSIAA girls wrestling tournament on March 1-2 in Atlantic City. That will be the first girls state tournament in New Jersey history.
“Like anything else, it’s a learning process. We’ve only been doing the sport for a couple weeks (with the girls). There is going to be a lot to improve on,” Pressman said. “What you need to do, how you need to prepare moving forward. But they’ll do that because they are good kids.”
“We have a couple of things working with future dual meets that we’ll get done in the next couple of weeks,” Pressman added. “We wanted to get this one off without a hitch. We did that and it set a tone for the rest of the state for years to come.”