Glisan an anomaly and a champ

High schools: Other Maryland girls have wrestled, but Oakland Mills' strong 125-pounder has some important firsts, including a national title.

February 18, 1999|By RICK BELZ | RICK BELZ,SUN STAFF

Her head, topped by a black shower cap, bobs from side to side beneath the glare of a huge overhead spotlight in an otherwise darkened gym. Her intense eyes focus on a male wrestling opponent.

Dena Glisan, of Oakland Mills, stalks the 125-pound opponent cautiously, taking short, choppy steps and balancing on the balls of her feet. Then the two wrestlers quickly advance and lock arms in a test of strength.

Soon Glisan, despite shouts of encouragement from fans, finds herself flat on the mat, struggling, as Jeff Carter of Long Reach, hoping to pin her, tries to turn her off her stomach.

The only real indication that Glisan is a girl occurs when a blond ponytail slips from the shower cap and the match pauses so she can adjust it. The rule is aimed at long-haired wrestlers, not just girls.

After the match resumes, Carter finds it difficult to lift Glisan's hips and develop the leverage needed to turn her. With two takedowns and an escape, he settles for a hard-earned 7-2 decision.

Carter, who has a 9-14 record, comes away impressed by Glisan.

"As soon as we locked up, I knew she was strong," he says. "She pushed my head down and got aggressive. It was just like wrestling anyone else, except that girls are more flexible and have low centers of gravity, so it's hard to pick their hips up off the mat to turn them."

Carter's coach, Bill Flick, also expresses admiration for Glisan.

"She's a good wrestler. Very strong. Tough to pin. I don't think of her as a girl at all," Flick says. "She's as tough as anyone at that weight class. She's an asset to the sport, and one should look to her if they question whether girls should wrestle."

For Glisan, who won the 120-pound title in last year's first annual girls national wrestling championships, the match proves to be another test of mental and physical toughness that in her eyes she has passed.

She knows she is an anomaly, a girl competing with boys in a sport in which raw strength often can be the decisive factor.

`Mental toughness'

She realizes that her victories will be limited but considers the character she is building worth the heavy price she pays.

"I like the mental toughness wrestling gives you. Things could have gone better this season as far as wins, but overall I'm happy," she says. "I lack strength against guys and am looking forward to wrestling girls in some upcoming tournaments, but I wanted to go out my senior year knowing I've made an impression on people."

She has made a big impression.

Glisan is a fourth-year wrestler who, despite a nagging knee injury, has not missed a match this season. She has six wins, two by forfeit and four on the mat, including the first varsity pin by a girl in state history.

She has not been pinned in a varsity bout, including four as a junior, when she recorded Maryland's first technical fall by a girl.

"Knowing I have not been pinned pushes me," she says. At Oakland Mills, she wrestles for a school with a rich wrestling tradition that includes three state tournament and 14 Howard County titles in 22 years.

She follows in the pioneering footsteps of the state's first female wrestler, Nicolle Scott, who graduated from Oakland Mills in 1984, and Stacey Kirschbaum, who graduated from Oakland Mills in 1997 after wrestling four seasons.

Other pioneers include Meade's Tamara Dakis and Joppatowne's Lisa Larson, who in 1986-87 became the first girls to wrestle at the varsity level.

Glisan's dedication and work ethic inspired her coach, Brad Howell, to name her a team co-captain this winter.

"I want the guys to imitate her dedication," Howell says. "She's always on time, comes to all the optional practices, never wants to pull out when her knee is hurting, sucks weight if necessary, never complains and cuts herself no slack.

"She's not a co-captain because she's a girl. She earned it. And she earned her chance to wrestle varsity by four years of blood and sweat on the mat."

To prove her dedication to the team, she once willingly dropped six pounds in 10 hours to fill an unexpected vacancy at 119 pounds.

For Glisan, wrestling was something she fell in love with as a freshman and has stayed with through good times and bad.

"I try not to give up in anything I do," she says. "The more people doubted me when I first started, the more I wanted to do it."

She has tendinitis in her left knee, and the kneecap slides out of place. So she wears a knee brace and ices the knee after each bout.

Glisan calls herself very competitive. "I hate to lose," she says.

A plethora of athletics prepared the 17-year-old for her wrestling adventure. She competed in gymnastics for eight years and in swimming 11. She also has started three years and captains the Oakland Mills field hockey and girls lacrosse teams.

"Doing so many sports, I've always been in shape and have endurance," she says.

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