Win or lose, girl wrestler shows great skill

March 07, 2007|By GREGORY KANE

Let me make one thing clear: Nicole Woody, who failed to become the first girl to win a state wrestling championship last Saturday, lost going for the victory.

For those of us who think the term "March Madness" refers to any wrestling tournament, high school or college, that occurs anywhere during that month, we couldn't ask for anything more than that.

Woody is the perky 103-pounder who has wrestled for Arundel High School for three years. Among women, she's a world junior champion. Her high school opponents have been boys, most of whom have found themselves staring up at the wrong end of a Nicole Woody smackdown.

Two years ago, Woody became the first girl to qualify for the state tournament. Last year, she became the first girl to pin a guy in the state tournament. This year, Woody got even better as her male opponents got more skittish.

She won the Anne Arundel County tournament and then the east regional tournament. She pinned her first opponent in this year's state 4A/3A tournament, beat the second by 10 points and squeaked by a third to earn her berth in the finals. There, she faced River Hill's Scott Mantua, who had lost only one match all season and who had handed Woody one of her three losses.

After Saturday, Mantua had handed Woody two of her four losses. But it was Woody who had the crowd roaring after she scored a reversal and tied the score at 2-2. It was Woody who tried to pin Mantua by going for a cradle. She got a little high, and Mantua hit a reversal and scored two points to break the tie.

Mantua wrestled conservatively after that, controlling Woody but not risking going for a pin. He got another takedown for a 6-2 victory. Woody got the adoration of a throng of her growing legion of fans.

I met Woody last summer at a cookout Cornell Bass threw at his Randallstown home. Bass is the media director for the Maryland State Wrestling Association. Guests at his 2006 cookout included then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Kweisi Mfume, who was at the time a candidate for Maryland's U.S. Senate seat.

But for pure wrestling fans, there's no doubt who the true celebrity was at the cookout: Nicole Woody. I shook her hand and proclaimed myself one of her loyal fans.

And no, it wasn't because Woody was the female wrestler who might make history at the 2007 state public school tournament. Frankly, I thought one of the state's 103-pounders, like Mantua, would thwart that run. (And while I'm at it, I should point out that both Woody and Mantua should thank their lucky stars that McDonogh's Nick Schenk chose a private school rather than a public 4A/3A school. Schenk went 50-0 as a freshman, winning several prestigious tournaments along the way.)

I'm a Nicole Woody fan because of the passion I've developed for women's wrestling. It started three years ago, at the World Freestyle Championships, which were held in New York's Madison Square Garden. Contestants wrestled for medals in men's and women's freestyle competition. I noticed two things at the 2003 World Freestyle Championships:

Our womenfolk did a lot better than our menfolk in racking up medals.

Women and girls are more technically proficient as wrestlers than men and boys.

I've had men dispute the latter point, probably because when they think of women's wrestling, their filthy minds automatically conjure up images of buxom lasses in wet T-shirts. And probably because they're reluctant to concede that women are better than men at something other than birthing babies.

But there is an authority who agrees with my assessment of women and girl wrestlers as better technicians than men. I met him at last year's state tournament. I won't give his name, because it was a casual conversation and he had no idea if he was on or off the record. I'll just say it's a guy who's one of the most prominent in Maryland's wrestling history.

Of course, women and girls have to be more technically proficient than men and boys. While interest in women's and girls' wrestling is growing, there are still not enough females to make up enough teams at the high school or college level for women to compete against each other.

So they compete against males who are stronger. Women and girls can't outmuscle men and boys, so their technique has to be better. Woody's record of 34 wins and four losses - all against boys - this year is a tribute to her superior technique and skill as a wrestler, not her strength.

There are some who still haven't come to grips with the notion of girls wrestling boys. I was at a dual meet tournament at Arundel High School when the Loyola coach took a forfeit at 103 pounds rather than let his wrestler meet Woody. But I have some news for those folks who think girls shouldn't wrestle boys.

That ship done already sailed.

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