Women’s Wrestling Receives National Spotlight in Spokane


Fans crowd the championship mat for a U20 consolation match at The Podium (Photo: Luke Pickett)

By Luke Pickett, Reporter

For the Spokesman Review


Over 1,200 of the best women’s wrestlers came to Spokane this weekend for a chance to compete on the USA World Teams. 

“The U.S. is a world power in wrestling,” said USA Wrestling Director of Communications and Special Projects Gary Abbott. “Wrestling is the fastest growing sport in the nation for women and girls.”

The open tournament, which was held at The Podium and hosted by Spokane Sports, featured girls freestyle competition for the 8U-14U divisions and the U15, U17, U20, and U23. The winners from each weight class in their respective divisions qualify for one of the four USA World Teams. 

“This is a big time event,” said Abbott. “We’ve got tryouts for four U.S teams to compete internationally. Some of the best young women in the country are wrestling right now.”

Leilani Wilhelmi, grandmother of two competitors from Bremerton, WA, says that the competitions were even more of a chance for women’s wrestlers to inspire. Her nine-year-old granddaughter, Aniya Wilhelmi, won the 10U championship to earn a medal at her first national event. 

“We’ve been seeing more friends and people down south that are seeing us traveling, and they want to be a part of this,” said Wilhelmi. “We tell them, ‘Go ahead and do it,’. Wrestling isn’t just for guys, it’s for women and girls too.”

The city of Spokane has been chosen to host this same event for the next two years after being held in Fort Worth, TX in 2022. 

“These events will change the trajectory of women’s wrestling in our area,” said Washington State USA Wrestling Executive Director Justin Newby. 

“Women’s wrestling in (Spokane) Valley and on the west side of Washington has grown leaps and bounds in the last six to eight years. Spokane has been a little bit slower in terms of growth, but I think this will open the eyes of a lot of our local administrators and coaches and make people realize that women’s wrestling is coming,” Newby said. “Whether they like it or not, it’s going to be here until 2025.” 

The event brought over three thousand spectators and fans from across the country. The Davenport Grand, The Centennial, DoubleTree, and other hotels around the area received more than 1,500 room bookings over the weekend. 

$5.5 million was the revenue received from visitor spending from the weekend’s national competition.

Competitors and fans surrounding two of the 10 mats at The Podium (Photo: Luke Pickett)

With almost every U.S. state represented, the competitions consisted of 1,234 women’s wrestlers from different locations and divisions. Local high schools in University, Deer Park, Chewelah and others represented the greater Spokane area at The Podium.

University High Schools Libby Roberts was among the majority of wrestlers who had never been to The Podium before. 

“The facility was great,” said the U-High sophomore and two-time Mat Classic champion Roberts. “I feel lucky because it’s right in my backyard.”

Roberts was bumped up to the varsity level of boys wrestling as a team captain in the middle of her Freshman season. She was named an “Untouchable” by the Tacoma News Tribune prior to earning her second state title. 

“It’s awesome,” Roberts said of the opportunity to unite with women’s wrestlers around the nation. “You get to see people from all over the country, and sometimes you see a move you haven’t seen before. You get different views and different styles depending on where the competitors come from.”

Roberts advanced to the semifinals of the U17 division on Friday after winning her first three matches. She ended up taking 4th place after losing to a wrestler from Indiana, who then won the championship, and a wrestler from Connecticut in the consolation round on Saturday. 

Libby Roberts’ assistant coach and father, Kevin Roberts, also got to experience wrestling on this stage for the first time in Spokane. 

“Overall, it was a really good competition,” said Kevin. “It’s really nice for our community, and it will hopefully help kickstart and bring positive light to the wrestling on the women’s side.”


2023 USMC Women’s National Championship division winners

8U Girls: Kleonna Block (Montana), Lilly Rollans (Nevada), Carly Cogger (Idaho)

10U Girls: Boheme Parr-Coffin (Washington), Isabella Graham (Alaska), Maddison Brown (Montana), Anaya Patacsil (Washington), Kynlee Douglas (Utah), Laura Lopez (California), Hope Johnson (Oregon), Venice Perez (Washington)

12U Girls: Jasmine Buck (Arizona), Abigail Peterson (Iowa), Olivia Hernandez (Oregon), Mylah Henebry (Idaho), Bella Manno (New Jersey), Payten Van Pelt (Montana), Leilani Nanquilada (Washington), Zaylyn Woods (Texas), Hailey Worden (Nevada), Taylynn Stratton (Oregon)

14U Girls: Maisie Elliott (Washington), Brynn Engel (Wisconsin), Gail Sullivan (New York), Hailey Delgado (Texas), Marie Sharp (New Jersey), Epenesa Elison (California), Hanna Naccarati-Cholo (Arizona), Olivia Bezdicek (Idaho), Ava Guilmette (Connecticut), Taina Fernandez (Maryland), Cadence Butts (Michigan), Kaili Manuel (Michigan), Matilda Hruby (Colorado)

U15 Women: Maisie Elliott (Washington), Alysa Patel (New Jersey), Gail Sullivan (New York), Jaclyn Bouzakis (Pennsylvania), Epenesa Elison (California), Emma Bacon (Pennsylvania), Alexis Lazar (Michigan), Taina Fernandez (Maryland), Jayci Shelton (Missouri), Ryen Hickey (Colorado),

U17 Women: Jaclyn Bouzakis (Pennsylvania), Morgan Turner (Illinois), Rianne Murphy (Indiana), Heather Crull (Indiana), Karlee Brooks (Arizona), Everest Leydecker (Arizona), Haylie Jaffe (Pennsylvania), May Prado (Georgia), Jasmine Robinson (Texas), Piper Fowler (Tennessee)

U20 Women: Audrey Jimenez (Arizona), Katie Gomez (California), Amani Jones (Georgia), Cristelle Rodriguez (California), Alexis Janiak (Illinois), Adaugo Nwachukwu (California), Maddie Kubicki (Missouri), Isabella Mir (Nevada), Amit Elor (California), Kennedy Blades (Illinois)

U23 Women: Emily Shilson (Minnesota), Felicity Taylor (Iowa), Alisha Howk (Wisconsin), Montana DeLawder (Pennsylvania), Xochitl Mota-Pettis (Texas), Adaugo Nwachukwu (California), Macey Kilty (Wisconsin), Katerina Lange (Minnesota), Kaylynn Albrecht (Texas), Ashley Lekas (Texas)


This article originally appeared in The Spokesman Review and can be found here here.