Makayla Rivera Lays the Foundation for Future Girl Wrestlers

Makayla+Rivera+leaves+the+first+of+many+handprints+on+the+wallf+of+Olateh+West+to+commemorate+her+work+through+the+wrestling+season.

Makayla Rivera leaves the first of many handprints on the wallf of Olateh West to commemorate her work through the wrestling season.

Riley Keiter, Writer

Like other high schools, West has offered wrestling as a boys sport, but this year introduced girls wrestling as well. However, their season was anything but novice, as many girls advanced to place in multiple tournaments. Most notably was freshman Makayla Rivera, who placed second in the girls’ first KSHSAA state meet on Feb 27.

“I was very happy,” she said. “I was proud of myself for what I had accomplished.”

Getting to the point that she did was extremely difficult, even for the average sport. In order to do well, she had to make sure her weight level stayed the same every time, meaning she had to closely monitor her diet.

“The practices were very difficult,” Rivera said. “Staying on weight was very hard.”

However, she didn’t expect to be so committed.

“My friend made me join wrestling,” Rivera said. “I didn’t really want to do it but… I ended up really enjoying it.”

This season was particularly difficult as it was Rivera’s first.  As a freshman, she never had the opportunity to wrestle at this level. However, many other girls also experienced difficulties this year due to new changes dealing with the genders of each team.

Contrary to popular belief, in previous years girls were allowed to be on the wrestling team, they just weren’t separated from the boys. The separation was brought on due to KSHSAA (Kansas State High Schools Activities Association) recognizing the authority of girls wrestling as its own sport. 

“There was enough interest around the state for girls to have their own championships,” said wrestling coach Mike McLaughlin. “It is now separate and has been separate the past few Olympics…and it has been separate in collegiate. Kansas became the 18th state in the country to create a separate girls championship.”

The state of wrestling before the shift would have been very similar to if other sports, such as basketball, grouped the boys and girls together. However, this had its own flaws.

“Men have a physically different build than [girls] do,” Rivera said. “I’m a heavyweight so I would wrestle with heavyweight guys, and that would just be a severe advantage for them.”

However, the stakes being evened didn’t change the hardships of wrestling. 

“I didn’t eat,” Rivera said. “I mentally prepared myself for each competition, and told myself that it was just another tournament.”

Body type doesn’t really matter. Weight doesn’t really matter. You can start off with nothing and accomplish everything.”

— Makayla Rivera

On the bright side, the girls weren’t excluded from the conversation. Boys and girls shared the same coaches, practices, and helped each other.

“Both sets support each other and cheer for each other,” said McLaughlin. “Sometimes some of the girls would even come to the guy’s meets if they weren’t wrestling at them…[and] guys were at the league meet with the girls. The guys overall did a good job of making them feel welcome as a part of wrestling.”

Many of Rivera’s coaches and friends also helped her through the season.

“They gave me a lot of encouragement,” Rivera said. “They were there to support me every step of the way.”

The path to state was rockier than before due to new challenges. The girls were inexperienced and coaches now had many more people than in the past, but that didn’t stall the workflow.

“She had never ever wrestled before,” McLaughlin said. “She learned what all the techniques were and how a match works. In fact, none of [the girls] had ever wrestled before. They all had to learn the straight rules, then the techniques that make them successful, and how to best use those techniques.”

Thanks to this help, Rivera grew and worked throughout the season, eventually leading to her amazing placing. 

“I know a lot more things than I did,” Rivera said. “I didn’t even know how wrestling worked, and I know a lot about it now. I plan on learning a lot more about it soon.”

Rivera will be competing next year, meaning more work and time. It also means more freshmen around to learn the ins and outs of wrestling. 

To them, Makayla says, “Body type doesn’t really matter. Weight doesn’t really matter. You can start off with nothing and accomplish everything.”