CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Chautauqua Lake hosted the third annual Intersectional Girls Wrestling Championship on Saturday, with an impressive 50 girls getting after it on the mat hailing from Sections III, IV, V and VI.

The majority of these girls are the only girl on their high school teams and spend all season long practicing and competing against their male counterparts. But on Saturday, and for the third time this season, they got to compete solely against other girls.

“It is really cool, and especially competing against someone my size and and the same type of body is just really cool,” St. Mary’s senior Bridget Martin said. “And not having to wrestle against guys is also cool.”

“The community of wrestling with girls is so much nicer too because we’re so much more sportsmanlike because we all know how hard we worked to get here,” St. Mary’s senior Grace Monheim said.

“When I first started, there was like girl divisions, but there wouldn’t be very many girls there and usually all the girls would just wrestle in guy divisions,” Lake Shore freshman Alexiya Thuman said. “My school never really had a female wrestler before so I’m like the second one ever. I feel like a lot of girls are getting into it and there’s a lot of new girls too, so there’s a lot of new people coming into the sport.”

On top of having a fantastic outing for these wrestlers to showcase their skills, three-time women’s Olympic wrestling medalist Tonya Verbeek was there to share her story and inspire the next generation of wrestlers.

“Giving back is so important. The sport has given me so much and anything that I can help to promote the sport, just being able to bring it back to the grassroots where people are starting,” three-time women’s Olympic wrestling medalist Tonya Verbeek said. “That was such a pivotal point in my career and my life that I chose wrestling from high school into university.

“I think it was important to share some of my story so young women here today can understand its not just here, it’s a longterm thing you can do. It’s not just a couple years of your life if you choose. There’s opportunities across the United States and Canada and across the world,” Verbeek said.

The sport of girls wrestling has seen tremendous growth across the country in the last few years, including in New York State.

“I think it is the coolest thing ever that girls are wrestling. I’ve always thought that girls can be way more tough than people think they are, and it just proves that they are,” Martin said.

“Especially because my first year, there was maybe four of us at a tournament at a time, and that was maybe the max that you would get all year. So to have 50 people is incredible,” Monheim said.

“It’s so cool to see, even from 8th grade to now, there’s so many more girls,” Canandaigua junior Sophie Pollack said. “Brockport has two girls that I know of, as far as I know it’s their first year. It’s so cool to see that school so close to us have girls on their team too and it not just be me in Section V.”

Girls wrestling is still fighting to become sanctioned as a championship sport through NYSPHSAA (New York State Public High School Athletic Association), and until then, these girls will continue to only have a handful of opportunities for girls-only tournaments.