The adrenalin starts flowing when Vanessa Oswalt thinks about the upcoming, and inaugural, OHSAA girls high school wrestling state tournament at the Schottenstein Center at The Ohio State University. “I’m getting emotional just talking about it,” said the Olentangy Orange coach. “This is something I’ve always dreamed of and now that I get to coach and lead my team it’s very surreal and so exciting.”
Oswalt, 36, is one of the pioneers of Ohio girls high school wrestling and she helped lead the charge to add girls wrestling to the list of sanctioned sports of the Ohio High School Athletic Association. Becoming a sanctioned OHSAA sport meant a state championship meet for girls wrestling, and the first one will be held March 10 -12 at the Schott, alongside the boys state championship meet.
Olentangy Orange won the Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches girls state dual tournament over Marysville on January 22.
“We have been working through the logistics of having both state tournaments held alongside each other at the Schott and we are pleased that it can be done,” said Doug Ute, OHSAA Executive Director. “The excitement and energy will be incredible.”
A total of 224 girls will qualify at the double-elimination state champion meet, with 16 wrestlers in each of the 14 weight classes, all in one division. There are three boys divisions.
Oswalt began wrestling when she was seven, one of the first girls to wrestle in the youth program in her hometown of Mount Vernon. “My [older] brother, Stewart, wrestled and I was his Guinea pig [to try out new moves],” she said. “My parents said, ‘let’s put her into wrestling too.’”
Being “one of the first girls” would become a theme for Oswalt over the next decade. She wrestled on her middle school team, again one of only a few girls. She more than held her own against the boys, and did exceptionally well when she wrestled girls, winning multiple championships. Oswalt wrestled for Mount Vernon High, on teams that were technically coed but had very few girls on the roster. Wrestling against boys on the varsity level, Oswalt said she won about half her matches.
As a high school junior, Oswalt placed 6th at the national championship meet to qualify for the 2004 Olympic Trials, a tremendous accomplishment for a high schooler. “I did OK, I was 2-2,” she said. After graduating from high school in 2005, Oswalt moved to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, then joined the Army and became a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program. Oswalt was injured and unable to compete in the 2008 Olympic Trials, was a member of the 2009 U.S. National team (138 pounds) and, despite another set of injuries, qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials. Age and injuries caught up to Oswalt, and she retired from competition after her third Olympic Trials.
Oswalt moved back to Ohio in 2017 and is currently a Master Sergeant in the 179th Airlift Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard headquartered in Mansfield. She began her coaching career at Mount Vernon, then moved over to Olentangy Orange as an assistant coach for the coed team, and then became head coach in late 2022 of the newly formed girls team. Oswalt joined the Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association when she started coaching and quickly began working with a few other coaches to create a girls state championship meet.
The Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association hosted its first girls state championship meet in 2020 at Hilliard Davidson High, a big step forward for girls wrestling. The success of their state meet led to sanctioning by the OHSAA.
Before the first state championship meet in 2020, “there were about 270 high school girls in Ohio wrestling on coed teams,” Oswalt said. “We started the program to get sanctioned [by the OHSAA] that we called ‘Wrestle Like A Girl,’ and that really helped the numbers skyrocket. Now we have over 1,400 girls wrestling this year and there are more than 200 girls high school wrestling teams in the state.”
Harrison High (located near Cincinnati) won the 2022 girls team state championship title at Hilliard Davidson, with Marysville second and Olentangy Orange third. All three are once again among the top teams in the state. Olentangy Orange won the 2022 team dual meet title.
Olentangy Orange has several outstanding wrestlers, including:
- Alicia Coleman (135 pounds): “She has no fear,” Oswalt said of the senior who finished fourth at states last year. “She goes out there and wrestles hard every second of every match.
- Kascidy Garren (170 pounds): Wrestling is a family tradition, as Garren’s brother, Connor, also wrestles for the Pioneers, and their father is a volunteer assistant coach. “She’s one of those silent, hard-working types,” Oswalt said of the junior.
- Surraiya Muhmad (145 pounds): An all-around athlete, Muhmad is a former gymnast and is an outstanding pole vaulter on the track team. The junior was 5th at the 2022 state wrestling meet. “She’s a team captain and an amazing leader,” Oswalt said.
- Talia Mitchell (190 pounds): The senior is a two-time state qualifier and “has helped us build the team and the program,” Oswalt said.
“Wrestling is a tough sport, and we have a lot of tough girls out there,” Oswalt said, adding the lessons she’s learned on the mat have served her well in her military career. “It’s helped me build mental toughness and discipline and to be part of a team. Once you start wrestling, you’re part of a team and a community and a family.”
Click here for more information about and tickets for the OHSAA state championship wrestling meet.