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Jan. 2, 2018 — The women’s sports story of 2018

It’s a little early, but I think there is going to be a trend spreading throughout this calendar year which will yield the most significant story in all of girls’ and women’s sport.

The story is the growth of freestyle wrestling in America, becoming an accepted pastime in schools and colleges nationwide, leading to the international level.

Now, let’s back up a second. Why isn’t this prediction being made in an Olympic year, seeing as the next Summer Games aren’t until Tokyo 2020?

It’s just that a lot of factors are making 2018 a pivotal year. This winter, nearly 30 universities in the United States and Canada have declared themselves competitors in freestyle wrestling.

But that number is limited pretty much to small NAIA schools in the Midwest, where wrestling in many places is considered a religion. That changes this coming fall, when Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C. will become the first NCAA Division I school to have a varsity women’s wrestling team.

A lot of this growth might be seen as a reaction to the results the United States had at the 2017 Women’s World Wrestling Championships. The United States won only one gold medal, thanks to Helen Maroulis at the 58 kg weight class.

Meanwhile, Japan won four golds. And as Japan hosts the next Olympics, that fact must be searing in the minds of USA Wrestling as they look to catch up.

Now, much of that catching up is being done at the scholastic level. It sometimes has gotten to the point where the state governing bodies of the sport have created a wrestling tournament specifically for female participants, but without specifics as to the weight classes until the entry field is known.

That is, a young woman wrestling at, say, the 112-pound class for dual meets may have to gain some mass if she is to be able to compete with a concentration of wrestlers at around 125 pounds that skews the available weight classes, depending on the distribution of competition weights in a particular group of participants.

The proliferation of females on the mat is no longer a curiosity; it has turned a generation of young women into trailblazers. Look no further than a 14-year-old named Ally Fitzgerald, who is wrestling the 99-lb class for Lynbrook (N.Y.).

And get a good look at her; with training, who knows how good she can become?

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