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Central Cass girls enjoying moment on the mat as sport grows in first sanctioned season

Girls wrestling begins to take shape across the state in first NDHSAA-sponsored season

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Head girls wrestling coach Travis Lemar gives pointers during practice at Central Cass High School on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
David Samson/Forum Communications Co.
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CASSELTON, N.D. — Going out for wrestling never crossed Malva Gimbringer’s mind when she arrived in the U.S. from Sweden as an exchange student. She wasn’t familiar with the sport, and had never seen a female wrestler.

Her exchange program brought her to Central Cass, home of a blossoming girls wrestling program. Gimbringer, a senior, had a class with two girls on the team, who encouraged her to join. She was sold.

“It’s been really fun. I’ve tried a lot of new things,” said Gimbringer, who wrestles at 140 pounds. “I feel so much stronger. I’ve just had one match, which was really scary, but it was fun.”

Gimbringer is one of many high school girls in North Dakota who picked up the sport this winter. The North Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors voted in March to sanction girls wrestling, becoming the 30th state to do so. Participation numbers have nearly tripled in the first season as a sanctioned sport under the NDHSAA umbrella.

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Wrestlers Malva Gimbringer and Grace Lemar practice at Central Cass High School on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
David Samson/Forum Communications Co.

There are 233 girls from 34 schools wrestling statewide. Last season, just under 80 girls participated in the sport. The growth follows a nationwide trend of states that saw a sizable increase in participation once the sport became sponsored.

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Central Cass has 16 girls out for wrestling this winter, up from eight last season.

“At first, we were nervous. We thought we’d only get seven girls out, because a girl (from last season) moved away,” Central Cass junior Jordan Flynn said. “But then on the first day of practice, when 16 girls showed up, I was like ‘Wow. This is it.’”

Central Cass is one of 18 Class B schools with female wrestlers. Sixteen Class A schools had a girl go out for the sport, seven of which are from the Eastern Dakota Conference. Combined, the seven EDC schools have 34 girls rostered.

Fargo Davies, the only high school in the Fargo Public Schools district with female wrestlers, had a conference-high eight girls join. West Fargo Sheyenne and West Fargo have nine girls combined.

Central Cass head coach Travis Lemar has been pleasantly surprised by the numbers at smaller schools in the state.

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Assistant coach Tami Lemar instructs wrestlers Josephine Lade and Mallory DeVries during practice at Central Cass High School on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
David Samson/Forum Communications Co.

“South Border, they’ve got eight girls again. Lisbon, a brand new program, they’ve got seven or eight girls,” Lemar said. “Pembina County, who we wrestle on Friday night, is bringing down five or six girls. You’re starting to kind of see that explosion. I think the big surprise is all these small communities and how many girls are showing up there.”

Lemar and his wrestlers will compete against some of those teams Saturday at South Border’s first annual Girls’ Border Brawl. More than 150 female wrestlers from both North and South Dakota registered for the tournament in Ashley.

“We’re fortunate because our 16 girls range all the way from 100 pounds to heavyweight,” Lemar said. “We’ve got a very good mix.”

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Central Cass is a step ahead of some. Lemar, thanks to his daughter Grace's recruiting abilities, formed a girls team last year, before the NDHSAA sanctioned the sport. Grace, an eighth-grader, wrestles at 125 and 130 for Central Cass, which hosted the first-ever all-girls dual in January of this year.

“We feel like we see success because we have that year of experience underneath our belt right now,” Lemar said of his team’s growth. “But three, four years down the road, I can’t wait to see how this explodes throughout the whole state.”

The Squirrels took home the unofficial state title at last season’s unsanctioned girls wrestling state tournament, which had been held for five years. Just over 50 girls competed at the tournament in February, and three Central Cass wrestlers won individual titles.

“We hope to do it again this year,” Flynn said of repeating as state champions.

There’ll be a sanctioned individual state tournament for girls this season, which is slated for Feb. 17-18 at the Fargodome. A dual tournament isn’t currently on the state tournament schedule, but there’s a possibility the NDHSAA could sponsor one, depending on where participation numbers are at, NDHSAA assistant director Kevin Morast said. For a girls dual tournament to be considered, eight programs must field at least 10 of the 14 weight classes.

“We’re very close to the parameters that we had set up,” said Morast, who is also the wrestling liaison. “We’ll be looking at those numbers again in January.”

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Cai Stautz and Lois Schneider work on their technique during wrestling practice at Central Cass High School on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
David Samson/Forum Communications Co.

“There’s definitely a little more fire,” Flynn said of an official state tournament. “You want to win those matches this season — they really mean something. At the end of the year, this will be remembered.”

Flynn grew up around wrestling and went out for the sport last year after hearing the school would be fielding a girls team.

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“My whole life, I always wanted to wrestle,” Flynn said. “But I played basketball, so wrestling boys just wasn’t really an option for me. Once the girls team came up I was like, yep, I’m gonna do it.”

For Gimbringer, the sport has been a highlight of her time in the U.S.

“You get really close to all your teammates. The coaches are really good at motivating you. It’s like a family. It’s very cringey,” Gimbringer said with a laugh, “but it is.”

Carissa Wigginton is a high school sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. A Fargo native, she graduated from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Wigginton joined The Forum’s sports department in August 2019.
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