Ontario High School's girls wrestling team is off to a good start with a first-place finish at the Wiley Dobbs Invitational in Twin Falls in December. (Submitted photo).

ONTARIO - The sport of wrestling is no longer reserved for boys only, as Ontario’s girls are leveling the playing field.

Oregon became the eighth U.S. state to sanction girls wrestling as a championship sport at the high school level.

For the 2018-19 school year, the Oregon School Activities Association is including an all-class girls division in the state tournament. The girls division follows the same existing structure for boys with 14 weight classes, from 100 pounds up to 235.

“I’m super stoked for this season,” said Ontario girls wrestling coach Shawn Grove. “My daughters wrestled when they were younger, but once they hit high school they stopped. It would’ve been cool if this was added years earlier.”

Grove, who previously coached Ontario’s boys wrestling team, said male and female high schoolers start to differ on several physical characteristics that can influence sport performance.

“I’ve coached several girls over the years, but they never had their own section,” he said. “It’s great that girls will get to compete with other girls. Once they’re at the high school level, it’s just not apples and apples anymore.”

Two weekends ago, the Ontario girls wrestling team placed first at the Wiley Dobbs Invitational in Twin Falls.

“We had the highest number of female wrestlers,” said Grove. “We had the most team points. And the girls did it to get better against other girls in wrestling.”

The Lady Tigers finished at the top with 82 points, followed by Kuna at 72 points and Homedale at 66 points.

Eight of Ontario’s 13 female wrestlers finished in the top three of their respective weight classes, including two first place wrestlers.

Naidalin Cancho-Bravo finished in first place in the 156-167 weight class, and Aiyana Luna was first in the 217-260 weight class.

The brackets were small and sparse by normal standards, but that was expected, said Grove.

Large-scale changes don’t happen overnight, and Grove thinks it’ll take around two to three years to simply have enough wrestlers to fill brackets as the boys have for decades.

“The girls literally are paving the way in this sport, and coaches are still trying to figure it out,” he said. “There haven’t been enough girls in wrestling to see how they’re doing – whether they are JV or varsity level.”

While the Ontario girls wrestling team is fairly young with several first-time wrestlers, sophomores Maria Diaz and Karla Solis bring in previous wrestling experience, having wrestled throughout middle school. Gearing up for the regular season, Grove said he’s been preparing his girls through tournaments and invitationals.

“I try to tell my team that they should wrestling not to win, but to get better,” he said. “View any tournament as an opportunity to get experience against non-Ontario wrestlers.”

Grove said his team’s main focus for now is to “get the basics down.” And the last two tournaments showed his that his team is good at improving themselves.

“Wrestling is a weird sport. It’s hard to tell someone how to wrestle and defend the mat,” he said. “It’s a stackable sport; a game of leverage, so we’re just going to keep getting better every time. The biggest thing I try to get them to focus on is learning and progressing.”

Grove said his goal is to get the girls team to the district tournament and state championships. But he’s also happy to see the Ontario girls wrestling program grow.

“It’s so cool to see the moment when the light bulb comes on, and they get it – they’ve learned to defend the mat,” said Grove.