Brigid Shannon doesn’t think of herself as a pioneer, but the Idaho Falls High junior may one day be credited with helping transform the sport of wrestling in eastern Idaho.
“It’s fun and I love it,” said Shannon, who has wrestled on the Tiger varsity team since she was a freshman and been involved in the sport since she was 4. She’s wrestled primarily against boys, but she’s also been part of the emergence of girls’ wrestling in the state.
While Shannon has a winning record against the boys, she’s been nearly unstoppable against fellow girl wrestlers. She’s won all three all-girl tournaments she’s competed in this season and looks to make it four straight today when she wrestles at the inaugural Idaho Girls Wrestling Championship tournament at Pocatello High.
Pocatello wrestling coach JB Plato described the tournament to the Idaho State Journal as an unofficial girls state championships. For Shannon, it’s just another meet to prove she’s among the best at the sport she loves. But there may be more below the surface.
“I think she’s starting to realize how big of an impact she’s having,” said Tigers assistant coach Dustin Warner, who has worked with Shannon since she was 6. “You go to the spring tournaments and little girls are following her around. She’s starting to realize ‘I can make a difference for girls in this sport.’”
Shannon says she enjoys wrestling boys because it presents more of a challenge. Like her teammates, she cuts weight, trains all year and even does CrossFit for conditioning. While boys typically have more upper-body strength, Warner said Shannon’s speed and her years of experience can give her an advantage.
“You’re not going to find a more dedicated wrestler than her,” he said.
Shannon’s speed and strength are almost unmatched when she competes against girls, Warner said. Most of her competitors may be new to the sport, while Shannon has more than a decade of experience on the mat and has even competed at the regional and national levels. She’s also the lone area girl wrestler on Team Idaho for USA Wrestling.
She admits to being nervous when she first tried out as a freshman at Idaho Falls, but she quickly proved herself and advanced to the state tournament. Last year she just missed a berth to state.
The label of pioneer and promoting girls in the sport isn’t a priority for Shannon yet, but that is expected to change next year.
I.F. coach Paul Stierle said he plans to start an all-girls team next season and Shannon will be the posterchild to get the program off the ground.
“What we’re planning is for her to take that on as a senior project (next year),” he said, noting Shannon could help sell wrestling to girls who might be interested in the sport, but are hesitant to wrestle against boys.
“The girls can become comfortable with it,” Stierle said. “They can come into a secure room and learn from other girls and the coaching staff. They’ll have their own practice … they can attend girls tournaments. If the girls are comfortable enough to wrestle in boys tournaments they would be welcomed to, but not required.”
Stierle also said there will be a girls portion added to the Tiger-Grizz tournament next year, adding another element to the area’s much-anticipated meet.
The emergence of female wrestling at all levels has been ongoing, from women’s wrestling being added as an Olympic sport, to several states now sanctioning girls wrestling as an official high school sport.
While the numbers of girl wrestlers is growing in Idaho – a 25 percent increase from a year ago according to Idaho High School Activities Association Executive Director Ty Jones – progress is slower in the eastern part of the state.
Shannon said she’s noticed boys tend to get extra motivated to compete against her because they don’t want to lose to a girl, but overall the competition is fierce. She didn’t wrestle against girls until eighth or ninth grade, so she had to make adjustments and take advantage of her strength and experience with technique.
For now, it’s all about winning, whether it’s against a boy or girl competitor.