The popularity and participation of girls wrestling has grown significantly in recent years. On Jan. 30, the gym at Nutley High School gave definitive proof at the rapid progression that has occurred both locally and on a statewide level.
More than 10 schools from across North Jersey convened for the inaugural Nutley Female Wrestling Jamboree. Locally, wrestlers from Nutley, Lyndhurst-North Arlington and Bloomfield were among the participants in an event that was the first of its kind in Nutley.
Bloomfield has hosted a girls tournament in recent years and is the home of one the state’s early stars in Kira Pipkins who earlier this winter became the first girls wrestler to win 100 matches in New Jersey history.
“It was a huge night for the girls of the sport,” Nutley wrestling coach Mike DiPiano said. “To be able to have so many teams there and to have our administration in the building and have some of the dignitaries in town show up, it was a great showcase for these girls who have been working so hard since the season started.
“It shows the community that this is a real sport and it’s growing. To have (an all-girls wrestling event) in our own gym and to have the teachers and student body to come out in force and support is enormous. I told the girls that if one girl in the crowd felt motivated by watching you and those other girls, it was 100-percent worth it.”
While the event was not a formal tournament, three Maroon Raiders – Izzy Timonera, Mariah Koster and Isabella Bobadilla – went undefeated on the night as well as Lyndhurst-North Arlington freshman Aitana Lozano.
Another sign of the sport’s growth comes this upcoming Sunday with the NJSIAA Regional Tournaments. The girls tournament has expanded from two regions to four this year.
Nutley and North Arlington-Lyndhurst will compete in the North 1 Regional at Vernon High School. Kearny and Bloomfield will be at the North 2 Regional in Union.
Nutley will send a record six wrestlers to the regions next week, a group highlighted by senior Koster, who became the program’s first state medalist when she took fourth in the state at 100 pounds last year. This time, she’s competing at 114 pounds where she sports a 15-7 record.
“She was the trailblazer,” said DiPiano. “She had the courage to come out for the boys team her freshman year and because she had the courage to do that, we have six girls now and hopefully we’ll have double that next year.”
Bobadilla (19-8 at 132 pounds) took sixth in the North region last year and looks to take the next step and go to Phillipsburg. Her, Koster, and talented first-year wrestlers Timonera (20-8 at 100 pounds) and Carina Rivera (19-9 at 165) also enter with aspirations of qualifying.
“Izzy’s very charismatic and super-athletic,” DiPiano said. “She’s really taken to the sport and this weekend we feel that she can be wrestling late into the day at regions. It wouldn’t surprise me if she can find her way onto the medal stand and qualify for states.
“Carina has a little bit of a karate background so she was not scared to come out and get into another physical sport. She’s picked it up really quickly.”
Amahara Flores (126 pounds) and Kaitlyn Aguila (185) round out Nutley’s group heading to regions.
While lacking the experience of their neighboring schools, Kearny will also be sending three girls to the regions. Izalyne Moya is 3-0 at 185 pounds and headlines the contingent, which includes Emily Nazario (109) and Najaliyn Gabriel (114).
“Our girls are very inexperienced in the wrestling world and just letting them know that they don’t have to wrestle boys there are girls that are wrestling,” Kearny coach Tony Carratura Jr. said. “They get all excited and they really want to compete against females.”
Lyndhurst-North Arlington has one of the state’s top lightweights in sophomore Ava Krzykalski, who is ranked fifth in the state at 114 pounds and is 22-4 on the season.
I’m blessed that we got Ava last year as a freshman,” Lyndhurst coach Scot Weaver said. “She was a Junior Pan-American champion in jiu jitsu so she was already a scrapper, we just had to teach her how to wrestle. In jiu jitsu, it’s ok to be on your back, but not in wrestling. She suffered a couple of losses early on last year due to inexperience and being on her back. She’s totally committed herself and has been a great influence on Aitana as well.”
Lozano, a freshman, is 15-9 at 100 pounds.
The top three finishers from each weight class at each of the four regions advance to the NJSIAA State Championship on Feb. 26 at Phillipsburg and a chance to compete in the overall final at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall in March.
Learn more about the writer ...
Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)