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Five St. Andrew’s girl wrestlers help lead the charge for change in Delaware
Ask any athlete why they suit up and they’re likely to tell you, “To win, duh.” Sure, there’s the camaraderie in athletics, the personal growth, the lessons learned, the friendships, the character-building, but man, the winning. It just feels so darn good.
But there is a group of five young women athletes on this campus who willingly—happily, even—show up, more often than not, to lose.
Not because they’re not good. Not because they’re not all in. Not because they lack tenacity, grit, or mental and physical strength. Not because they don’t each possess the strong staccato heartbeat of an inspired athlete who wants to win, who fights to win.
Rather, they’re female athletes who’ve crossed the threshold into the majority-male world of wrestling at St. Andrew’s. Unless they find themselves at a women’s tournament (where, by the way, they dominate), the competition they encounter on the mat more often than not does not provide for an even playing field.
“Ninety percent of the time, we’re wrestling guys because there is a dearth of women wrestlers in this state,” says Seoyoon Kwon ’23, the defacto leader of the “Fab Five.” “So 90 percent of the time, we’re expected to lose.”
So why do the Fab Five—Kwon, Rylie Reid ’24, Mary Troy ’24, Juliet Klecan ’25 and Grace King ’25—keep coming back?
“Because we have the opportunity to grow this sport for the girls here who come next,” Kwon says. “We’re a part of this big moment right now: organizations like Wrestle Like a Girl are doing good work; D1 women’s wrestling is growing, and it trickles down to high school programs. The hope is soon, Delaware will have fully sanctioned girls’ teams—we get to be a part of that growth. Plus, the only shameful thing about wrestling is giving up. Not getting pinned, not losing—those things don’t matter. Giving up on the mat matters.”
Chatting with the Fab Five is akin to being invited to a really warm, funny, therapeutic hang with old pals. This particular hang was powered by a robust assortment of takeout food post-wrestling practice. Conversation shifts from classes to friends to inside jokes, but it always comes back to “the room”—that is, the wrestling room in the ground floor of the Cameron Gymnasium. The tight fivesome uses the phrase “the room” with much reverence because, according to them, the four walls that house their mats demand such respect.
Their chemistry around the dinner table is palpable, although, as Troy notes, “We’re such a random group of girls. Like everyone at St. Andrew’s, we knew each other, but I don’t think this group would have formed outside of wrestling.”
The group is anchored by Kwon, the only one of the five who had a year of wrestling experience under her belt before going into this school year.
According to her, the room is a place so sacred and intimidating (at first) that it took her three days to get up the nerve to finally walk in in 2021.
“The first Monday that winter sports started, I came to the room, saw all the guys, left and ran three laps to try to work up the nerve to come in,” she says. “Tuesday, I did the same. Wednesday, I did the same three laps, but went in after. And it was completely fine. It's an incredible environment. Once you do that first practice, you know if wrestling is for you.”
Before wrestling, Reid says she wasn’t “sporty.” “I am not an athletic-associated person,” she says, laughing. But when wrestling captain Nick Osborune ’23 overheard Reid deliberating over picking a winter sport, he told her she should wrestle.
“I said, ‘Okay, no.’ And Nick said, ‘Fine, be a wuss about it,’” Reid remembers. “At that point, it became a challenge, so I thought, ‘Let me see what it’s about.’”
“Philly D,” as the girls call head wrestling coach Phil Davis, told Reid she could take a week to decide if wrestling was for her. ““A low-stakes, free trial,” Reid says. “The first week I was like, am I really this out of shape? This is crazy.”
At one point, though, Reid paused, looked around and saw four other girls who were clawing away. “I’m in pain, they’re in pain; we’re working, grunting, sweating … I knew then I couldn’t leave.”
Klecan came to wrestling because she likes to depend on herself. “The individual aspect is what does it for me,” she says. “The first day, I was like, hold on, I can't do 15 pushups. But then I came back the next day and everybody was still there, I was like, okay, this time maybe I'll get two [on-toes] pushups in.” Now she cranks out her 15 and then some. “The build-up to that full encompassing feeling of ‘I belong here’ was like nothing else,” she says.
King, a new sophomore this year, needed a winter sport. She knew Kwon and her love for wrestling. There’s also this about the impish King, which nudged her toward the room: “I like doing things that people wouldn’t expect me to do,” she says. “I knew I loved wrestling almost immediately because there's just something about the environment of the room, the community and support—it was the first time I’d felt that since I came to St. Andrew’s.”
Troy puts it most succinctly: “What made me stay was the room, period,” she says. “They say in crew that the best feeling is when you sync up with your boat and you're flying. But when you're in the wrestling room and you have people screaming at you to try harder and you're going, ‘I don't think I can try harder,’ but you look around and everyone is trying just as hard? How dare I give up on this team? This is my St. Andrew’s family more than anything else.”
“When these girls started, they didn’t know the difference between a wrestling mat and a bathmat,” says head coach Phil Davis. “That’s what’s so cool about the Fab Five. They came to this sport with nothing but guts and grit. Seoyoon had a year of wrestling, but the other four, when they first walked into the room, they were starting from scratch.”
To Davis’ knowledge, there were four other girl wrestlers in the program before the Fab Five formed; notably, Amanda Sin '16 was the last girl in the room before Kwon helped usher in the new class.
“This is historically a male-dominated sport,” Davis says. “Unfortunately for girls in wrestling who wrestle predominantly against boys, there's a greater chance of an injury because biologically speaking, men have the advantage. And no guy wants to lose to a girl on the mat. There’s no chivalry or politeness.”
During this year’s wrestling season, in which the team posted a 1-6 record, the Fab Five attended two all-girl tourneys, The Queen of the Jungle in Maryland and the Smyrna Girls Wrestling Tournament in Delaware. In both tourneys, every eligible girl podiumed: Kwon posted two second-place finishes; Klecan picked up a second and third place; King walked away with a first-place finish in Smyrna and third at Queen; Troy notched a third and a fourth; and Reid, who was injured for Smyrna, won fourth at Queen. Team-wise, the SAS girls placed sixth out of 18 at Queen and first at Smyrna.
“When you know you're about to wrestle a guy, you want to wrestle a girl,” says King. “But when you're wrestling a girl, you actually get even ten times more nervous because it's like this is my chance to prove myself. I’ve faced the four-year male wrestler that will be ranked No. 4 in the state; it doesn’t feel the same when it’s your time to finally have a one-on-one fair fight.”
Davis hopes to see much more fight from King and the others next season, even though, unless no new girls come out, it’ll be the Fab Four after Kwon graduates.
“Seoyoon is the ember that started this forest fire that has just taken over our room,” Davis says. “After her first season, she sought further instruction after the winter, came back and made a statement, and recruited. Some of my guys … I think they were a little jealous. She put in the extra work, she got really good, and now they’re having to play catch up. As a community, we should be pouring gas on this fire, this passion that these girls have, because it's only going to fuel their self-confidence as educated, independent and strong women.”
There’s more to the story here than five gritty girls who walked into a room and stayed: little St. Andrew’s has become a leader in the state for girls wrestling. Recently, at the state tournament in which co-captain Osbourne won a seventh-place finish in his 165-pound weight class and represented the first Saint to stand on the state wrestling podium since 2009, Davis found himself a bit of a celebrity. But not because of Osbourne’s good work.
“All I kept hearing was, ‘What about them girls you got there, coach? Tell me more about them,’” Davis says, laughing. “Nick was like, ‘Coach, I don’t even think they know I wrestled.’”
Of 64 girl wrestlers in the state, St. Andrew’s is second only to powerhouse Smyrna High School when it comes to the number of girls on its team—Smyrna has eight.
“That’s saying something about this program,” says Davis, who hopes that when girls wrestling goes in front of the DIAA board this year, that it will be sanctioned and thus become a varsity sport in the state.
Osbourne is saying something, too. (Actually, Osbourne is saying a lot.)
“I can’t tell you how often I brag about the Fab Five,” he says. When he found himself in the spotlight being interviewed at the state tournament in March, he made that moment about the girls. “As corny as it is, as their captain, I needed them to know I see them, I appreciate them, and if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have been on that podium,” he says. “That wasn’t just about me. We are a family before we’re a team. And those five girls have more heart and drive in them than anyone I’ve ever seen on this campus. The disadvantages they face are enormous, yet they keep fighting.”
Osbourne appreciates the way Troy and King pop up off the mat with a smile after a pin and say, ‘Again;’ how Klecan is “scarier than most guys;” how dedicated Kwon is; and the rebirth he saw in Reid after her first win. “She had this confidence I never saw before,” he says.
(Reid’s reaction to that same victory: “Oh, it was a glorious moment. I was so beat up,” she says. “There is no other feeling like having your hand raised in the air.”)
Osbourne thinks the SAS girls have the potential to move the needle in Delaware. “These huge schools with hundreds and hundreds of kids can’t pull one girl on their team, and we have five,” he says. “That should be celebrated and emulated.”
Davis concedes that wrestling has a bad rep in certain circles. “It’s toxic, wrestlers and their fans are Neanderthals, that kind of thing,” he says. “But I’ll tell you what, I’m seeing older generations of these ‘Neanderthal’ fans saying, ‘Dude, I’m pulling for the girl. She’s out here fighting.’”
Yet the girls scoff at the idea of wrestling being toxic. In fact, as our conversation turns to the more vulnerable side of things, each echoes that wrestling, in some ways, has offered healing.
“I’ve never been comfortable in my body,” says Troy. “And while a lot of people think wrestling is deep with toxic masculinity, it has helped me, more than anything else, become so much more comfortable with my body.”
“You find your strength,” adds King.
“You redefine strength,” offers Reid.
“All of those things,” Troy says. “But also, your body isn’t your body. I know that sounds strange, but your body is a tool.”
Your body is also clad in a skimpy singlet so thin that even the most confident among us might take a second wary glance in the mirror. “But you’ve got such bigger problems than how you look, and if that’s what you’re thinking about, you’re already a step behind your opponent,” says Kwon.
Troy, who has battled with eating issues in the past and still struggles now and then, says that it’s the room, and the room only, that has helped her see that weight is a number and nothing else.
“It’s been freeing in a way that I didn’t know before,” she says.
The girls also say their mental health is better, too. “I just feel like I’m a lot happier in the winter,” Klecan says. “When I’m not having a great day, I just think, ‘It’ll be okay once I get to the room later.’”
The thing most pressing for the girls is Kwon’s impending departure, which has each of them near tears. The Fab Five will lose their senior leader, but Kwon is not here for a single one of her teammates considering leaving the room.
“You all better go back and fight,” she says. “This is what we do.”
In their hasty packing up and departure to make study hall on time, the girls leave five unopened fortune cookies in their wake—perhaps no better sentiment for a group of young women determined to make their own way.
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