MANALAPAN - On Oct. 10, 2018, officials at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association voted unanimously to make girls wrestling a state-sanctioned sport paving the way for hundreds of New Jersey girl wrestlers to now have their own sport and own tournaments to compete in.

New Jersey becomes the first state in the Northeast to offer the sport and the 12th in the United States.

Previously, girls were required to compete against boys if they desired to wrestle in the high school ranks. More than 120 girls wrestled in the Garden State last year against boys, according to Flo Wrestling.

As a new sport, girls will have the choice to compete solely against girls or also against boys during the regular season and up to the regional championships. At that point, they will need to decide to compete in the postseason either against boys or girls only.

The girls will be seeded and compete in a NJSIAA regional tournament at Red Bank Regional High School on Feb. 17. From there, the top three wrestlers in each of the 10 weight classes will advance to the state individual championships held at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on March 1-2.

There will also be a Shore Conference girls wrestling tournament this year on Jan. 29.

Manalapan is one of three Shore Conference schools, Jackson Memorial and Raritan being the other two, that have full rosters and can compete in all 10 weight classes (14 for boys) in dual meets.

Princeton University wrestling coach Chris Ayers, whose daughter wrestled against boys at Princeton High School last year, worked tirelessly behind the scenes with Bill Bruno, an NJSIAA assistant director, to make girls wrestling in New Jersey a reality.

On the evening of Dec. 14, 2018, the Manalapan girls wrestling program, along with Jackson Memorial, made history when the two schools wrestled in the first scholastic girls team dual meet in the state.

The Braves fell, 30-21, to the Jaguars at home but the stands were packed with raucous fans that were totally into being part of this historic night.

“The girls were excited and nervous, just like any other athlete would be before a big match,” said Manalapan head coach Scott Pressman, who along with coaching the girls, is in his 12th year as boys wrestling coach. “I definitely feel like it set the tone for girls wrestling in the state for years to come. Obviously our town was into it and Jackson was awesome the way they handled their business. We were on the same page on how we wanted to do it. Their fans were there and our fans were there along with the guys from both teams. It was a fun night.”

The Braves have 19 girls on the team, including sophomore Jess Johnson and senior Angelina Vitola, who wrestled on the boys team last year.

“Having Angelina and Jess on the team helped in the transition,” said Pressman. “The girls and the guys have the same practice schedule and practice side-by-side with girls wrestling girls and guys wrestling guys. It was a little out of the ordinary at first but realistically after the first couple of days it is what it is – everyone practicing together doing the same thing.”

In the opening match against Jackson, Johnson, at 147 pounds, pinned her opponent in 1:02, while Vitola took a 5-3 decision wrestling at 127 pounds.

Julia Manolas (111 pounds) also picked up a win against Jackson recording a pin at the 1:02 mark, while Sabrina Maniscalco (138 pounds) won a 6-3 decision in an exhibition match.

The rest of the team includes senior Alexandra Urbanek (118 pounds), juniors Porta Lindsey, Serena Montague, Julia Manolas, Anna Frohlich, Olivia Delgado (185 pounds), Alyssa Curcio (136 pounds), Bianca Capolupo, Celine Bianco and Samantha Albujar (225 pounds), along with sophomores Ruba Abou Chakra (161 pounds), Gianna Adinolfi, Alssya Capolupo and Isabella Pena. Trinity Valentin-Walczak (100 pounds) is the lone freshman on the team.

Manalapan has two dual meets on its schedule and four tournaments as of now but dates could be added as the inaugural season unfolds.

Due to the newness of the sport, most schools in the Shore Conference as well as the state are unable to fill a full roster and compete in all 10 weight classes in dual meets. So most matches will be tournaments where instead of brackets by weight class, four or five weight classes are combined in brackets and operate in a round-robin format to attract more teams that can’t fill their rosters.

“Eventually we’d like see girls wrestling in the state on the same plane as the boys,” said Pressman. “Get them wrestling in the off-season and try to get the younger girls into feeder programs in town. Really, just have the same vision as the boys program. But right now, the rest of the state has to kind of catch up with us. The sport in general must grow; I think that’s the number one thing right now is to grow and get more people involved. Right now, there’s 399 girls wrestling in the state which is a pretty good start, but that number must go up drastically. In order to get full teams, you need more participation. That’s the number one goal; get more participation.

“I hear words like ‘historic’ being thrown around but for us we’re just trying to get a team ready to compete,” said Pressman when asked how it feels to be part of the birth of girls team wrestling in New Jersey. “I think in years to come the girls will look back on it and think it was a pretty cool thing that they did. At the end of the day though, they’re just excited to go out there and compete. When they get the chance to compete, they’re just like everyone else. They get nervous, they want to score points and win, but I want them to have fun. It’s the same thing, but it’s different. The difference being girls have never done it before. I look at it this way. If I think wrestling is great and the best thing for a young man, why wouldn’t the same be true for a young woman – that’s how I feel.”