Regan Rossester celebrates a victory with coach Bob Mulligan. Photo courtesy of Regan Rosseter

Sweat drips from her nose as she runs around the room, every wall covered by soft spongey mats. She leaves a trail of sweat in her path as if she is dropping breadcrumbs on her way to grandma’s house. The insanely humid room that used to be once packed with young men is seeing a new era of wrestlers stepping into the circle. Regan Rosseter and other girls across Nebraska and the country are demonstrating that they belong in a historically male-dominated sport.

As one of the oldest sports in human history, wrestling dates back to the Olympics in 708 BC. It wasn’t until 2004 that the sport began to experience significant changes and the male dominance began to diminish. The Olympics introduced women’s wrestling as part of its games back in 2004, and the popularity of the sport grew ever since.

Nationally, girl’s wrestling has increased from 16,562 participants in 2018 to 28,447 in 2020, according to the USA Wrestling Girls High School Development Committee. With the Nebraska Schools Activities Association approving the addition of girl’s wrestling as a sanctioned high school sport, Rosseter and her head coach, Bob Mulligan of Omaha Westside, want to lead the charge to get more Nebraska high schools to wrestle like a girl. 

Mulligan said the team’s preseason meeting saw an increase from two girls last year to five this year. He senses a newfound passion and excitement coming to the sport, thanks to the NSAA sanctioning it. 

“A true passion is in all of the girls and families,” he said. “It’s so brand new, so there’s a lot of excitement and fun.”

Westside recently hired Mulligan as its very first girl’s wrestling head coach, which he said did not come as a surprise after coaching Rosseter to her most recent state title. 

Rosseter became the first female wrestler in school history to win a state title, but that’s not the only honor she has earned during her years on the mat. Her opponents know she also has the titles of six-time state champion, Tulsa National champion and three-time All-American when they see her name on the bracket.

She has acquired these awards and accolades as a sophomore in high school, but she still hears boys complain about wrestling a girl,.

“I have heard some wrestlers say, “I have to wrestle a girl?” because they didn’t want to lose to a girl,” she said.

Rosseter doesn’t let that bother her, though.

“We have a saying at our club from one of my coaches. ‘I am not a girl wrestler; I am a wrestler that happens to be a girl,'” she said.    

More than 120 Nebraska schools joined Westside in creating a girl’s wrestling team. The year Nebraska sanctioned the sport, 25 other states took initiative in the movement toward equality on the mat. The sanctioning of the sport in Nebraska does not only allow girls to compete against other girls, but it also opens the door for opportunities in the sport for the future.

Chelsea Dionisio thanks the sport she loves for where she is today as the new head women’s wrestling coach for Midland College in Fremont, Neb.

Dionisio moved to the Midwest after growing up in California where girl’s wrestling was a sanctioned sport. She said she never thought about giving wrestling a shot until her older cousin took her along to one of her practices. Dionisio said it was love at first sight, and that love for wrestling led her  to wrestle at the University of Jamestown in North Dakota and later become a graduate assistant there. 

Now with Nebraska recognizing girl’s wrestling as an official high school sport, they will have their own meets, tournaments and state tournament at the end of the season. That allows Dionisio to recruit and see the girls much easier now, she says. 

Thanks to the sport becoming sanctioned in more states, more girls will be able to pursue the continuation of their athletic careers in the sport they love.

Three years of competition at the high school level remain for Rosseter, but she already has her eyes set on her future goals in the sport. She and girls across the country now have a better shot at these goals thanks to the sanctioning of the sport.

“I want to be able to get a scholarship for wrestling in college,” she said. “I want to make the Olympic team for wrestling.”