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Alexa Flores photo

Madison La Follette senior Alexa Flores, who started in wrestling in seventh grade, has competed throughout high school, including on the varsity and junior varsity the past two seasons. She recently earned the 160-pound title in a girls-only division match at the Badger State Invitational. 

Growing up, Madison La Follette senior Alexa Flores was drawn to wrestling while watching her brothers compete.

She also marveled when Ronda Rousey took mixed martial arts by storm in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Flores said she saw how a female could become a dominant figure in a male-dominated sport.

“Any sport (and its appeal) just depends on the person,” Flores said. “I would say, ‘Don’t be afraid to try it.’ I had the itch (to wrestle) for three years. One day, I did it.”

She began competing in wrestling in seventh grade and that’s where her focus remained. Thoughts she might also try boxing never materialized. “I need all the brains I can get,” said the 17-year-old Flores, who has been accepted at the University of Wisconsin, where she plans to study biochemistry and psychology.

“I just like wrestling — you need discipline and your teammates are like a family,” Flores said. “I find that it is something cathartic to do. I’m not aggressive (away from the mat). But it is my happy place. I can take my mind away from everything.”

Stoughton freshman Rose Ann Marshall said she got into wrestling in fourth grade because her parents thought she was an aggressive child.

“So, they signed me up for wrestling,” said Marshall, whose brother, senior Aidon Marshall, wrestles in the 285-pound division for the Vikings. “I like how it gets me working hard. It’s a really tough sport. It isn’t easy. I like that, so I can get better and work on technique.”

Flores and Rose Ann Marshall wrestle for their respective school’s wrestling programs, including during varsity matches. Marshall recently became the first female to win during a varsity dual match for Stoughton, Vikings co-coach Dan Spilde said.

That means Marshall and Flores usually are wrestling against males, which Marshall said she prefers because she believes males push her to compete harder and offer different techniques she must counter.

The 15-year-old Marshall would like to wrestle in college and took note that Lakeland University in Plymouth has announced plans to add a women’s wrestling team this year — making it the first college or university in the state to have a women’s team in what is considered one of the nation’s fastest-growing sports.

Marshall and Flores are part of a growing trend of female wrestlers in Wisconsin that eventually could lead to a separate girls division at the WIAA state wrestling tournament.

Marshall and Flores each earned championships competing in Madison at the recent 45th annual Badger State Invitational wrestling tournament, which for the first time featured a girls division in an effort to grow the sport for girls in the state.

The tournament served as a pilot program for an ad hoc committee of the Wisconsin Wrestling Coaches Association and the Wisconsin Wrestling Federation, said Stoughton athletic director Mel Dow, adding that numbers of female wrestlers have grown in every state that started a girls-only division. Wisconsin is scrutinizing the potential addition of a girls division this season through a few events such as the Badger State Invitational, Dow said.

In addition to being a first-time champion in the girls division at the Badger State Invitational, Flores became the second Lancers wrestler to earn first at the tournament, according to La Follette. Flores pinned Oshkosh West’s Sarah Engedal at 2 minutes, 31 seconds in the 160-pound title match.

Marshall pinned all three of her opponents — including Cudahy’s Sara Jankowski in 2:37 in the 113-pound final.

“I knew it would be a tough match,” Marshall said. “My coaches said, ‘Just get the job done.’ ”

Initially, it was announced 28 schools had girls registered in 10 weight classes at the Badger State Invitational. According to the results from the Dec. 23 competition at the Alliant Energy Center, 36 girls from 26 teams competed in nine weight classes. Several area wrestlers claimed titles — Poynette’s Gwen Golueke (106), Marshall (113), Monona Grove/McFarland’s Katelynn Gunderson (126), Flores (160) and Whitewater’s Brianna Staebler (182).

In 2004, Tomahawk’s Alyssa Lampe became the first female to compete at the state wrestling tournament and in 2006 she became the first to reach a final (Division 2 103 pounds). Stratford’s Macey Kilty reached the WIAA Division 3 final at 106 pounds in 2016.

Now, Spilde said he foresees a girls division being added to the WIAA state wrestling tournament, possibly in the next couple years.

Madison Memorial athletic director Jeremy Schlitz said he’s heard discussion about the girls division through his Wisconsin Athletic Directors Association duties with the WIAA Board of Control, though he hadn’t seen a formal recommendation.

A proposal has been made to WIAA deputy director Wade Labecki.

“I know Wade had indicated that there has been a proposal sent to him, but that is the extent of the process at this point,” WIAA communications director Todd Clark said. “It would have to be discussed with and through the standard committee process, beginning with the wrestling coaches advisory committee, following the 2017-18 season. Any idea or ‘proposal’ would not be considered without first being discussed by the various levels of committees next spring.”

Estimates about when a girls division at the state tournament will occur range from one to two years on the optimistic side to three to five years on a possibly more realistic side, according to a story in the Wausau Daily Herald, a report which stated: “Given the increasing popularity of girls wrestling in the state, it seems Wisconsin could soon be the seventh state to have the sport sanctioned on its own by an interscholastic athletic association.”

A total of 187 females were involved this season in high school wrestling in the state and the numbers have increased 50 percent in the past five years, according to that report. “It’s not a question of if, it’s when (for Wisconsin),” West Allis Hale coach and WWCA president Randy Ferrell told the Daily Herald.

Contact Jon Masson at jmasson@madison.com.

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Jon Masson covers high school sports for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has covered a variety of sports — including the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin men's and women's basketball and volleyball — since he first came to the State Journal in 1999.