FORT CAMPBEL, Ky. – Fifty-three teams will gather Feb. 21 at Harrison County Middle School in Cynthiana, Kentucky, for the event, which is sponsored by the Kentucky Wrestling Coaches Association, and the Lady Falcons are confident they have what it takes to win.
“Our program is one of the top five in the state, and it has been year in and year out,” said Anthony Shingler, FCHS wrestling coach. “This year our motto has been to rebuild. It’s no secret that we’re 95% first-year wrestlers, but I feel like we’ve accomplished that. We’ve been competitive all year in tournaments and we’ve always been right on the edge, but could never make that next leap. We’re going to give it our best shot on Saturday.”
Despite their youth, the team started their season off strong with a second-place finish at the Knox Central Invitational in Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 11, 2021 and took home 10 individual medals.
The Lady Falcons also made an impression in Tennessee after placing fifth overall in the Maher/Garstin “Battle for Independence” tournament hosted Dec. 30, 2021 at Independence High School in Thompson’s Station. FCHS senior Natalie Britton, junior Savannah Ziegler and freshman Madeline Hebert earned top three finishes in their respective weight classes, and the program has stayed competitive since.
“As a new team we’ve done pretty good, and as individuals we’ve all done well,” said Britton, who competed with the Lady Falcons when they placed fourth in 2020’s state tournament. “Everyone on the girls’ team but me is doing this for their first year, and they’ve come pretty far.”
Shingler said the team has been able to compete in more events this season than the last three combined, giving the students plenty of opportunities to improve.
“Technically, I think we’re right where we need to be,” he said. “It’s more the mental aspect of it, because wrestling is a very mental sport and you’ve got to drive home that mental toughness. You’ve got to be mentally prepared for the grind of your matches, and that’s been the focus over the last couple of weeks.”
Strength and technique are both important when it comes to pinning down an opponent, but the Lady Falcons have learned their mindset is often the deciding factor in a close match. To make sure they measure up in all three categories, the team has recently taken on an intense practice schedule.
“For this entire week, we’ve been practicing in the morning from 5:30-6:30 a.m.,” Britton said. “After school we come to 5th Group Combatives and practice for a few hours, and on Friday we’re heading up to the tournament. I think we’re also going to practice with the high school there, so we’re prepared.”
The Lady Falcons’ training regimen includes strength and conditioning exercises, one-on-one wrestling drills and technique demonstrations from coaching staff. Each student is putting in hours of work to represent FCHS, and they’re ready to show what they’ve learned in Lexington.
“We’ve mainly wrestled Tennessee side, but we’re going to be competing on the Kentucky side for state which is exciting,” Ziegler said. “It’s a great opportunity to get out there, meet other people and show them we can actually wrestle.”
For Ziegler, being able to compete in the state tournament is also a milestone that proves she overcame self-doubt, tried something new and succeeded.
“I was actually involved with martial arts before, but I wanted to get into wrestling,” she said. “I didn’t for four years because I was scared to, but now that I have it’s really fun. We’ve all been able to grow a lot, especially being new to wrestling.”
Being able to learn and grow together has built the Lady Falcons into a close-knit team, which Hebert said has been her favorite part of the experience.
“The wrestling program had great reviews online, so when I moved here, I contacted the coach and he invited me to come out,” she said. “I’ve been here since July and he and the team have all been really friendly. Being a part of the team is like being part of a big Family.”
Department of Defense Education Activity, or DoDEA, offers programs like wrestling to help students improve both as athletes and as people, Shingler said.
“Athletics goes hand-in-hand with being a student – you can’t have one without the other,” he said. “At DoDEA, wrestling has been a staple since 1969 when the program started at Fort Campbell. And what wrestling gives these kids that I feel not every other sport does is that it drives home that mental toughness, which prepares them to overcome the academic rigors DoDEA has to offer and empowers them to become better citizens.”