Thanks to the work of Nicole Clark, for the first time under coach Matt Harshman, the Sumner High wrestling program can now say it has a girls wrestling team.
Clark, a 135-pound junior, has a bubbly personality and joy for wrestling that is always on display.
Nothing seemed to get to Clark as she pitted herself against boys at practice, and then represented Sumner’s girls team as its sole representative. Every week the weight of the program was thrust upon the junior.
I love doing this. There’s no place I’d rather be on a Saturday morning at 7 a.m.
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“I’m just happy to wrestle,” said Clark, adding that she never thought about the pressure that comes with being the sole representative for her girls wrestling team.
Clark is what Harshman describes as a “mat-rat” — one where she’s most at home either in the weight room or working on her technique.
“I love doing this. There’s no place I’d rather be on a Saturday morning at 7 a.m.,” Clark said.
Wrestling is the first and last thoughts in Clark’s head every day.
But there was one thought that always nagged Clark, and it always presented itself at every tournament she wrestled.
It’s hard to convince girls to come out just to wrestle. It’s something you have to see, and I don’t know, you have to fall in love with the sport.
She was alone — no other Spartan accepted the call, and that left Clark a team of one.
“It was hard not being jealous of other teams like Rogers, where they have more wrestlers on their girls team than we have here on our entire wrestling team combined,” Clark said. “I wanted that for my school and my team, too.”
After competing at Mat Classic XXVIII last February at the Tacoma Dome, Clark couldn’t handle another offseason with the idled routine.
Yes, she improved as a wrestler each offseason, but the Sumner girls wrestling team stagnated.
“It’s hard to convince girls to come out just to wrestle,” Clark said. “It’s something you have to see, and I don’t know, you have to fall in love with the sport.”
That when’s Clark decided to make her pitch to the school.
For months on end, Clark went to one athlete after another making her pitch for wrestling. It was a tireless effort on Clark’s part, and by the start of the season, it paid off for both her and the program.
“That’s why I’m here — it’s because of Nicole,” Ku’ulei Lentz said. “We started out as friends, and she was telling that since I do track, I should do wrestling, too, since it could help me with track.”
The pitch has taken effect at Sumner as Clark has helped the girls wrestling team grow to five wrestlers entering this season, more than any other season in the program’s history.
“It’s nice. I did a lot of recruiting,” Clark said with a laugh at the hours spent planning and executing her sales pitch to Sumner’s student body.
In addition to Clark, the current roster includes Lentz (110), Courtney Cassell (115), Alicia Sjoden (140) and Penina Tuilaepa (235).
I’ve had a couple of friends who realize now that there are more girls, they want to try (wrestling), too.
Now Clark is in a new role, one as a leader of a young and inexperienced team, where all the lessons she learned over her first two years will need to be utilized to teach these girls how to handle to rigors of the wrestling world.
“I’ve always been a teacher. That’s always something I’ve been doing a lot this season,” added Clark, who started Taekwondo at 4 years old. “I love teaching, and being able to help these girls learn wrestling is one of the best parts of my day.”
Clark doesn’t plan to stop with the current roster size, as one trip to state created a purpose behind all those conversations inside the halls of Sumner High.
“I’ve had a couple of friends who realize now that there are more girls, they want to try it (wrestling), too,” Lentz said. “So next year, I’m excited about the possibility of the team with more girls coming in.”
While her first few years with the programs were marked by loneliness at times, Clark has set the wheels in motion for no female wrestler at the program to walk the same path.
“I’m going to wrestle next year, and I want to wrestle in college,” Clark said. “I want to teach and possibly coach — maybe come back here someday. But I’ll always be pushing for Sumner and wrestling.”