Peninsula High freshman wrestler Lani Vongsey is off to a hot start in her high school wrestling career.
Vongsey won an individual title in the 120-pound division of the Kentwood Invitational meet over the weekend, her third tournament win of the season. Vongsey won all three matches by pin to win the title.
“It was a great turnout and a great tournament,” Vongsey said.
While girls wrestling is nothing new, it’s still not a hugely popular sport for girls. Along with Vongsey, freshman Victoria Reese is the only other girl currently on the Peninsula roster. The girls have separate tournaments than the boys, and with only two girls total, there isn’t much of a team feeling.
“We’re at a point where I want to see it increase for the benefit of the kids who are doing it,” Peninsula coach Mark Nickels said. “It’s tough when you’re only one of two. When you’re going to a separate event and there’s only two of you, it’s a different thing than when you’re going with 14 other people. For them to get as much as they can out of the wrestling experience, I want to build it up for that because if you’re going to experience the team element of wrestling, you need to have that core team.”
Nickels hopes more girls will continue to turn out for wrestling.
“We’re working on building that up and being a role model for the other girls in the building to see that they can do it and that it’s a viable sport for them in the winter,” Nickels said. “I think wrestling provides that strong core that’s transferable. It makes you a better athlete. She gets to be a representative for other girls at Peninsula.”
Vongsey started wrestling in seventh grade, inspired by her older brother and her father, who both wrestled. Her brother, Keanu, is a junior at Peninsula, but is out for the season with an injury. While Vongsey doesn’t get to completely be a part of the boys team, she’s still part of the team in the practice room every day.
“It’s really fun,” she said. “We’re making strong bonds here. It’s nice to be part of a team where everyone is a family. It’s really cool knowing your team is a top-tier team in state. It’s really cool to see all the older wrestlers getting first in their tournaments.”
Vongsey, who describes herself as an aggressive wrestler, hopes to qualify for the Class 3A state meet this season. Nickels said she has a solid fundamental base to work from, and perhaps equally as important, a fiery competitiveness on the mat.
“There’s a different level that she’ll shift into for competition,” Nickels said. “She’s a little bit more of a flow wrestler in the room, but when she gets into competition, she just kind of shifts a gear and gets a little more tenacious and takes it to her opponent a lot more effectively.”