Amberle Montgomery earned what was then called a state invitational title at Steilacoom, before an illustrious career that included 12 national wrestling titles, trips to foreign countries and a spot on Team USA.
After all that she’s now the girls wrestling coach at Auburn Riverside High School.
Of just one girls wrestler.
Just what did she get herself into?
“It’s really cool to be coaching,” she said. “It takes me back every time. I’m the leader — the one giving them the vision and showing them the ways they can be successful.”
Because she took the position just a week before the season began, Montgomery was unable to recruit, and despite starting with six girls, now coaches just one. She also assists second-year boys coach Kyle Jones.
But as girls wrestling has become more popular in the state, Montgomery hopes to use her national experience to jump-start the girls wrestling program at Auburn Riverside.
“Women’s wrestling has come a long way since I started wrestling,” she said, “and it’s still got a long ways to go.”
Montgomery’s wrestling career started at age 7 when she pushed every boy out of the circle in a sumo match. By age 14 she said she got to travel to Beijing to train and compete against a Chinese team.
Jones said the boys’ team was initially unsure of what to expect from Montgomery.
“They wondered if her skills would be where other coaches would be,” Jones said. “But she got in, wrestled with them, beat a couple of them, and opened their eyes.
“Since then, I don’t think there’s been a doubt.”
The Ravens’ lone female wrestler, freshman Kaitlyn Packer, said that Montgomery leads by example.
“She’s a good coach,” said Packer, whose sister, Jessica, placed eighth in the 145-pound weight class as a senior last year. “She has a bunch of experience so she knows how to teach us to do the moves accurately and efficiently.”
Montgomery started wrestling with the Maple Valley Wolfpack in second grade. She went on to wrestle for Tahoma High School for two years, and then at Steilacoom, where, as a senior in 2005, she pinned every competitor in her group in what was then called the state girls invitational tournament.
Girls wrestling wasn’t sanctioned by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association until 2007. Before that, girls had to compete alongside boys until the WIAA began hosting a girls invitational tournament from 2004-06. Girls could choose to either compete in that or compete against boys in the state wrestling tournament.
Participation in girls wrestling has since increased from 139 schools and 464 participants that first year in 2007 to 197 schools and 1,210 participants for the 2014-15 school year.
Montgomery never practiced against girls. Only boys. And she made the varsity boys team. Which went over well.
“They didn’t want the girl to win,” she said. “(But) I didn’t have to say anything. My wrestling took care of it itself. I proved myself on the mat.”
Montgomery went on to wrestle for Northern Michigan and then Oklahoma City University. She trained at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and then made Team USA and the 2010 World Combat Games in China, losing only to Olesya Zamula of Azerbaijan in the gold-medal match.
Montgomery also has wrestled in Bulgaria, Canada, Italy, Venezuela and all across the U.S. She retired with a dozen national titles — and a desire to give back.
Montgomery, now 28, returned to the area and after getting her event-planning business off the ground, decided to look into coaching.
“I had a lot of coaches to get me to where I am,” she said. “That’s essentially why I wanted to coach.
“Wrestling’s a poor man’s sport — there’s no money in coaching. … You do it for love of the sport.”
In addition to coaching Packer, Montgomery works with Auburn Riverside’s lightweights. Senior Noah Ajeto said Montgomery pushes them to their limits.
“She’s tough,” he said. “I feel like female coaches have to prove a point wrestling with males and you can tell she has that chip on her shoulder.
“I think that’s a great thing. She definitely brings out the most in all of us.”
Montgomery has a plan for having more wrestlers next season: looking for potential wrestlers within other sports, like the soccer team.
“I can look at an athlete playing any sport and tell if they could be a wrestler,” she said. “I know what it takes — the build and the personality.”
That’s what a lifetime of exposure to wrestling will do.
“That’s why I chose Auburn Riverside over teams with 20 people,” she said. “I know there is a ton of potential.”