Olivia Ioppolo's love for wrestling is rooted in her backyard, where as a young girl she and her older brother, along with his friends, wrestled on a trampoline. Her brother was two classes ahead of her, and though she was often physically overmatched, she hung tough with the boys, withstanding the bumps and bruises to find her niche.

"I've always loved fighting and grappling around, and one day my brother's wrestling coach told me I should try wrestling," said Ioppolo, a senior at Silver Creek in Longmont. "Once I got out there, just like in the backyard, the feeling of being on the mat and pinning someone is so primal. I like beating up the boys, and I like getting my hand raised. That feeling is just amazing."

Ioppolo was one of the best female wrestlers in Colorado this season, posting a 16-17 record as the Raptors' varsity 106-pounder. She, along with Mountain View junior Kaley Barker (14-25 at 113) and Roosevelt freshman Angel Rios (37-12 at 106) — both of whom came close to qualifying for the state tournament — are at the forefront of a shifting wrestling landscape in Colorado as the popularity of girls wrestling grows.


Advertisement

  • Silver Creek High School senior wrestler Olivia Ioppolo uses a sauna to help cut weight ahead of regionals, Feb. 8, 2017 in Longmont.

    Joe Amon, The Denver Post

    Silver Creek High School senior wrestler Olivia Ioppolo uses a sauna to help cut weight ahead of regionals, Feb. 8, 2017 in Longmont. Ioppolo hits the sauna 4 times, staying in until she counts 200 drops of sweat falling from her face. On her third trip in she will count to 300 hundred to assuage her anxiety of not making weight. 'I have to make weight so I can wrestle. The team needs me to wrestle,' she said.

  • Olivia Ioppolo, senior wrestler at 106 pounds for Silver Creek High School

    Joe Amon, The Denver Post

    Olivia Ioppolo, senior wrestler at 106 pounds for Silver Creek High School (far left) lines up for the introductions before their last home match against Northridge High School. Jan. 26, 2017 Longmont, CO. 'It feels surreal for a second,' Ioppolo says about wrestling. 'Then the world fades away and I feel alive, more alive than I've ever been before.'

  • Silver Creek High School senior Olivia Ioppolo pulls teammate and friend Sawyer Novara off their coach and back into the ring during a fun drill at the end of a mid week practice heading into the teams last home match of the season. Olivia comes from a wrestling family from her grandfather, uncle, father and older brother. Jan. 24, 2017 Longmont, CO.

    Joe Amon, The Denver Post

    Silver Creek High School senior Olivia Ioppolo pulls teammate and friend Sawyer Novara off their coach and back into the ring during a fun drill at the end of a mid week practice heading into the teams last home match of the season. Olivia comes from a wrestling family from her grandfather, uncle, father and older brother. Jan. 24, 2017 Longmont, CO.

  • Silver Creek High School senior Olivia Ioppolo and her father assistant wrestling coach Albert Ioppolo during a fun drill at the end of a mid week practice heading into the teams last home match of the season. Olivia comes from a wrestling family from her grandfather, uncle, father and older brother. Jan. 24, 2017 Longmont, CO.

    Joe Amon, The Denver Post

    Silver Creek High School senior Olivia Ioppolo and her father assistant wrestling coach Albert Ioppolo during a fun drill at the end of a mid week practice heading into the teams last home match of the season. Olivia comes from a wrestling family from her grandfather, uncle, father and older brother. Jan. 24, 2017 Longmont, CO.

  • Albert ask his daughter Silver Creek High School senior wrestler Olivia Ioppolo what she wants for dinner while working on a presentation for school from the book

    Joe Amon, The Denver Post

    Albert ask his daughter Silver Creek High School senior wrestler Olivia Ioppolo what she wants for dinner while working on a presentation for school from the book 'The Things They Carried' in her room after practice. Feb. 07, 2017 Longmont, CO.

  • Olivia Ioppolo, 17 year old senior wrestler at 106 pounds for Silver Creek High School gets a hug from her mom Wendy then her older brother 20 year old James before Senior Night at the last home match of the season. Jan. 26, 2017 Longmont, CO.

    Joe Amon, The Denver Post

    Olivia Ioppolo, 17 year old senior wrestler at 106 pounds for Silver Creek High School gets a hug from her mom Wendy then her older brother 20 year old James before Senior Night at the last home match of the season. Jan. 26, 2017 Longmont, CO.

  • Olivia Ioppolo, 17 year old senior wrestler for Silver Creek High School trying for an escape during her match against Wyatt Carpenter from Northridge High School in their 106 pound weight class. Ioppolo  lost the match 7-2. Jan. 26, 2017 Longmont, CO.

    Joe Amon, The Denver Post

    Olivia Ioppolo, 17 year old senior wrestler for Silver Creek High School trying for an escape during her match against Wyatt Carpenter from Northridge High School in their 106 pound weight class. Ioppolo lost the match 7-2. Jan. 26, 2017 Longmont, CO.

  • Olivia Ioppolo,  Silver Creek High School wrestler running to drop weight after drinking too much after her match on the first day of the 4A - Region 2 Wrestling Tournament 
at Frederick High School. She ran for to sessions 30 minutes for the first and 20 minutes for the second to get down to 108 pounds before bed. Feb. 10, 2017 Longmont, CO.

    Joe Amon, The Denver Post

    Olivia Ioppolo, Silver Creek High School wrestler running to drop weight after drinking too much after her match on the first day of the 4A - Region 2 Wrestling Tournament at Frederick High School. She ran for to sessions 30 minutes for the first and 20 minutes for the second to get down to 108 pounds before bed. Feb. 10, 2017 Longmont, CO.

  • Albert Ioppolo has a moment with his daughter Silver Creek High School senior wrestler Olivia Ioppolo in the warm up room, reinforcing that she is a good wrestler, strong and to follow her instincts before competing in the Girls State Wrestling Tournament at Northglenn High School, Feb. 4, 2017. Ioppolo has coached Olivia through out her carrier.

    Joe Amon, The Denver Post

    Albert Ioppolo has a moment with his daughter Silver Creek High School senior wrestler Olivia Ioppolo in the warm up room, reinforcing that she is a good wrestler, strong and to follow her instincts before competing in the Girls State Wrestling Tournament at Northglenn High School, Feb. 4, 2017. Ioppolo has coached Olivia through out her carrier. 'I never pushed her into wrestling,' he said. 'She identifies herself as a wrestler. It gives her a lot of confidence. Wrestling has worked out for both of us, It's enriched our lives.'

  • Silver Creek High School's Olivia Ioppolo, at 106 pounds takes on Jonah Gardner of Frederick High School on the second day of the 4A - Region 2 Wrestling Tournament at Frederick High School. Ioppolo won the match by a fall. Feb. 11, 2017 Frederick, CO.

    Joe Amon, The Denver Post

    Silver Creek High School's Olivia Ioppolo, at 106 pounds takes on Jonah Gardner of Frederick High School on the second day of the 4A - Region 2 Wrestling Tournament at Frederick High School. Ioppolo won the match by a fall. Feb. 11, 2017 Frederick, CO.

  • Silver Creek High School's Olivia Ioppolo, at 106 pounds looks to her corner after pinning Jonah Gardner of Frederick High School

    Joe Amon, The Denver Post

    Silver Creek High School's Olivia Ioppolo, at 106 pounds looks to her corner after pinning Jonah Gardner of Frederick High School on the second day of the 4A - Region 2 Wrestling Tournament at Frederick High School. Ioppolo won the match by a fall. Feb. 11, 2017 Frederick, CO.

  • Silver Creek High School's Olivia Ioppolo, at 106 pounds celebrates for a moment with her father after pinning Jonah Gardner of Frederick High School on the second day of the 4A - Region 2 Wrestling Tournament

    Joe Amon, The Denver Post

    Silver Creek High School's Olivia Ioppolo, at 106 pounds celebrates for a moment with her father after pinning Jonah Gardner of Frederick High School on the second day of the 4A - Region 2 Wrestling Tournament at Frederick High School. 'I like having my dad as a coach,' she said. 'There are nights we will stay up till 10 o'clock just working on technique. Feb. 11, 2017 Frederick, CO.

of

Expand

"In five years, it'll be possible to have NCAA sanctioning and sanctioning at the high school level in every state, and we want to make it so that girls and boys can participate in the sport and reap the benefits of it in terms of character development, confidence building and overcoming challenges," said Sally Roberts, a former member of Team USA who founded Wrestle Like A Girl, an organization that works to promote female wrestling. "That's a realistic goal, especially with the progress over the last decade in the grassroots and international levels of the sport."

For the first time, there were girls-only tournaments this winter in Colorado, one at Frederick and the other at Chatfield, in addition to an exhibition "state tournament" held in conjunction with the junior varsity state tournament Feb. 4 at Northglenn. And for the ninth consecutive year, a female wrestler qualified for the Colorado High School Activities Association state tournament, to be held Thursday through Saturday at the Pepsi Center. Del Norte sophomore Natalie Benavides is wrestling at 138 pounds in Class 2A.

the opening rounds of the first chsaa girls state wrestling tournament at northglenn high school february 04, 2017 northglenn, co.
The opening rounds of the first CHSAA Girls State Wrestling Tournament at Northglenn High School Feb. 4, 2017.

"It was amazing. Everyone in the stands stood up and cheered for me, and they were all going crazy," said Benavides, who took fourth at regionals with a dramatic third-period pin to become the eighth girl in CHSAA history to earn a state tournament berth. "I spent the whole summer at camps and girls tournaments preparing for this."

Support grows in Colorado

The Frederick tournament drew 82 wrestlers from 42 schools, and that turnout, coupled with the fact there were 164 girls wrestlers in the state who were already registered before the season began, proved Colorado had a base of interest to at least test interest for a girls-only division.

greeley central wrestler kaden campbell picks up back points on her way to a win over brandee greerr of legacy high school during the chatfield high school jv and girl's wrestling tournament jan. 28, 2017 in littleton.
Joe Amon, The Denver Post
Greeley Central wrestler Kaden Campbell picks up back points on her way to a win over Brandee Greerr of Legacy High School during the Chatfield High School JV and girl's wrestling tournament Jan. 28, 2017 in Littleton.

"All of the tournaments happened last minute this year, so moving forward there's opportunity for more participation because we're going to have the whole offseason to work on that," said CHSAA assistant commissioner Harry Waterman, who oversees wrestling. "It's a pilot program right now, and we're going to have to gather the data over the next couple years to determine if there's truly enough teams to develop a stand-alone girls division. Usually we need in the ballpark of 20, 25 teams before we have a state tournament."

Participation numbers are just one factor when it comes to sanctioning girls wrestling. Funding at the local levels and approval by various CHSAA committees and boards are other big hurdles. Wrestling committee chairman Ernie Derrera noted that the success of girls such as Ioppolo, Barker and Rios serves to heighten interest and expedite an evaluation.

"One of the things that helped us realize we could move forward with this rather quickly as opposed to, say, boys volleyball — which has also had some interest as being added as a sport — is that girls are already participating in wrestling," Derrera said. "Whereas with volleyball, you can't compete on a high school team as a boy."

Washington, California, Texas, Hawaii and Tennessee have sanctioned girls wrestling at the high school level. There are 39 states that allow girls to wrestle on boys teams, and 11,496 girls competed in high school wrestling in 2014-15, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations' most recent statistics.

That grassroots growth, coupled with the rise of American Olympians such as gold medalist Helen Maroulis and Bear Creek graduate Adeline Gray, has generated momentum in breaking down stereotypes surrounding girls wrestling.

"From the conversations I've had with different people around the country, they don't hate girls wrestling. What they don't necessarily love is when boys and girls wrestle each other," Roberts said. "One of the things we've been able to do is