Amy Earley and Cassie Scogin represent two generations of high school girls wrestling’s growth, as well as two generations of a single family.
Yelm High School had a standout 130-pound wrestler in 2007, then known by her maiden name Cassie Virgil.
That’s it. One girl.
The Tornados’ legendary coach, Gaylord Strand, told Virgil that she could be grandfathered into the boys program, but to compete in girls tournaments she would have to have a paid girls coach. The school district was waiting for at least eight girls to turn out before it would hire one.
“I walked around school recruiting, asking anyone and everyone who might be interested,” Scogin remembers.
She got her eight.
Enter Earley, Cassie’s aunt, who had coached three years of volleyball and basketball at Washington Middle School in Olympia and a season of softball at Pierce College, but “didn’t know the moves, didn’t know all the rules” when it came to wrestling.
Nonetheless, having watched Virgil wrestle, she was motivated to apply for the job and was hired. Five of the eight wrestlers stayed for the entire season and Yelm finished third at Mat Classic in 2007. Virgil finished third in her weight class and one of her recruits — and best friend — Danielle Curlis won the state title at 125.
“We stayed in the same room with the boys team all year,” said Earley, who is now in her ninth season coaching Yelm and has posted a dual meet record of 12-1-1. “I knew enough about wrestling to know I didn’t know enough. I would wait for Coach Strand to demonstrate a move and I would videotape it, take the tape home and study it.”
Earley’s initiation into the coaching ranks got a little more intense when, down to the odd number of five participants, one of her wrestlers complained to Strand she had no workout partner.
“Gaylord told her, ‘Yes you do, your coach,’ ” Earley said with a laugh. To the mat she went.
Yelm girls have little trouble finding workout partners today. This season, 22 girls turned out for a squad that won its region a year ago and sent two girls on to college programs. Three district runner-ups return in Kaylin Wilson, Mykalia Reach and Madison Holmes, while two district champions have transferred to Yelm in Bree Hyder (Hoquiam) and Julia Sylstad (Franklin Pierce).
Earley has “coached to the kids” to keep Yelm’s squad size high.
“I try to find a place for everybody if they’re willing to do the work,” she said. “Not everyone wants to be a state champion. Some girls just want to gain confidence. Some want to find something to belong to.”
Meanwhile, Scogin has come full circle.
After assisting Earley for two years, she joined the Marine Corps, spending four years in North Carolina doing helicopter maintenance and serving two tours in Afghanistan. Even so, she didn’t completely leave wrestling. She coached two sons of a noncommissioned officer on her staff on an individual basis.
Upon returning to civilian life, she found that Earley was overloaded with assistant coaches. She went back to Rainier, where she had spent her first two years of high school, to assist the Mountaineers’ own longtime coach, Chris Holterman, with the girls.
Just as she had as a high school student, Scogin has found herself in recruiting mode. Currently a business administration student at South Puget Sound Community College, during the fall she drove over to Rainier and roamed the halls, handing out sports packets and talking up wrestling.
“It’s my passion,” she said. “I love coaching. I love helping the girls succeed.”
For the moment, at a school much smaller than Yelm, she is coaching four girls, down from five at the start of the season, but including college prospect Keanna Vermillion.
Both Earley and Scogin see bringing girls to wrestling at a younger age as key to the sport’s growth, and have each taken steps to eliminate a fear many parents and girls have of starting out in the sport — boys.
“Resoundingly our middle school girls do not want to wrestle boys,” said Earley. “A lot of their parents do not want them wrestling boys.”
Until recently, going up against boys, who tend to be stronger and more experienced, was the only option for girl wrestlers in middle school. Earley and Yelm gained special permission from the WIAA to have girls from its feeder schools practice with the high school team.
At Rainier, middle school girls can practice in the same room with the high school wrestlers, but they still have to wrestle boys if they want to compete in interscholastic sports. The result is a surfeit of managers at the middle school level — girls who are interested and will likely wrestle in high school but don’t want to wrestle boys as seventh- and eighth-graders.
“It’s a different culture,” says Scogin, who wrestled her brothers growing up so she didn’t mind as much as some when she first competed against boys in high school. “Boys are stronger at each weight class; they approach it differently, wrestle differently.”
With girls from the first generation of female high school wrestlers now grown women, some eager to give back to the sport, the next step in its development is taking place. Earley names half a dozen schools that have created a separate girls program instead of having the boys coach take charge of both genders. Scogin cites Alex White at Hoquiam and Barb Morgan at Sedro-Woolley as wrestlers from her generation of competitors who now coach.
“It makes the sport a lot stronger,” she said. “We’ve established a community.”
“Cassie’s paying it forward,” she said. “She knows what it’s like to go to state, to do the workouts. I don’t think I could do my own workouts and she’s done Strand’s, which are one level above torture.”
GIRLS WRESTLING PRIMER
Team to watch: The biggest girls program in the area continues to grow. Yelm’s team boasts 22 wrestlers, and the Tornados took 17th at state last season. Now in her ninth season at Yelm, coach Amy Earley has built a resilient program which accommodates middle school wrestlers, who will eventually compete at the high school level. Yelm returns seven varsity wrestlers, and adds transfers Bree Hyder (Hoquiam) and Julia Sylstad (Franklin Pierce) — both of whom have placed at state.
Wrestler to watch: Centralia graduated four of its five wrestlers who placed at state, but returns junior Emily Huerta, who was the schools’ highest placer in the tournament.. She took second in the 190-pound division last season as a sophomore, and sixth as a freshman. This will be her third consecutive season wrestling in the same weight class. She is currently ranked second in the state by washingtonwrestlingreport.net behind Washougal’s Abby Lees, who bested Huerta in the championship match last season.
Returning 2015 state placers: Bree Hyder, jr., Yelm (sixth at state; 100-pound division); Emily Huerta, jr., Centralia (second at state; 190 pounds)
Best of the rest: Veronica Chigo, sr., Centralia (105 pounds); Hailey Henry, so., Olympia (120); Chelsea Rochester, so., Yelm (120); Taylor Dick, so., Elma (130); Kaylin Wilson, sr., Yelm (130); Bailey Erickson, sr., Yelm (140); Cassandra Shipman, so., W.F. West (140); Madison Holmes, sr., Yelm (145); Kayli Jankord, jr. Elma (145); Matlyne Mecham, jr., Shelton (155); Keanna Vermillion, sr., Rainier (170); Quinn Lacy, Shelton (190); Mykaila Reach, sr., Yelm (190); Julia Sylstad, sr., Yelm (235).