(Aug. 9, 2019) Some teens are relaxing and enjoying their summer vacation, while others are working, but Stephen Decatur High School incoming junior Anya Knappenberger has been putting her time in on the mat to improve her wrestling skills.
That hard work is paying off as Knappenberger accomplished her biggest feat to date – placing seventh in the United States Marine Corps/USA Wrestling National Championship, held in Fargo, North Dakota, in mid-July.
Knappenberger competed in the Women’s Freestyle 16U 117-pound division. She finished seventh overall in her division out of 34 competitors.
“I feel like I wrested well,” she said. “I wish I could have placed higher, but all you can do is go out there and wrestled your hardest.”
“It’s grueling. You have to qualify for it, so the kids that go to Fargo are the best of the best,” said Decatur varsity wrestling Coach Todd Martinek.
She and six other girls represented Team Maryland at the competition.
In the U16 division, girls from about 40 different states participated.
“It’s cool to be able to compete against girls from different states,” she said.
Knappenberger received a first-round bye. She shut out her opponent from Florida, 10-0, in the second round. She then topped her opponent from Ohio, 15-8, in the next round.
She lost, 8-7, to her Washington opponent, but bounced back with a 6-4 victory over her competition from Wisconsin in the next round.
She fell to her Colorado opponent, 12-6, but took the seventh-place medal with a 10-0 shutout over her competition representing Washington.
“That’s one of the toughest tournaments in the country,” Martinek said.
He was able to watch her matches online.
“She was in those matches she lost. She’s only 15 and she was hanging with the best girls in the tournament,” he said. “Seventh place is a great accomplishment. It’s super hard to place at Fargo, so it’s a huge honor. She’s on the verge possibly of becoming a national champion at some point.”
After the two-day championship, held July 13-14, Knappenberger had one day to rest before competing in the Junior National division on July 16. She also participated in the 117-pound weight class.
“I was a little tired, but I only wrestled six matches, so I felt pretty good going into it,” she said.
While the U16 division is for girls 16 years of age and younger, the junior division consists of female wrestlers in grades nine through 12.
“There were 52 girls in my bracket. I just wanted another chance to wrestle some of the best girls in the country,” she said. “I think I wrestled really well. I was one win away from placing [top eight]. Toward the end I was getting tired.”
After a bye, Knappenberger lost her first match to a wresters from New York, 5-0, but won the next four bouts, edging out opponents from California (10-0), Iowa (6-4), Montana (10-0) and Kansas (13-2).
She lost her final match, 12-1, to a grappler from Washington.
She finished in the top 12 in the juniors championship.
Her overall record for the entire tournament was 8-4.
“I’m happy with my performance. Now I have to go back and fix the mistakes I made,” she said.
The national championships was just one of the wrestling activities for Knappenberger this summer.
“She works extremely hard,” Martinek said.
She has been training, competing in several tournaments and going to camps since the Decatur wrestling season ended in March.
In February as a sophomore, Knappenberger took first place in the 112-pound division of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association Girls Invitational Wrestling Tournament at Northeast High School in Pasadena.
She wrestled three matches, earning a pin and two tech falls. She outscored her opponents a combined 45-0.
The year before, she placed first in the 108-pound division of the state competition, wrestling for Urbana High School.
She is just the fourth female wrestler in Decatur’s program history, and the first to compete for the varsity squad.
Knappenberger is constantly training because “it’s a fun sport to do and I enjoy it.”
“I’m always looking to get better,” she added. “I want to push the sport and I hope more girls will come out.”
She encourages females who are interested in participating in the sport to contact Martinek when school starts.
Her goal is to again make the deeply-talented Decatur varsity, team this year. During the regular season she will compete mostly against males, unless the school Decatur is facing has a female in her weight class.
In the post-season, she will then have the option to chose to compete with the boys, or in the first girls’ state championship.
It will be the first year the NCAA has recognized women’s wresting as an emerging sport. Martinek said Maryland is the 18th state to have a women’s wresting state tournament for the upcoming season.