Madison-Plains excited about future of girls’ wrestling

Madison Plains girls’ head wrestling coach Eric McDonald Jr. and his team know how to have fun while taking their sport seriously.

(Posted on February 2, 2023)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

In recent years, more and more girls have taken up wrestling and found spots on boys’ teams. This year girls’ wrestling is celebrating its first year as an Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) sanctioned sport, and Eric McDonald Jr., head coach of the first year of the Madison-Plains High School girls’ wrestling team, is excited.

“They get an OHSAA state championship like boys’ team and like any other official sport. They have their own schedule and tournaments, so they don’t have to compete with guys if they don’t want to. There are girls-only tournaments all over the state,” he said.

McDonald is excited to be involved in new growth in a sport he loves. He wrestled at Reynoldsburg High School, his alma mater, and now trains with one of his Reynoldsburg teammates, Madison Plains boys’ head wrestling coach Jordan Kramer. He still competes in wrestling, along with jiu-jitsu, judo, and mixed martial arts, which he did while serving in the US Navy.

“Athletics is a big topic for me. Fitness, exercise, lessons on how to dig deep, find a better version of yourself … You learn that you have the ability and that carries over into life,” McDonald said.

Junior Payne Haverfield has the upper hand in one of their first encounters as a member of the Madison-Plains girls’ wrestling team.

He shares that enthusiasm with his small but dedicated team: junior Payne Haverfield, a freshman wrestler who competes in the 155-pound class; sophomore Kyleigh Elfrink, a returning wrestler, in the 110-pound class; and freshman Tara Nagel, a first-year wrestler who competes at 235 pounds. Senior Emma Rife started the season but was sidelined with a shoulder injury.

Nagel loves her new sport. She divides her time between powerlifting and wrestling, entering powerlifting tournaments on the weekends when she doesn’t have wrestling. She said her brother, Junior Trevor Hardin, also a powerlifter and freshman wrestler, prodded her to try wrestling.

“I’m into muscle sports and I just felt like wrestling was something I’d like to try,” she said.

When she took first place in her very first competition of the season, Trevor immediately jumped up and down and cheered for her.

Nagel said she appreciates the siblings’ support as well as the bonds she’s forged with her teammates and her coach.

“Our team jokes a lot, but we also take it super seriously. It’s something I like to be a part of because they’re always there for me and I’m there for them,” she said.

Kyleigh Elfrink, a sophomore on the Madison-Plains girls’ wrestling team, attends a meetup earlier this season. After recovering from a concussion and a sprained shoulder, she returned to the mat on January 22nd and is looking forward to postseason competitions.

Despite only being a sophomore, Elfrink entered this season with several years of experience. She began wrestling through the Golden Eagle Youth Sports Association, then joined the Madison-Plains junior high team and continued wrestling at the high school level.

“It helps my mental health, it helps me stay in shape, and it just helps me get anger and frustration through the day and week,” she said of why she enjoys the sport.

She said that the OHSAA’s approval of wrestling for girls means more opportunities for competitive experience at the high school level, something she hopes will lay the foundation for competitive opportunities after graduation.

“My plan is to get into college wrestling,” she said.

McDonald said Haverfield is making the most of her freshman year as a wrestler. Early on, she placed second in her division at the Heart of Ohio Wrestling Tournament in Mechanicsburg.

Freshman Tara Nagel is already collecting hardware as a freshman on the Madison Plains girls’ wrestling team.

All girls make great progress, McDonald said. They had a learning curve to climb early in the season but have improved with every meeting. Midway through the season, they began to turn a corner, he said.

“They suit girls with more experience better. Over time, we’ll be able to match some of these top schools,” he predicted.

In a month they have their first chance to qualify for an OHSAA sanctioned state tournament. Postseason opportunities for girls high school wrestling begin with Regionals, which determine state qualifications. Four regional tournaments are scheduled for March 5th. Hosts are Harrison, Marysville, Mentor and Olentangy Orange. The Girls State Tournament will be held in conjunction with the Boys State Tournament March 10-12 at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.

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