Finishing Strong: County competitors leave it all on the mat at girls wrestling state

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Mt. Vernon’s Sierra Pienkowski is embraced by coach Chad Masters after she won her consolation match at the girls state wrestling finals at Kokomo High School on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022.

Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

KOKOMO — Even without achieving her ultimate goal, Mt. Vernon senior Sierra Pienkowski could smile on Friday night.

Finishing her fourth consecutive Indiana High School Girls Wrestling State Finals appearance as a four-time, state-place winner, Pienkowski was grateful — and unprecedented.

The most-decorated female wrestler in Mt. Vernon school history, Pienkowski placed fifth at 138 pounds inside Kokomo’s Memorial Gymnasium, marking her fourth state medal and second top-four placement in two years.

Pienkowski was a state runner-up in 2020-21 at 138 and placed seventh in 2019-20 after taking eighth at 145 as a freshman.

In her state finale, Pienkowski lost her first match by decision, 11-9, to Monrovia’s Josie Hause in the quarterfinals, but she didn’t let it impact her the remainder of the nearly seven-plus hour tournament.

“She beat (Hause) last week. I think she came in and felt a lot of pressure,” said Mt. Vernon wrestling coach Chad Masters, who worked with Pienkowski throughout her prep career. “For her being a senior, it hit her hard, but a four-time placer and to end your high school career on a win. That’s what it’s about.”

Winning was Pienkowski’s focus, especially given her journey.

A female competitor in a male dominated sport since middle school, the Marauder jokingly recalled her surprise when she realized there were other girls wrestlers, too, a few years ago, let alone a state meet.

The girls state meet has been a mainstay in the growing non-santioned prep sport the past five years, and Pienkowski has made the most of her four opportunities, while overcoming surgery on both knees after her freshman season and a litany of other physical setbacks, including a torn hamstring during last year’s state meet.

“I honestly, didn’t expect to get this far, especially in my earlier years from middle school and freshman year. I was always stuck in my head. The first match, I would let it bring me down, if I didn’t win. After my freshman year when I broke my knees at state. Once I had the surgeries. Once I had that solid break to work, it just set some kind of switch, and once I got back, I did so much better,” Pienkowski said. “I wasn’t in my head as much. I was improving. I’m really happy with where I am.”

A two-time regional champion, Pienkowski clinched her second-career title a week ago at Edgewood Junior High School, beating Hause in the semifinals by decision 8-1 before taking down New Albany’s Brittany Jackson by decision, 3-2, in the championship.

This time, however, Hause struck first and built a 4-0 lead that Pienkowski couldn’t recover from as the match went the full six minutes.

“It was pretty upsetting, but I know I lost to someone who deserved it. A good, good friend of mine. No hard feelings. We were pushing each other all the way through, so upsetting, but not the worst for me,” Pienkowski said. “I beat her in every tournament we’ve ever wrestled in until today. It happened to be today.”

Much like her rapid six-month recovery from a torn ACL and separated meniscus between her freshman and sophomore seasons, Pienkowski bounced back from her state quarterfinals loss.

In the consolation round, she pinned South Bend Riley’s Nyisha Gindelberger in 50 seconds and claimed fifth-place with a 7-2 decision to walk off the mat a winner. She finished her career with two regional titles and a second and third-place regional placement.

“Being the only female wrestler at my school for seven years, I’ve never wrestled any girls before until the past couple of years when I figured out there were other girls to wrestle. It’s been a new experience, and I’m glad I’ve made it as far as I did,” Pienkowski said.

“It was very important to at least finish and win all the other following matches. At least I made myself proud and happy in the sense that I didn’t let that loss bring me down. I didn’t let it setup losses for the rest of the night. I was at least happy with settling for placing at state, again.”

She wasn’t alone.

Pienkowski was one of four Hancock County female wrestlers competing at state along with New Palestine’s Sydney DeLois and Jasmine Camacho. Both placed fourth in their respective weight classes, and Greenfield-Central’s Ella Harpold finished fifth at 182.

DeLois, a sophomore, was fourth at 113 during last year’s state meet, and in her second state appearance, she won her first match by decision, 11-7, over Mishawaka’s Kaylee Smith to advance.

In the semifinals, DeLois faced a familiar foe in West Lafayette’s Rose Kaplan, falling by major decision, 9-0. At last year’s state meet, the duo met in the semifinals with Kaplan winning by decision, 6-0.

“Last year at state I wrestled her, and I lost 6-0. This year, 9-0, so obviously, a big difference. Today was not my day whatsoever because last year after state, I beat her, so coming back and losing to her was pretty upsetting,” DeLois said. “I doubted myself throughout the whole day.”

The loss affected her mentally, DeLois admitted, as she lost in the third-place consolation final by decision, 3-0, to Indian Creek’s Phoebe Dowty.

Camacho won her first state match by decision, 11-7, over Penn’s Sophie Brown, but was pinned twice in the semifinal and third-place match to take fourth.

While the results weren’t what DeLois had hoped, the continuing growth of both the sport and her Dragons girls wrestling team is motivating her to chase down the podium over her next two remaining seasons. This winter, New Palestine hosted a women’s wrestling invitational.

“I love girls wrestling. I love the surrounding of it. I think, it needs to continue to grow because the people involved in it are my favorite type of people. They are my family,” DeLois said. “It makes my heart fill with joy. I love it.”

While girls high school wrestling hasn’t been officially sanctioned by the IHSAA, numbers and interest remain on the rise throughout the state, which was apparent with a near capacity crowd in the upper deck seating areas inside Memorial Gymnasium.

“I hope the IHSAA realizes that if they go ahead and make it a sport, the numbers are going to jump up,” Masters said. “They’re close to where the IHSAA wants them to be, but if you go ahead and make it a sanctioned sport, I think we’ll surpass those numbers easily.”

Greenfield-Central’s wrestling program has had enough female competitors to field a team much like New Palestine, and Harpold, a freshman, showed promise in her first state opportunity.

A regional runner-up like DeLois and Camacho, Harpold rebounded from her state quarterfinal loss by fall in 1:52 to Bishop Luers’ Dennise Galicia with a pair of wins.

Harpold beat Kadawn Gao of Owen Valley in the consolation round by major decision, 11-0. She later pinned Jay County’s Mollie Hines in 55 seconds for fifth-place overall.

Pienkowski began much the same way, and now, she’s turning her sights on a collegiate career at either Trine University or Carthage College potentially.

“Now, I told her, you get to go wrestle at college. She’s going to be on a girls team and everything is going to be completely different,” Masters said. “No more wrestling boys. The future is bright for her. She’s a great kid and she’s going to be successful wherever she goes. She had a lot of support here. It’s huge and it speaks a lot about how we all feel about her.”

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