What Tacey Belina, Bryanna Bender, Ali Dill, Anna Rae Hartline and Madi Larrick started Monday is special.
“Absolutely,” said Lilly Gossman, their head coach.
The five Fort Calhoun Pioneers belong to their school's first-ever, NSAA-sanctioned girls wrestling team. They began practice Monday and will compete in their first matches Dec. 2 when FCHS opens the season at the Bennington Invitational.
“I get to start something that hopefully gets carried on for a very long time at this school,” Larrick said after Tuesday's practice. “I hope a lot of girls are inspired to start wrestling, too.”
There can only be one inaugural team, though.
“It's definitely crazy to think our names will be in the record books for Fort Calhoun's first girls everything for wrestling,” Hartline said. “But, I'm more excited to learn everything.”
Gossman believes her five wrestlers are taking to the sport early, too. They are athletic, making it look easy, and worked during the summer months to get ready.
“They're aggressive,” the coach said. “They're not afraid of it.”
She and her husband, assistant coach Ben Gossman, led practice alongside boys coaches Drew and Jake Welchert on Tuesday. The Pioneers worked on their own mat as the session wound down, but joined the boys in laps around the room and the closing huddle.
“The last couple of days, we really just worked through it,” Lilly Gossman said. “We've got to get used to being uncomfortable.”
The girls are also looking ahead to real competition.
“We're just getting them ready for a match,” the coach explained. “They need to know what to expect.”
The concepts of time, rules and what the referees will do are all focuses.
“We're really just laying the foundation,” Gossman said. “Giving them an offense, a defense. We're building from there.”
The oldest of the five FCHS wrestlers is Hartline, a 16-year-old sophomore. Her brother Vince is a former Pioneer grappler.
She wrestled, too, but not since she was really young. She guessed it was at age 6.
Now, though, Hartline wants back on the mat.
“I wanted to join wrestling before there was a girls team, but I didn't want to be the only girl on the team,” she said Tuesday. “So, once coach emailed us that there was officially a girls team, it was, 'OK. I'm joining.' I knew I was going to be on the team.”
Larrick, the most-experienced Pioneer, has worked toward joining the first high school squad, too. She felt it looked like a fun sport and joined the Pioneer Wrestling Club last winter to compete alongside her brother.
“I just fell in love with it,” the freshman said, noting her favorite technique — a cradle.
Larrick ultimately earned a NEUSA State Folkstyle Tournament qualification with her district showing and finished 2-2 during the event in Grand Island.
“I'm pretty proud of that,” she said. “It was definitely brand-new and I only had the basics.”
Belina, Bender, Dill, Hartline and Larrick are building on those basics now, though.
“I definitely have great coaches to get me going,” the latter said.
Gossman said the Pioneers' work is focused on building their confidence. The debut season won't be easy, but it can be rewarding.
“We know we're going to see some buzzsaws this year, so they just need to be ready and confident to tackle every match,” the coach said. “It'll be good.”
The first Fort Calhoun girls team is special already. It follows former Pioneer Haley Albertson, who earned fifth during the 2020 NSWCA Girls High School Tournament.
Since then, the NSAA sanctioned her sport and gave Nebraska's wrestlers more opportunities. Gossman's five are taking their chance to compete.
“They want to put their name on the board,” she said. “We're going to make it happen.”
Boys return 6 from varsity lineup
The Welcherts' boys worked right beside their female teammates Tuesday, preparing for the Badgers' invitational.
Overall, the Pioneers return nine letter winners from last season and six wrestlers from their varsity dual lineup. Among them is Wesley Short, who earned his first NSAA State Championships berth at 170 pounds a year ago. He went 0-2 in Omaha, but was 18-15 overall after a 3-2 district showing in Ogallala.
Gage Nixon, Levi Lasher, Fred Altstadt, AJ Duros and TJ DeMilt return from FCHS' district roster, too. Both Nixon and Lasher earned more than 25 victories last season, going 27-13 and 28-21, respectively.
Duros earned 19 victories on the mat, too.
Fort Calhoun, however, will be bolstered by its freshman class.
“We are excited to see how they compete this season,” Drew Welchert wrote within a preseason questionnaire.
The Pioneers, like the girls, open the winter campaign Dec. 2 at Bennington before a Dec. 7 triangular at Ralston. Their first home matches are Dec. 8-9, starting with a junior varsity tournament on the first day and closing the weekend with a varsity competition on the second.