Taking fairness to the mat

Caroline Sauder enjoyed her brief time as a student manager for the Sierra Vista wrestling team.

Sauder was able to spend more time with her father, Paul, the Mountain Lions’ coach, and many of her closest friends. As a bonus, she could participate in workouts to stay in shape for volleyball.

But she just couldn’t keep off the mat.

“I wanted to beat one guy,” Sauder said. “That was my major goal.”

Sauder went winless against boys after joining the team as a sophomore. But this season, the junior accomplished her goal. Five times, in fact.

And with that out of the way, Sauder has moved on to a higher purpose.

Along with her father, Caroline is hoping to help sway the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association to sponsor a girls state wrestling tournament.

“We would just like to use California as a model and give the women in this valley an opportunity to showcase their talents as well,” Paul Sauder said. “We would hope that we could get an NIAA state (tournament) before she graduates … but if not, at least the work she and other girls like her have done can pave the way for future girls to have their own girls state.”

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations participation statistics, the vast majority of girls wrestlers come from three states: California, Texas and Washington, which all sponsor a girls state tournament. In Nevada, girls wrestle against boys, though a few local tournaments conduct separate divisions.

With no state girls tournament to compete in, Sauder hoped to petition the California Interscholastic Federation for a spot in its state tournament next month at Visalia, Calif., until recently learning state and national rules prevent her from doing so.

“I want to chase the competition in California,” Caroline Sauder said. “Next year, we’re going to go to some girls tournaments in California, and I’m going to see where I’m at with them.”

NIAA assistant director Donnie Nelson said he doesn’t foresee a school district in Nevada petitioning for girls wrestling to become its own stand-alone sanctioned championship event any time soon. Girls wrestling was one of three sports considered by the Clark County School District in 2011 before it added flag football as a winter sport.

“Every year, because there’s a female wrestler, this question is proposed to us,” said Pam Sloan, the district’s director of athletics. “With Title IX, we’re looking to increase participation numbers. If the interest is there, we would definitely take a look at it.”

Sauder, who competes at 126 pounds and is one of the Mountain Lions’ co-captains, won the girls division during tournaments at Palo Verde, Western and Arbor View. She is unbeaten this season against girls, and her five victories over boys have been at the junior varsity level.

“At first I was really nervous because of the strength factor of a guy,” Sauder said. “And then after I learned how to use my advantages against guys, it kind of got a little better.”

Caroline Sauder, who believes her background in gymnastics helps her as a wrestler, is gearing up for the Sunset Region junior varsity tournament next month. In the spring, she is scheduled to participate in several girls tournaments, including the Las Vegas/U.S. Open in April at the Convention Center.

Caroline Sauder said her ultimate goal is to earn a scholarship to one of the multiple NAIA women’s wrestling programs and eventually go to medical school.

“A lot of girls want to come out and they’re like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to wrestle with guys?’ and that’s it, deal’s off. And I don’t blame them,” Paul Sauder said. “She’s cried. She’s done this and that, and dealt with physical injury and sickness. And she just keeps coming back to learn more and see how good she can get.”