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Meet the newest college women's wrestling team

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

One of the fastest-growing college sports is women's wrestling. The newest team is in Montgomery, Ala., at Huntingdon College. It's the state's only collegiate women's wrestling team. Joseph King with the Gulf States Newsroom was at the season's opener.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Finish it. Finish it.

JOSEPH KING, BYLINE: In a gym packed with fans, family and recruits, the Huntingdon Hawks gives a crowd a look at their 2023 wrestling team.

(APPLAUSE)

TRISTIN ROBINSON: I love competing. I love working hard.

KING: Tristin Robinson is a freshman at Huntingdon from Dothan, Ala. She says she loves the intensity that wrestling brings and that feeling of exhaustion.

TRISTIN ROBINSON: And I like feeling like I'm dying sometimes and then being able to - at the end of it, being, like, I just did that. And I'm proud of myself for that.

KING: Robinson credits her father for her love of the sport. He started the wrestling team at her high school, and now he's here cheering on his daughter.

TRAVIS ROBINSON: I'm really looking forward to their competitions and seeing how they stack up against the girls in the conference and the girls in - within the rest of the United States, you know?

KING: There are about 150 women's wrestling teams at colleges and universities in North America but not many in the Deep South. Robinson's dad wants the sport to take off.

TRAVIS ROBINSON: Yeah, I want everybody to get on board and - you know, just like they would for Alabama football.

KING: This is homecoming weekend for Huntingdon College, and these wrestling matches are a preview - not only for fans, but potential recruits. There were more than 15 for the women's team alone. Head coach Lillian Humphries has been here for two years. She spent her first recruiting and is excited to finally show off the team. And she says the college has shown its support from Day 1.

LILLIAN HUMPHRIES: A lot of these girls that are coming in don't have the same equal opportunity as the men's, in - locker rooms included. They, a lot of times, have to go use the bathroom down the hallway. At Huntingdon, I got hired on June 1 of 2022. And by June 9 of that year, they started building our women's locker room.

KING: It kind of makes sense that Humphries is leading the first collegiate women's wrestling team in Alabama. She was on the first Division 1 women's wrestling team in the country. Like many of the women she coaches, Humphries says she had a lot of support from her family when she wrestled in high school.

HUMPHRIES: I was hesitant at first because I was the only girl on my team. But at the end of the day, I thought it would be a good opportunity for me, so I took it.

KING: One of the wrestlers who also took that opportunity is freshman Shonticia Taft. She stumbled into her love for wrestling during her senior year in high school after encouragement from her soccer coach who turned into her wrestling coach. She says she loves the independence that comes with wrestling.

SHONTICIA TAFT: I like that, if I lose, I'm not going to put it on anybody else. I know it's me and that it's something I have to work on personally. And when I win, no one can take it from me 'cause it's not, like, oh, I did this. That's why you got this. It's - I went out there. I competed. I won for myself.

KING: Taft says she may only see one or two Black girls like her on a team, and there's a lot of pressure that comes with that.

TAFT: I feel the need to prove myself more.

KING: At the same time, she wants to encourage Black girls to try wrestling, to get on the mat.

TAFT: Stay true to yourself. Know who you are. No matter where you go or who are you around - never change yourself. Like, know who you are as a person, and stand by that 100%.

KING: The Huntingdon Hawks will get a chance to prove themselves on November 11. That's when they have their first college match against the Life University Eagles in Georgia.

For NPR News, I'm Joseph King in Montgomery, Ala. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joseph King
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