Big Ten

Top High School Girls Wrestling With Higher Education

Top High School Girls Wrestling With Higher Education

Four top high school girls had a decision to make. And their college choices might be part of a growing trend.

Jun 11, 2024 by Kyle Klingman
Top High School Girls Wrestling With Higher Education

This year’s regional winners of the Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award tell a story. All five are among the best wrestlers in the country, but their college decisions send a message: education matters. 

Southeast Region winner Genevieve An wants to be a neurosurgeon and it takes a specific path to get there. She chose Lehigh because it has her major and offers wrestling as a club sport. 

Brazel Marquez was recently hired to lead the program with a goal of Division I designation in the coming years. There are currently four Division I women’s wrestling programs: Iowa, Lindenwood, Presbyterian, and Sacred Heart. 

Lehigh could be the fifth. 

“My mom has been frustrated watching me through this process,” An said. “I don’t know how to word it without being disrespectful to the other schools. A high-level school doesn’t necessarily mean Division I. There are great schools that aren’t D1 so it’s not only a D1 issue but that’s where a lot of it stems from. 

“As I’ve been searching for college my main problem is I want to go to med school. Pre-med is something I need in my life whether that’s a major or a track. What I’m finding at these wrestling schools is that they have five majors. Just finding a school that’s big enough and academically challenging enough was a tough journey for me.”

Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award: Regional Winners

RegionNameNational RankHigh SchoolCollegeStatus
CentralPersaeus Gomez#2 at 130Pomona (Colorado)Oklahoma StateClub
MidwestNaomi Simon#2 at 170Decorah High School (Iowa)IowaDivision I
NortheastNebi Tsarni#4 at 155Watkins Mill (Maryland) Air ForceNo Club
SoutheastGenevieve An#15 at 170Kennesaw Mountain (Georgia)LehighClub 
WestAudrey JimenezP4P #1Sunnyside (Arizona)LehighClub

Exploring The Unknown

High school girls have different options than their male counterparts based on available opportunities. It’s almost unheard of for top pound-for-pound boys’ high school wrestlers not to compete for a top Division I program. 

The best high school girls are exploring options outside of college wrestling. Amit Elor (68 kg) and Kennedy Blades (76 kg) made this year’s Olympic team but neither competed for a college program. 

Elor takes classes at Diablo Valley College and Blades is currently enrolled at Arizona State where she wrestles for the Sunkist Kids. 

Audrey Jimenez reached the final Olympic Trials and is the top pound-for-pound wrestler in the country. She will wrestle for Lehigh’s club program next fall. 

“I’m trying to figure out the balance between education and wrestling,” Jimenez said before committing to Lehigh. “My coach always tells me that wrestling won’t be there forever. I think it’s important that I go to a great school as well as be able to impact the community that I live in. If I’m able to go to a D1 program or an Ivy League school that’s really saying something. It’s going to impact younger people in my community to do the same. 

“There are a lot of D2 and D3 schools that have great programs but I feel like building and being part of that movement in getting D1 women’s wrestling is really important.” 

Jimenez is willing to forgo the immediate for the long term. There’s no guarantee that Lehigh will add Division I women’s wrestling, although pieces are in place. She wants to be part of a cause that could lead to something better.

Service Over Self

Nebi Tsarni, the national Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award winner, wants to be part of a movement — even if it doesn’t include wrestling. Attending the Air Force Academy is driven by service over self.

“I have two sisters who came out of the Air Force Academy so I’m following through with that legacy and decided to go there because it’s the best place for me to grow as an adult and it’s the best option for me in terms of my career,” Tsarni said. “I also want to serve my country. I think doing something bigger than myself is important. 

“I’m trying to see what I can do in terms of women’s wrestling there. I’d like to see if we can start a program. I’m prioritizing my education, so, best case scenario, if wrestling doesn’t work out I’ll move on to another sport like rugby. Preferably, I would like to continue wrestling but if it doesn’t work out that’s fine by me. I had my time. I think I had a good ride.”

Tsarni is another example of a high-level female blazing a path for others to follow. Wrestling will only be an option at Air Force if she makes it one. 

Fulfilling A Lifelong Dream

Persaeus Gomez is pursuing her dream of competing at Oklahoma State even though it doesn’t offer sanctioned women’s wrestling. That won’t stop her from becoming a Cowgirl. 

“(Wrestling at Oklahoma State) has been my goal since I first stepped foot on the Oklahoma State campus,” Gomez said. “Now that there’s a club that got approved last year around the summertime, I was super excited about that. This is the place for me. It’s always felt like a second home. Everyone at Oklahoma State is so supportive so I felt like it was the best fit for me and my future goals as well as my academic goals.”

A Division I women’s wrestling program at an Ivy League school could be a gold mine. Several top high school girls made decisions based on their academic futures — even if wrestling is important. 

“I absolutely love wrestling but my parents have always taught me that academics should come first because that will be with me the rest of my life,” An said. “Wrestling is really hard to make money and I have a lot of goals in my academic career so I have to put my academics first and that’s painful when you’ve (wrestled) for seven or eight years. 

“It hurts when you work so long to master your sport and be good at it — and then you have to give it up as you’re supposed to be entering your prime. I think that’s a decision a lot of us have to face.”