Women’s wrestlers enjoy busy fall semester, stay focused on postseason picture
Liberty University’s women’s wrestling team may not have the numbers it had last season, but the Lady Flames certainly have wrestled more matches than ever before as they prepare to make a solid showing at the March 10-12 NCWA Grand National Championships in Allen, Texas.
“We have a smaller team this year just due to a lot of girls graduating, and we’ve had one (senior Maria Ferello) who just got deployed,” Lady Flames Assistant Coach Cendall Manley said. “So that’s been a challenge for us to overcome. But in the face of not being able to compete as much last year because of the COVID restrictions, our girls are really rising to the occasion of having that tangible goal in front of them, so I think they’re doing really well this semester.”
“As a team, it’s just phenomenal to see the number of matches that the girls will get leading up to (NCWA Grand) nationals,” Liberty Head Coach Charisse McIlhenny, Manley’s older sister, added. “Some of our girls going into Christmas Break have 15 matches under their belt. When me and Coach Cendall were on the team, we’d be stoked if we got 10 matches in a whole season. It’s just awesome for them to be able to get this huge number of matches, especially in comparison to not having those last year with COVID. Every match makes them better, even if they’re losing. That experience helps … influence their training for the future.”
Lady Flames sophomore 170-pound wrestler Maile Ka’ahauni said the match experience has benefited the returning wrestlers and newcomers significantly.
“This season is a lot about improvement and finding our strengths and weaknesses,” Ka’ahauni said. “It’s very helpful to learn what we can improve on and that’s what we’ve been focusing on a lot, and a lot of heart. Just being able to wrestle in tournaments has given us a chance to assess.”
“It’s just really nice to see how we started out and then how we are now, and just in that short amount of time how much we have grown and how much better we’ve gotten,” junior 116-pounder Rae Martin added. “There’s still room for improvement, but we have a really good team and it’s awesome to see the growth that we’ve had.”
Ka’ahauni, who like the Manley sisters is from the Hawaiian island of Molokai, said the individual wrestlers have been able to develop their techniques and find moves that work for them against opponents of different levels.
“Being given all of these matches has allowed us the physical experience of meeting these other girls who have different styles and learning how to wrestle our own way,” Ka’ahauni said. “It has grown us personally and physically, and I’m excited to see where it goes.”
Both coaches agree that keeping the team in condition over the next few weeks will be paramount to their success in Texas.
“Christmas Break is always a bit of a challenge because there’s a delicate balance between getting a break, kind of letting your body recuperate a little bit, but also not losing focus on what’s ahead and keeping your eyes on the prize,” Manley said. “We always tell them it’s like parallel to our walk of faith. We don’t always have someone over us telling us like, ‘Are you seeking the Lord every day?’ That’s a discipline. So like in the same way, we’re asking the girls to rise up and have discipline over this break, and I think it’s going to show a lot of maturity and help them to really take initiative for their own success in the sport.”
“We’ve just really told them it’s important that they keep their training up and when they’re gone we want people to have time with their family, but we’re sending them workouts to do on their own throughout the week and we’re going to hit the ground running when we get back in January,” McIlhenny said. “They’ll have about two weeks to train and then we have another event that we’re wrestling in. So I’m just hoping and praying that they’ll continue to train hard when they’re gone and they’re away with their families and just keep their focus on what they want in the end.”
Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media