Makaya Crisenbery and Jacee Altaffer decided to give wrestling a try.
Never did the Montpelier duo expect that their historic season would include a trip to Ohio high school girls wrestling’s biggest stage.
Crisenbery and Altaffer, the first female wrestlers in Montpelier history, will compete in the Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association girls state tournament today at Hilliard Davidson High School in Hilliard.
“It’s just insane to us,” said Crisenbery, a sophomore for the Locomotives. “It’s something we never thought we’d be able to experience. We never knew we’d be wrestling until a few weeks before the season, and it’s just crazy that we’re representing Montpelier from such a small town to such a big place.”
“I’ve just never experienced anything like this before,” added Altaffer, a freshman, “and I feel like it will give lots of other girls an advantage, like a chance to know that they can do as much as guys can do with this sport, a new sport, so I think it’s pretty cool.”
Crisenbery and Altaffer advanced to the OHSWCA state tournament after posting top-four finishes in their respective weight classes at Sunday’s Northwest District tournament at Marysville High School. Altaffer finished second at 111 pounds after posting a 1-1 record, while Crisenbery went 2-2 and placed fourth at 121.
“I think it’s very exciting for them,” Montpelier coach Troy Roth said. “This is something new and different for them.
“Makaya really wanted to do this and I don’t think she’s been disappointed. We convinced Jacee to do it, and I don’t think she’s been disappointed. I think they’ve really enjoyed the challenges.”
Crisenbery, who has posted a 10-25 record this season, had a nerve-wracking path to the state tournament. She won her first district match, lost her second and needed a win in the consolation semifinals over Rossford’s Liv Hussar to earn a trip to state.
The Locos’ grappler came through with a third-period pin to advance.
“I was extremely nervous,” Crisenbery said. “... (Hussar) just kept taking moves on me, trying to get takedowns and we just kept switching and switching. It was a lot of energy, and then I just got her over eventually.”
Crisenbery, who has played basketball most of her life, decided to switch it up this season and go out for wrestling. Altaffer, with help from Crisenbery and Roth, decided to join shortly after.
“I was a little nervous about it. I was like ‘Maybe I shouldn’t do it,’ but it’s my first year so it’s going pretty good so far,” said Altaffer, who has posted a 17-15 record. “I don’t know actually what made me want to do it. I just felt like something was telling me just take a chance and it’ll help you grow as a person. I was like ‘It’ll get me in shape for track, anyways.’”
“They’re very hard workers and they want to learn,” said Roth, who is also Montpelier’s track and field coach. “They want to do well, so they soaked everything up. Those two, numerous times, stayed after practice just to get more work in.”
With wrestling being a grueling, physical sport, and with the duo competing mostly against boys in tournaments and matches throughout the season, Crisenbery and Altaffer have been busy working out with the team.
Crisenbery, who stands at a sturdy 4-foot-11, said she lifts with the team at practice and on her own time with her brother, Montpelier senior Collin Crisenbery. Altaffer, at 5-foot-6, has been getting stronger as well.
“I feel like I’ve definitely gained a lot of muscle. I’m definitely way more defined than I was at the beginning of the year,” Altaffer said with a laugh.
The OHSWCA has provided girls wrestlers with the chance to compete in a state tournament for the past two years. Although girls wrestling is not sanctioned by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, the sport has been gaining popularity as this year marked the first time district tournaments were held.
Crisenbery and Altaffer both said the guys on Montpelier’s squad have been helpful throughout the season.
“The guys are very supportive and they’re always encouraging, and I feel like it’s just made a lot of learning experiences for Makaya and I both,” Altaffer said. “Because I think we’ve both known that we’ve become mentally stronger, mentally tougher, more aggressive and we believed in ourselves a lot more because Mr. Roth’s definitely a good coach and has helped us a lot.”
Altaffer will start the tournament for Montpelier with a match against Bethel-Tate’s Alexa Donahue, who finished fifth at 101 pounds at state last year. Defending 111-pound state champion Olivia Shore, from Miami East, is also in the field after she recorded a first-period pin against Altaffer for the district title.
Crisenbery will square off with Lakota West’s Grace Hicks, the Southwest District champion at 121 pounds, in her first match.
The biggest key for the Montpelier duo will be to stay positive and aggressive.
“I just want to remember that Makaya and I just need to be aggressive and believe in ourselves no matter what,” Altaffer said. “That’s my main (focus), and attack first. I always need to remember to attack first because Mr. Roth always says if you attack first, you have a better chance of winning.”