Female wrestler Skylar Little Soldier makes Hastings history with varsity takedown, pin and win
Hastings wrestling has a rich history, but it had been lacking until the end of December when seventh-grader Skyler Little Soldier became the first Hastings female wrestler to record a varsity takedown, pin and win in the history of the program.
Little Soldier wrestled at the Bi-State Classic Dec. 28-29 in the 113-pound weight class and went 1-2 in the tournament. All three of the records she set came in her second match against Gabe Weiks of Athens when she got a takedown and then pinned Weiks 44 seconds into the third period.
Little Soldier did not find out she had made history until after the fact.
"Coach Vaith told me after my match," she said. "He told me after the match 'you're the first girl in Hastings to ever win a varsity match' and I was like 'oh my god really?' I did not see that coming, I thought there were more girls at least."
Heading into the match, she said it was a little scary since at 113 (one weight class up from the 106 she usually wrestles) since the kids could be be way bigger than her.
"But I just went into the match with the same mindset as every other match," Little Soldier said.
Little Soldier had to fight for the opportunity, but also benefited from some good fortune. Head coach Josh McLay said that their usual 113-pounder—Aiden Erickson—went on vacation and that opened up that weight class. Before individual tournaments, wrestlers have the opportunity to challenge the other wrestlers in their class and earn the entry spot. This allowed Little Soldier to wrestle some less-established competitors at 113 than the 106-pounder Josh Route who was having a very good season. According to McLay, she left no doubt and pinned the two kids to earn the spot.
After her win, McLay said that it had the coaches abuzz as they realized the implications.
"We knew it, but we didn't talk to her about that or anything else, she didn't need any extra pressure," he said. "Right when it got done, coaches right away started talking about it and realizing at that moment how big of a deal it really was for our program, to have that first and to blaze that trail for other females to come through our program. Skylar is the real deal and she's really going to help this program. She wants to be the best."
Little Soldier was first introduced to wrestling when her parents signed her little brother up for the sport. She was doing ballet at the time but said she did not like it, and when she went to one of her little brother's practices, she fell in love with the sport. It's been seven years since that moment and she says she enjoys the social aspect and friendships she makes the most.
She said she looks up to two female wrestlers who she watches, Helen Maroulis (a Greek-American freestyle wrestler) and Adeline Gray (an American Olympic wrestler). Her dream is to one day wrestle in the Olympics.
Little Soldier started the season wrestling for the middle school team and was surprised when not long after she was told she would be joining the high school team.
McLay said her performance left him with little choice than to bring her up and keep her there.
"She did my summer camp so she worked out with me all summer, so I got to see her as well as all the other kids her age. I knew her work ethic, I knew technically she was there. I just wasn't quite sure if physically she was ready," he said. "For that reason my intent was to bring up Josh Route and Aiden Erickson, those kids were a little bit more developed physically and strength-wise so I knew they could handle the grind of the season.
"She started out with the middle school, but as soon as the start of our season I realized I could definitely use her at the high school with us to give us more depth and to get some better practice partners for the light weights," he said. "She could handle it. I told her at first it wasn't going to be for a full season, we're just going to do a trial run this week and see how it goes, and she just really stepped up her game and proved to me that she could handle the high school practices and workouts."
Little Soldier said she has not received many comments from other wrestlers about her wrestling varsity and that those have been more common from parents and fans.
"There's been some people that think that girls shouldn't wrestle, but everyone just told me to keep going and just ignore them and that's what I did," she said. "Probably more parents and fans, just because most of the high school wrestlers have seen Emily Shilson wrestle, she's pretty good too. She won worlds this year actually, she's a senior in Minnesota."
Skill-wise, she said she prefers to be on top as she struggles on bottom, though she is getting better. On top she can use her signature cross-face and feels much more in control. So far, she said the biggest adjustment moving up to the high school program is not having as many training partners, since at that level there are far fewer wrestlers close to her size.
McLay had nothing but praise for Little Soldier's wrestling skills.
"She is extremely coachable, she's probably one of the most if not the most coachable kid I have in my room. If you show her something once she just gets it, or if I say something once she just does it. So that's one thing about her that's going to make her successful, she's extremely coachable. It's awesome," he said. "The next thing would be she's technically very gifted, she's one of those kids who eats and sleeps wrestling, she knows her technique. That helps me as well because she can pick up things quickly."
Little Soldier said that while she has not had many other female wrestlers come up to her or say anything, she has had managers ask her when her next match would be because they want to watch her. She also said that when it comes to being on the mat, her opponent's reaction usually depends on if they have wrestled a girl before. She said that it sometimes comes as surprise to them and they underestimate her or think it will be an easy win. The reception on her own team has also been positive, with Little Soldier saying everyone has been encouraging.
"It's been great. We have great senior leadership, a very mature squad so this has not been an issue," McLay said about his team's response to having Little Soldier join the team. "They've seen her work ethic and they respect it and respect her for it. I don't think they even notice or care that there is only one female, it's not something they think about I don't think. She's proven that she belongs and has just done a great job.
"The more varsity time and stuff that Skylar gets and the more young girls see her, I believe there will be more and more girls in the youth program," he said. "I see more and more in the wrestling showcase that we do at the beginning of the year, there are more and more girls that do it, which is awesome, and I can definitely see things trending in that direction."
Heading into the season, Little Soldier said her goal was to wrestle on varsity at least once, which she's already accomplished. However, McLay said his goal for her is to earn a varsity letter, which takes two varsity wins. She also said that she will be headed to the ninth-grade-and-under state individual tournament and wants to win at least two matches there.