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For A Few Glorious Seconds
Lou Newel gets her hand raised after placing 3rd at the State Championships.
VRHS Girls Wrestling
Wrestling is one of the oldest sports known to man, but for the girls at Vista Ridge High School, it's a fairly new opportunity to show off their intense competitive spirit.
The girls VRHS program officially began in the 2017-2018 school year. A handful of girls participated for a few years prior on the boys teams. It is the only girls wrestling team in District 49, made up of athletes from Falcon High School, Sand Creek High School and Springs Studio for Academic Excellence, as well as one athlete from Peyton High School.
Head Coach Eric Everard began coaching in D49 at SCHS in 2005. He eventually moved to VRHS as an assistant coach, before becoming the girls coach.
“We have 40 years of girls competing against boys in wrestling across the country,” Everard said. “We know the imbalance of girls competing against boys in wrestling.”
All that changed when girls wrestling became a Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) sanctioned sport in 2019. VRHS’s Bella Mitchell became the first girls state champion for the Pikes Peak Region that same year, though the 2021 championships are considered the first official tournament.
Paige Faler scores a takedown at the State Championships.
In the spring of 2019, four middle school girls were competing against boys on the wrestling mat. Today those four athletes—Cheyenne Dyess, Lou Newel, Kaydence Bonewell and Paige Faler—are seniors at VRHS.
“They are all competitors,” Everard said of his seniors. “There is not a big difference between the competitive spirit of boys and girls. But before, girls had to overcome the physical differences. Now the playing field is equal.”
Facing off against equal opponents, these girls have shown their competitiveness by leading the team to the state championships, finishing 6th just two weeks ago, and 5th last year, including a 2nd (2023) and 1st (2022) place finishes at regionals.
When asked, which one of the four of them is the most competitive, they all gave the same answer, in unison:
They looked at each other with approval and then laughed.
“You have to have that underlying drive inside of you to be able to do this sport because it is so physically and mentally challenging. You have to have that fire inside yourself. No one else can be that fire for you,” Paige said.
“Being an individual sport, you don’t have your team to rely on when you are out on the mat. You have to want it bad enough,” Lou said.
That fire, that drive, has led coaches to stop them during practice when they thought they would actually fight.
“You’ll be wrestling with your practice partner and you’ll get a little mean,” Kaydence said. “Then they’ll get a little mean back. I’m not going to let that slide. Then you get a little more mean. Wrestle a little dirty. Then you’re fully going at it. You're fighting. You're bleeding.”
“We’ve been scream-crying at each other at practice,” Paige said.
Cheyenne said, “When my practice partner and I get going, it’s almost concussion level intensity. Someone is always bleeding.”
“When you raise your intensity, everybody else does,” Kaydence said. “Everyone bumps up.”
Kaydence Bonewell secures a 2-on-1 against a State Championships opponent where she would place 6th for the second year in a row.
Understanding the Athletes
Everard appreciates their drive as athletes. “In terms of practice and competition, they work their tails off equally to the boys,” he said. That is one aspect he doesn’t have to coach. But there are several differences between boys and girls wrestling he has had to learn how to coach.
The first thing is knowing girls’ bodies are different, more flexible. This was one advantage girls had against boys. But now, with girls wrestling girls, it’s more of an equal fight.
“For girls, their shoulders and hips are more flexible than boys,” Everard said. “So there is a technique that boys can get away with that would never work on a girl to score points. You have to be better at dealing with that flexibility than straight strength.”
Girls also tend to carry their strength in their legs more than the upper body.
“So the power of the legs is leveraged in their technique,” Everard said.
And that is where the strategy comes in.
“The girls have to account for the flexibility, which is a technique that has to adjust with that,” Everard said. “They can roll their arm out of a hold and what you are trying to do doesn't work. With girls against girls, now strength does not matter as much, because they are both strong and both flexible and both have technique.”
In the end, Everard is coaching and developing young wrestlers to compete at the regional and state level.
“You need five moves that come from three positions,” the coach said. “So wrestling is a very simple sport. You shake hands and then take your opponent down and hold them on their back for two seconds. Everything in between is not easy.”
“We coach positions first, then we coach moves,” he said. “We don’t waste time learning cool moves you'll never use. By focusing on less, I have gotten more out of developing our wrestlers faster.”
Lou Newel (on top) defends a takedown attempt.
Mentors With Elite Experience
He follows this training philosophy because he knows that it works at the highest levels. The team’s assistant coaches bring that experience to the practice room.
“As a male coach, I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors around our team, like Tori Adams-Liles the 2009 Grappling World Champion and Whitney Conder, a five-time world team member,” Everard said.
Eddy McGee, VRHS athletic director said, “He surrounds himself with other coaches that know things he doesn’t know. It’s a testament to this program. They get to work with some world-class athletes that are coaches. They add to the program, add to the experiences.”
Another team mentor is Tela Bacher, U.S. Olympic wrestler and founding board member of the organization Wrestle Like a Girl.
“Having those female athletes that have struggled wrestling boys all through high school, having those pioneering women in wrestling, is awe inspiring,” Kaydence said. “They have a bit more understanding, because female bodies work differently than male bodies. Cutting weight. Conditioning. Emotions. They have that understanding. They have that insight that male coaches and Olympians don’t have.”
“They help guide me to develop this program we are enjoying today,” Everard said of his assistant coaches. “I ask, did you ever use this in the Olympics? Did you ever use this in the world championships? Did you ever use this on the national team? If they say ‘no,’ I don’t coach it.”
Cheyenne Dyess fights for position during a State Championships match
The Approach Matters
The moves. The body positioning. The takedowns. Those were the easy things to coach as he transitioned to the girls team. Then he realized he was coaching girls. And yes, Everard has learned, while they’re all competitors, leading boys and girls requires knowing a lot about two types of wrestlers.
“There is a significant difference in coaching boys and girls, I have to plan to take the time to explain ‘why’ we are doing what we are doing,” Everard said. “And why we are using this position, because they are much more cerebral. But once they get it, they have it forever.”
Having to verbalize physical moves and intentions has changed his approach to coaching.
“I’ve found it to be much more rewarding coaching girls because it has forced me to become a better communicator, to be a better coach,” he said. “It has forced me to evolve with the sport. The last five years I have become a much better coach because I’ve coached girls wrestling.”
There is also another positive thing about coaching a girls team.
“I don’t have to double check to make sure they have both of their wrestling shoes. Or their head gear,” Everard said. “They are at least two years ahead of the boys with brain development and social development.”
Having had boys miss the bus, Everard enjoys his current team.
“That’s what I like about coaching the girls, it’s just easier. I can focus on coaching and being a role model,” he said.
Kaydence, Lou, Paige and Cheyenne as freshmen in the 2019-2020 season.
Another aspect for working with female athletes is the trust factor.
“You have to gain their respect, regardless of the sport, but one difference with girls, you also have to earn their trust. You can’t get to trust without respect.” Everard said.
For boys, they usually respect the coach for what he did as a wrestler or what he’s done as a coach, the accolades.
“They buy into that. But there is this trust factor that the girls respond better to when you need them to buy into what you are trying to do as a coach,” he said.
Paige agrees, “For boys wrestling, you want to see the accomplishments, you want to see that everyone on that team is good, and that they have proven they’re a good team. But with the girls, it doesn’t necessarily matter about who is winning or losing, the statistics. What matters is trust. Being able to trust your athletes and your teammates is way bigger than what we can accomplish without that trust.”
Everard believes that fostering and having trust is a game changer. “That’s when you really start to develop, not just a wrestler, but a program,” he said.
Kaydence, Lou, Paige and Cheyenne as seniors this year.
Girls Being Girls
And what would a team of girls be without girls being social.
“Going back to that social interaction, the girls take care of the girls much better, naturally, instinctively, than the boys,” Everard said.
And that social engagement is where this team of wrestlers has set a standard of family.
Even McGee notices this. “What I see and feel is that this team has such a unique culture. They are all ‘ride or die’ together. There is a culture where the girls support each other through everything.”
“The girls are looking more for that camaraderie in terms of family,” Everard said “For example, at a tournament, before the matches, you’ll see the girls braiding each other's hair. Even girls on other teams. They will be encouraging and cheering for teammates and their friends on other teams, much more openly than you see with boys.”
These four seniors have shared four years of high school, four years of 5 a.m. practices, four years of tournaments, four years of the ups and downs of competition.
“Yes we are ‘ride or die,’” Cheyenne said. “And we are teenage girls, and there will always be drama, but what is special about us is that we are able to set that aside, and be friends and be there for each other. Be unwavering.”
“You’re going on the mat by yourself, your team can’t help you,” Kaydence said. “You need your teammates to improve because you can’t improve by yourself. Having that community strengthens us.”
Paige said, “Win, lose or draw, we are always there for each other, we’re always learning from each other. I deeply appreciate every moment I’ve spent with them and learned from them. We’re here to make everyone better as wrestlers and people.”
Lou said, “It is an individual sport, but with girls wrestling we really are a team. We act like a family. Being able to stick with these three girls through my whole wrestling career in high school, it's been nice having them along for the ride with me.”
“Having them there for you is important…before, during and after the match to hype you up, to cheer you on, and then to be there afterwards, celebrating the wins, feeling OK about the losses, being able to identify with you,” Cheyenne said.
That culture of family and support is vital to the program and to each individual.
“I would not have gotten on that podium if I didn’t have the team that I have,” Lou said referring to her third place finish at the 2023 State Championships.
Kaydence said, “The fun stuff, it builds family. We have memories. Coach says we won’t remember all of our matches, but what we will remember is how people made you feel.”
Hayden Newberg, Cheyenne Dyess and Abby Wilfong share a moment after Cheyenne’s final high school wrestling match at the State Championships
Grappling with the Stigma
And sometimes those feelings are not all positive. They have to overcome a stigma of competing in a male-dominated sport.
“People are just surprised that you can look feminine, be feminine and do a masculine sport. People don’t expect pretty girls to do masculine things,” Paige said. “I find that highly disrespectful.”
Cheyenne said, “When I wear my letter jacket, they ask if I’m a cheerleader. I say ‘no.’ And they’re like, ‘you’re so little, you're so pretty.’ I want people to know, even though I’m little, I’m going to hurt you.”
Kaydence said, “People are like ‘you can’t do that, you’re a girl,’ blah blah blah. It just makes me want to prove them wrong. I’m like, ‘come on, I’ll beat you up. Let’s go in the wrestling room. Let’s see who is stronger in there.’”
Kaydence, Lou, Paige and Cheyenne posing for photos.
Life Lessons for Outside the Circle
Whether they are overcoming obstacles or working towards those victories they gain, as with all competition, benefits that go beyond the sport itself.
“The emotional pain it causes you…I know that sounds ridiculous…that pain makes everything in life easier,” Paige said. “Once you’ve wrestled, everything in life is easy. So many of the emotions I’ve felt in the room, on the mat, I have felt those in my life. I’ve had some rough times in my life. Wrestling has completely surpassed almost all of those moments in my life. Wrestling helps me to be able to deal with things that are happening in my life way easier and healthier.”
“It does make everything in life easier,” Cheyenne agreed. “It makes you feel better about yourself physically, because there is no conditioning like wrestling conditioning. Emotionally, it makes you stronger.”
Kaydence said, “Wrestling is a sport that makes you love yourself unconditionally. You can see how egotistical we all are. Talking about how ‘I’m the best, I’m the most competitive, I have big muscles.’ It’s all because of wrestling. We’re not just like that, naturally.”
Sophomore Hayden Newberg gets some encouragement from Coach Eric Everard during a break in action of her State Championships finals match.
Competing to Win
Regardless of who they are, and what this team means to them, there is no mistake about why they are here. To win. Their competitive nature shows in why they compete in wrestling, why they strive for victory on the mat. The four of them have more than 100 wins this season.
“Wrestling is a very masculine sport. But that’s how I express my femininity. It makes me feel powerful,” Kaydence said. “That circle, that’s my circle. Once that person steps in, I’m going to let them know that’s my circle. It’s an empowering sport. If you want to feel like you're on top of the world, go beat someone up on a mat.”
“There is no sport that will make you feel as high as any high, you can feel so good about yourself, yet you can be humbled within the next 45 minutes,” Cheyenne said.
Paige said, “Wrestling makes you strong in every way. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Because you have to be able to balance your emotions in that match while still being aggressive. As females, we can let our emotions take over what our body does, which can get us into situations that we can’t get out of.”
“You don’t just have to be physically tough to do this sport, you have to be mentally tough too,” Lou said. “There is no victory like wrestling victory.”
Kaydence said, “For team sports, you can blame other people if you lose. It’s a team effort if you win. When you win a match… ‘I did that.’ That was me. I won that match. I got the take down. I put my full effort into that. It’s pride.”
“Everything about wrestling sucks,” Cheyenne said. “The conditioning, the cutting weight, the practices…you hate every second of it. The only reason you do it is for competition. Not for losing. It’s for the two seconds you get your hand raised, and you walk off the mat after the win. That is the only reason you do it.”
“In spite of all that, there is nowhere else I’d rather be,” Lou said. “I wouldn’t even think about skipping our 5 a.m. weights.”
“You’re about to fight somebody on a foam mat. Then you win, the adrenaline is flowing,” Kaydence said. “That’s what makes wrestling so addictive, you put in all this hard work, and when it finally pays off it’s very emotional.”
Lou said, “We spend hours in that practice room. Lifting weights. At tournaments. We sacrifice so much of our time just for a few glorious seconds.”
Epilogue: The 2 Count
Pride. Self confidence. Egotistical. Competitive.
All that could make one wonder, who would win if the four of them competed against each other? Well, it’s the same answer as before. Despite their differences in weight classes, they all think they could win. But, as they moved past that question and began discussing other topics, one of them continued to ponder and to plot. The room grew quiet as they looked at her, thoughts flowing behind her eyes.
“I like that question. I feel if you ask anyone else, they’ll say, ‘I think we’re all really good.’ (Which they did.) I’m sorry guys, but, I’m coming in first,” Lou said with loving respect, and maybe a little ego, but no animosity. “I’m taking y’all out. Yeah, I’m stepping on the podium again.”
Everard said, “They are just competitive souls.”
Vista Ridge High School Girls Wrestling Accolades:
2023 State Championships, 6th place as a team
2023 Region 2 Team Runner-up (only 0.5 points from 1st place)
2022 State Championships, 5th place as a team (only 4 points from 3rd place)
2022 Region 3, Team Champions
Cheyenne "Bubbles" Dyess, 100 lbs weight class
- 21-15 senior season record
- 4x Colorado Girls Wrestling State Qualifier (first in Vista Ridge history, boy or girl)
- 66 career wins
- Alpha Wolf Team Captain
- Committed to wrestle at Colorado Mesa University
Lou "Tadpole" Newel, 130 lbs weight class
- 31-16 senior season record
- 2023 State Placer, 3rd
- 50 Career Wins
- Alpha Wolf Team Captain
- Has not finalized college plans
Kaydence "Baby Face" Bonewell, 140 lbs weight class
- 32-7 senior season record
- 2x State Placer, 6th (2022 & 2023)
- 90 career wins
- Alpha Wolf Team Captain
- Committed to wrestle at Ottawa University (Kansas)
Paige "Pit Bull" Faler, 155 lbs weight class
- 19-5 senior season record
- 2022 State Placer, 6th
- 2x State Qualifier (2022 & 2023)
- 59 career wins
- Beta Wolf Team Leader
- Committed to wrestle at St. Mary’s University
Hayden "Lucy" Newberg, Vista Ridge HS, Sophomore, 105 lbs weight class
- 2x State Placer: 2022 5th and 2023 2nd/State Runner-up
- 62-12 career record- Omega Wolf and participating in our Beta Wolf Intermediate Leadership Course this Spring
Coach Everard said, “We have a leader development program. After freshman year, we have three leadership courses: Omega Wolf, Beta Wolf and Alpha Wolf. If you go through all three, you earn team captain. Everyone can participate in that. It doesn’t matter how many wins you have.”
Hayden Newberg secured an arm-bar as she attempts to turn her State Finals opponent.
Abby "Sassy Pants" Wilfong, Peyton HS, Sophomore, 110 lbs weight class
- 2022 State Qualifier
- 52 career wins
- Omega Wolf and participating in our Beta Wolf Intermediate Leadership Course this Spring
Zaria "Plot Twist" Bautista, Vista Ridge HS, Junior, 125 lbs weight class
- Will be our lone "Alpha Wolf Team Captain" for the 2023-2024 Season
Ali "AliGator" Evans, Springs Studio, Junior, 170 lbs weight class
- 3x State Placer: 2021 3rd, 2022 6th and 2023 3rd
- 80-11 career record
Ali Evans stalks her opponent at the State Championships where she would place 3rd for the second time in her high school career.
A special ‘thank you’ to Coach Everard, Benedict Bautista, and Stallworth Photography for all of the photos used in this story.