Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
DETROIT – Points were at a premium in Emma Pendell’s state championship wrestling match Saturday at Ford Field.
Afterwards, hearty embraces, tears of joy and raw emotion were plentiful.
Pendell, a Montague sophomore, became the first Wildcats wrestler to win a state title since Bill Priese in 1989. She defeated East Jackson senior Isabel Worthing, 2-1 in a tiebreaker, in a hard-fought 140-pound match.
In what was nearly a repeat of Pendell’s and Worthing’s regional finals match two weeks earlier, Pendell scored an escape early in the match and another in the first of two 30-second tiebreaker periods and held on for the victory.
This marked the first season in which girls wrestling was sanctioned by the Michigan High School Athletic Association, and it shared the big stage with the boys. Pendell picked a good time to make history as the first state champion in Montague’s fledgling girls program.
“It’s such a big thing. This is what I’ve been working for all year, since the summer until now, so it’s such a big thing,” Pendell said while choked up as she wiped away happy tears.
On Feb. 20 at Howell, Pendell beat Worthing 4-3 in a tiebreaker.
Pendell, who finished 17-6 on the season, took away lessons from the previous encounter with Worthing (13-5).
“I messed up, though, in my regional (matchup against Worthing). I let her take me down like last four seconds of my match,” Pendell said. “We both were back and forth and I got one (point) just like I did in my 30 seconds and then I held her out.”
“I think just the fact that I knew I had beaten this girl before and that I could do this – I’ve been working for this moment harder than anybody else. I just feel so good right now.”
Pendell has been wrestling for only four years.
Montague coach Kris Maddox is proud of the fact that Pendell came up through the Wildcats’ program. On Saturday, she was atop the medal stand.
Maddox also credited the support from Montague’s youth and middle-school coaches to the district’s administration.
“Home grown, she came up through our program – middle school, high school, puts in the work, puts in the effort. I mean, it’s huge,” Maddox said. “We’re growing, getting better every day. Proving we can do it, we can hang with the best of them. We don’t need no transfers to our school. We’ll grow ’em at home, we’ll build ’em at home, we’ll win state titles.”
Pendell finished seventh in the state last season. She was dual-sporting then, also playing basketball, but this season she decided to focus on wrestling. She’s still grateful to have played basketball last season.
She said the main reason she took up wrestling was for college opportunities.
“She’s very goal-driven. She’s very stubborn, goal-driven – she’s going to go get what she wants, she’s going to go take it. That’s good,” Maddox said. “But I think not having basketball wear on her helped with her endurance at the end of the season. I mean, winning in double-overtime in the regional final and here for the state title against the same girl is huge.
“I think that allowed her to focus, allowed some extra time to go down to ARES in Grand Rapids to get some extra mat time, which was huge.”
In addition to Pendell, four other girls from Montague’s wrestling program earned a spot in this weekend’s state finals. Sophomore Savannah Winkleblack placed sixth in the 110-pound weight class.
On Friday, Pendell received a first-round bye, then she decisioned Standish Sterling Central’s Aliyah Schalk (5-0) and pinned Mayville’s Gabby Dinsmore (2:24).
On Saturday, Pendell was locked in. She was not thinking much about the large crowd or the pressure of the situation.
“I mean, they’re not all watching me, you know, so it’s like I’m not thinking about that,” she said. “Most of the time I’m wrestling, I can barely hear my coaches so my mind is just in a totally different place.”
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