For the first time, the Michigan High School Athletic Association sanctioned girls wrestling as an official varsity sport this season. The girls wrestled alongside the boys at the individual state finals March 4-5 at Ford Field.
On the big stage, Montague’s Emma Pendell made some history of her own. She became her school’s first girls state champion in wrestling and the Wildcats’ first state champ in the grappling sport since 1989.
Fittingly, Pendell has been named one of three finalists for the 2022 VanDyk Mortgage West Michigan Conference girls Wrestler of the Year award. She is joined by Montague teammates Abby Thommen and Savannah Winkleblack.
The trio was selected as finalists by a CatchMark SportsNet panel consisting of Scott DeCamp, Brent Raeth and Zach Zweigle.
Next week, a poll will open and readers will vote to determine which of those three wrestlers wins the award. Fan polls of all 2021-22 winter sports will be released in one story at CatchMarkSports.com. Readers will be allowed to vote once per hour in each poll for as long as the polls remain open.
This week, a story will be published each day revealing three Player of the Year finalists in a winter sport. Here is the scheduled lineup:
- Monday: Boys basketball
- Tuesday: Girls basketball
- Wednesday: Boys wrestling
- Thursday: Girls wrestling
- Friday: Boys bowling
- Saturday: Girls bowling
All finalists for VanDyk Mortgage Player of the Year will be invited to an upcoming awards presentation and honorary dinner, where trophies and certificates will be presented. A trophy that stays in our CatchMark office will have the names of the Players of the Year engraved on it.
Here are the three finalists for Wrestler of the Year on the girls side, along with their season stats and achievements. They are listed alphabetically:
Montague, 140-pound sophomore
Pendell is the true definition of student-athlete with her 4.11 grade-point average and sports versatility. She’s also a state champion.
Pendell became Montague’s first girls state champion wrestler and the Wildcats’ first state champ in the sport since Bill Priese in 1989. The sophomore pulled out a 2-1 tie-breaking victory over East Jackson senior Isabel Worthing in the 140-pound title match March 5 at Ford Field.
Pendell finished the season with 22 wins, 17 of them against female competitors. She ranked third this season among all Montague wrestlers — male or female — in win percentage at .733. Twelve of her victories came by pinfall. She also registered 24 takedowns.
Pendell placed at every girls tournament this season, including her outstanding performance at the Northview Invite where she beat a defending state champ, a third-ranked opponent in her weight class and two other returning all-state wrestlers. Pendell also captured a regional championship this season.
As a freshman, Pendell was a Michigan Wrestling Association all-stater with her seventh-place finish at the organization’s state finals.
Pendell also placed third at the MYWAY state tournament this year.
Montague, 125-pound sophomore
Despite being a first-year wrestler, Thommen earned medals at every tournament in which she competed this season.
The highlight for the sophomore was her battling from being unseeded to a third-place regional finish. Her only loss that day came to eventual state finalist and Folkstyle All-American Ryen Allen, a sophomore from Goodrich.
Thommen was 15-11 against female competitors this season. She won nine matches by pinfall and amassed 67 points. She also ranked fifth on team, boys and girls, in takedowns with 34.
Thommen was a state finals qualifier, going 1-2 in the March 4-5 event at Ford Field. In her victory, she decisioned Manton senior Natalee Kibbe, 6-5, in a wrestleback.
Montague, 110-pound sophomore
Winkleblack joined Montague girls teammate Emma Pendell as an all-state wrestler this season. She placed sixth at the March 4-5 state finals at Ford Field, falling to Plymouth senior Mallory Floreno, 5-3, in the fifth-place match.
Winkleblack also earned Michigan Wrestling Association all-state honors as a freshman last year, placing eighth at the organization’s state finals.
Winkleblack placed at every girls tournament in which she competed, including winning three straight titles at Grand Haven, Northview and West Ottawa invites. She went on to capture a regional championship, too.
Winkleblack won 20 overall matches this season, posting a 17-5 record against female opponents. She recorded 11 pinfalls, notched 26 takedowns and scored 109 points on the season.
The sophomore was a MYWAY state champion in 2021 and runner-up this year. Two weeks ago, she finished eighth at the USA Folkstyle Nationals in Colorado.
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