The Newsome High School girls’ wrestling team took 10 athletes to the state’s tournament in their inaugural season and had one wrestler place in the top 10 in Florida at the beginning of March.
Florida approved girls’ high school wrestling last year, but Hillsborough County added girls’ wrestling at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year. In November of 2022, Newsome began forming a girls’ wrestling team. All the girls on Newsome’s team qualified for regionals, taking one of the top four spots at the district’s tournament.
“I’ve never been more proud of a team I’ve coached,” said assistant coach Corynn Cusson. “… It was amazing just seeing where they began. They were nervous and unsure about what we were about to do, and over four months [I have been] watching them grow.”
With the help of head coach Mark Drake, 11 Newsome girls learned how to wrestle. Many, like junior Lana Clayton, had never wrestled before, but the guidance from Drake and some of the wrestlers on the boys’ team led the girls to their first states tournament. Drake taught the girls the basics of wrestling and some of the moves that brought them success in matches, and, according to Clayton, Cusson was the glue that held the team together throughout its challenges.
Clayton and teammate Sophia DeRezende qualified for the state’s championship in Ocala during the first week of March. Clayton placed eighth in the state and became the first female wrestler to place for Newsome.
“It was surreal … to stand on that podium and know it’s my first year and I qualified now, what I can do later with a little more training. It was a great experience. It was so fun, and I loved having all my teammates there to cheer me on,” said Clayton.
While building a foundation for girls’ wrestling in the FishHawk area, the team formed a family on the mats for their inaugural team. During states, many of the girls went to support Clayton and DeRezende, and many from the boys’ team and head coach Stephen Gilbert stayed at the tournament to cheer on the girls.
“All my teammates were so welcoming, and immediately, even faster than I found my groove at school, I found my people at wrestling,” said Clayton.