Piedrahita and Pannese defy odds in wrestling


Ms. Piedrahita

Junior Gianna Pannese (left) and freshmen Giselle Piedrahita (right) smiling for a picture after a competition.

Amelia Neal and Penny Joyce

In a male-dominated sport like wrestling, people often forget about the talented female athletes. The number of girls on a wrestling team decreases even more at the high school level. However, at WA, two females broke the gender barriers:  freshman Giselle Piedrahita and junior Gianna Pannese.

This was freshman Giselle Piedrahita’s first season as a varsity wrestler for WA. As a freshman, it was intimidating to join a new team, particularly an all-boys one.

“I joined wrestling because I thought it seemed really cool because my brother Andrew [a former WA student] is a really good wrestler and because of him I’ve been around the sport since I was about four years old,” Piedrahita said.

As a freshman, this was Piedrahita’s first year on the high school wrestling team.

“I didn’t have high expectations for myself, considering that I am a freshman fortunate enough to have a varsity spot and that I’ve been doing this sport for only about a year and a half,” Piedrahita said.

Though her expectations for herself weren’t high, she still excelled in the sport.

“Some ups were placing first in a meet against all private schools and my first varsity win was on my birthday, and when I won that match the ref pulled my dad aside and told him it was the biggest applause from a team he’s ever seen,” Piedrahita said.

The “biggest applause” came from her fellow teammates, all of them boys except Pannese. Being only one of two girls on the team made the impression that it would have been intimidating doing wrestling. However, Piedrahita explained her relationships with her teammates.

“We meshed really well with the rest of the guys. They were all super accepting and supportive, at competitions as well as in the gym they would yell out advice and help me with the form. I quickly felt like one of those guys,” Piedrahita said.

Reflecting back on her first season at WA, Piedrahita shared her thoughts on next year’s season.

“I do plan on wrestling next year because even though it’s not the most fun sport out there, I still really like wrestling and everything I got out of it. I also love the team and the coaches and all the friends I’ve made from it. Hopefully, there will be more girls on the team next year,” Piedrahita said.

Like Piedrahita, junior Gianna Pannese started wrestling for WA for the first time this year. Before joining the wrestling team, Pannese trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is a martial art similar to wrestling. She decided to join the WA team to strengthen her Jiu-Jitsu.

“My goal is to be in the UFC, so wrestling will help me become a more well-rounded fighter,” Pannese said.

Despite the fact that at Pannese’s Jiu-Jitsu gym she usually trains with mostly guys, she was nervous going into the season thinking she’d be the only girl on the team. Having Piedrahita on the team definitely helped Pannese get comfortable, but she explained that overall the boys on the wrestling team were very accepting of both the girls.

“It definitely helped that Giselle was there just to have another girl there, someone to relate to,” Pannese said.

As far as practicing went, Pannese explained how practice ran just how she thought they would if she and Piedrahita weren’t on the team. Neither of them received any special treatment according to Pannese in the gym; they felt like complete equals.

Since wrestling is a male-dominated sport, both Pannese and Piedrahita were wrestling boys within their weight class at meets, but at tournaments there were usually some girl competitors. After winning her first quad meet against a Shawsheen Tech, athlete Pannese explained how her teammates cheered in excitement for her win.

“There were a few girls-only tournaments throughout the season, in one of them Giselle and I both placed first. I would consider that one of my high points for the season. That was the first moment when I thought to myself ‘wow Gianna you might actually have a shot at placing at states’,” Pannese said.

Both girls qualified for states; Pannese was seeded fifth. However, with the competition even tougher and it being her first season, Pannese didn’t place where she had hoped to. Though her season didn’t end quite as she wanted it to overall, Pannese was incredibly proud of herself for being apart of the team and for the season she had.

“For my first season, though, I am extremely proud of myself, and next year I’m coming for the state title […] My only regret is I didn’t join the team sooner. I will be a senior next year. I only have one more season of this. I just wish I had more time,” Pannese said.

Both girls are definitely continuing their wrestling career next year because of the experience they had this year both competitively and socially with the team.

“In Jiu-Jitsu, the points are all individual. if I win it doesn’t affect my team or anything about my teammates’ fights. In wrestling, I feel we are more unified. We win as a team. We lose as a team, and we celebrate as a team. I enjoyed that aspect of it a lot,” Pannese said