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THE REITZ STUFF: Redbank Valley Seventh-Grader Wins Pennsylvania Junior High Girls Wrestling Championship

FAIRMOUNT CITY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Iris Reitz climbed up to the top perch of the podium, lowered her head and proudly accepted the gold medal for her Pennsylvania junior high girls wrestling championship at 110 pounds.

Her smile beamed inside the Cambria County War Memorial in Johnstown on Sunday. It was bright enough to light up the place.

Her goal was achieved.

(Pictured above, Iris Reitz smiles atop the podium as the 110-pound Pennsylvania junior high girls wrestling champion)

The first thing the 13-year-old seventh grader at Redbank Valley said to her father was, “I finally did it, dad.”

Three years ago, Reitz made the choice to give wrestling a try.

It wasn’t a popular decision.

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She was entering a male-dominated realm and even her father Jeremy Reitz, a state-champion wrestler at Brookville High School back in 1999, initially balked at his daughter hitting the mat.

That quickly changed.

Iris Reitz was a natural. Over the course of the next few years, she’s gotten better and better at the sport — good enough, in fact, to place second at the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling Championships at 108 pounds last spring.

She wasn’t satisfied. Reitz wanted her own championship.

She got it in Johnstown, blitzing her way through the 110-pound bracket.

“It means a lot to be because my dad had won a state championship, so I sort of wanted to follow in his footsteps,” Reitz said. “It was pretty exciting and cool.”

Reitz received a first-round bye, then won her first bout of the tournament 10-2. She followed that up with a quick pin and then found herself in a battle with Kylee Trostle of Elco in the semifinals.

Defense has always been Reitz’s strength and it came in handy again in that match as she outlasted Trostle, 4-0, to punch her ticket to the final.

“That match was the toughest match I’ve ever wrestler,” Reitz said.

Reitz dominated Emma Johnston on Hickory in the championship bout, winning a 9-1 major decision.

In her four matches, Reitz’s opponents only scored three points on her.

“I wait for them to make a mistake,” Reitz said. “I feel like I could be better at taking shots. I need to be more powerful with them.”

Hard to quibble with the results, however.

Reitz had wrestled most of the year at 115 pounds. She cut down to 110 for the state tournament.

“I knew that I could do better at 110 just because I’d have more muscle,” she said. “But it was definitely a little bit of a challenge to maintain my weight.”

Reitz also welcomed the challenge of wrestling against boys all season.

She won a few. Lost a few more. But held her own.

“It definitely helped me. It was a bit tough mentally knowing I was only losing by two to three points. It made me so much stronger for whenever I wrestle girls,” Reitz said. “I was trying my best and I just kept falling a little short. When I wrestled a girl, it almost felt somewhat easy because I’m still used to wrestling a muscular boy.”

Reitz said she has grown leaps and bounds as a wrestler since she first stepped on a mat.

She chalks that up to taking the sport more seriously and her enormous drive to succeed.

She entered the state tournament with the attitude that losing was not an option.

“I felt like I had to win this year,” Reitz said. “My mental game is one of my strengths. I was very prepared for this. I was dead set on winning. My whole mindset was I have to win.”

Reitz did. She feels like this is just the beginning of a long future on the mat.

Since she first started, there has been an explosion of girls wrestling teams and sanctioned tournaments across Pennsylvania.

The PIAA in February officially sanctioned wrestling. There are now 101 high school girls wrestling programs in the commonwealth.

There’s a special bond among female wrestlers, Reitz said, mainly because they have been on the front lines of fighting the stigma.

“After we wrestle, we give each other big hugs because we’re all girls trying to wrestle in a boys’ sport,” she said. “We’re all pretty close.”

And they are all riding the wave of progress.

“When I first started wrestling about three years ago, a girl’s tournament was unheard of,” she said. “Now there’s girls tournaments left and right to wrestle in, like the state finals. It’s incredible.

“I feel like a lot of people were opposed to it at first, like, ‘Oh, it’s a girl. You need to take it easy on her’ or whatever,” Reitz added. “But now I think that most people are, ‘OK. It’s a girl. No big deal.’ My parents are really supportive and get me to practice and help me out as much as they can. And then all my coaches, they’re all for girls wrestling.”

Reitz’s next big test will come in two weeks at the Keystone Girls State Championships.

She hopes to bring home another gold medal.

And make herself and her father proud again.

“My dad is definitely my biggest supporter out there for every single match,” she said. “He’s always helping me with what I can do better.”