West York senior Carly Gross becomes first commit for Lock Haven women's wrestling. ROB ROSE/@robrosesports, York Dispatch
During a coaching career that spans more than 20 years, West York wrestling coach Brian Gross has seen a number of his athletes earn spots on college rosters.
None of them, however, came close to generating the reaction he had when the latest Bulldog committed to wrestle at the next level.
When Gross found out that Carly Gross, a senior at West York High School and his daughter, became the first athlete to commit to Lock Haven University’s newly announced NCAA Division II women’s wrestling program, he couldn’t help but get emotional.
“It was amazing,” Carly Gross said. “He was so excited and it just made me happy that he was happy too. It makes it all worth it that I worked hard and I am going somewhere.”
Carly Gross said she didn’t think it was that big of a deal, but her father explained to her why it meant so much to him. Not only was she joining a university where the men’s wrestling program had nine NCAA Division I champions and 41 All-Americans, but she is helping to grow girls’ and women’s wrestling.
“I said, ‘You don’t understand how big of a deal this is,’” Brian Gross said. “For women to be able to wrestle in college is pretty awesome. Hopefully more girls not only in this area, but throughout the state and throughout the country, follow what she’s doing and what a lot of other girls are doing.”
A bold decision: Carly Gross decided to quit swimming and start wrestling in seventh grade. She had been around the sport forever, with her dad coaching, and decided it was time to give it a try.
Brian Gross was surprised when he found out because he never expected any of his three daughters to take up the sport.
He told Carly Gross there were two rules if she was going to wrestle: No quitting and no crying on the mat.
Battling the boys: It wasn’t easy for her at first. A lot of the boys didn’t want to go against her and her friends questioned her decision.
It took a little while, but she became a part of the team and earned the respect of her teammates.
“I just had the right mindset,” Carly Gross said. “I (said), ‘It’s going to get easier, it’s going to get better. I will have people to practice with.”
Sophomore Ivan Vega said the first time he wrestled against Carly Gross last season, he felt weird going against a girl. It didn’t take long for him to realize that he needed to treat her the same as any opponent.
“The first time we wrestled, she threw me. She hip tossed the crap out of me. It was tough,” Vega said. “After that moment, I realized that girls can wrestle too.”
In her three seasons wrestling for the boys’ varsity team, Carly Gross has 15 wins in 43 matches, wrestling mostly at 113 pounds. Pennsylvania is one of 32 states that has not sanctioned girls’ wrestling in the U.S.
Without an official girls’ state championship tournament, the Pennsylvania Amateur Wrestling Federation hosts a state tournament for Pennsylvania girls’ wrestlers each year. After not placing as a freshman, Carly Gross finished fourth as a sophomore and second last season.
Committing to college: Her accolades caught the attention of a coach looking to build up a women’s team to rival the prestigious Lock Haven men’s program. Carly Gross met Lock Haven women’s wrestling coach Ronnie Perry at a Wrestle Like A Girl event at Muhlenberg College in September.
They stayed in touch, and once she was accepted into the university’s special education program, she texted Perry to let him know.
He called her and told her he would love for her to commit to the program and she accepted.
Growing the sport: Being the first person to commit to the program was important to Carly Gross. She hopes her decision leads to more girls looking into the program.
“Hopefully more and more girls notice it and (say) ‘Lock Haven has women’s wrestling, we should go visit,’” Carly Gross said.
Carly Gross’ plan is to sign her national letter of intent with Lock Haven on Nov. 13, which is signing day for NCAA Division I and NCAA Division II sports.
Advocating for girls’ and women’s wrestling is something Carly Gross is passionate about. She serves as a role model to the two younger girls in the lower levels of the West York program and wants anyone struggling with the decision to start wrestling to go for it.
“Do what you want to do. Don’t let anyone hold you back,” Carly Gross said. “It’s your dreams, you’ll accomplish them if you work for it.”
Just a few years after she picked up wrestling, it has taken Carly Gross places she never imagined. All of the days spent wondering if she made the right choice are long gone and have been replaced with a love for the sport that brought her and her father closer together.
“I am glad I did it, it changed my whole life,” Carly Gross said. “If I didn’t wrestle, I don’t know where I would be right now. I am glad I stuck with and I am going to follow my dreams.”
Reach Rob Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org.