Top of Their Game
Las Vegas girls are grappling their way to excellence in wrestling
It’s Bill Sullivan’s job, as the team lead and international director for Team Nevada, to talk up his athletes. And yet, as he gives examples showing how well the sport of women’s wrestling has done in the state, there’s an edge to his voice that goes beyond pride.
“Nevada has 146 female athletes that certified at the beginning of the wrestling season,” he says. “In other states like California and Hawaii, that have a legacy of female wrestling, they have thousands. … And we had three girls from Nevada make the USA National Team last year for the 13-16 age group”— including the two from Southern Nevada, profiled here.
And that’s happened in relatively little time, too. Marina Scott, secretary of USA Nevada Wrestling, says the organization has really only been promoting the girls’ sport for six to eight years.
“The Nevada Interscholastic Athletic Association gave high school girls permission to wrestle wherever they want to (not just their own school) as a way to help grow their numbers,” Scott says. “There are so few of them, and practice time with other members of the sport is critical in wrestling.”
Sullivan believes that wrestling gives kids something they can’t get in other sports. “The confidence that they get, the work ethic — it’s incredible to watch them morph from the girls they are when they walk into the room to the women they are when they leave the season.”
AGE, DIVISION: 15 years old, USA Cadet
WEIGHT: 95 pounds
USA WRESTLING RANK: No. 1
HIGH POINT: Bronze medal, 2018 World Wrestling Championships, Zagreb, Croatia
Sterling Dias was a physical girl who wasn’t interested in stereotypically female sports, such as cheer and dance, so at 5 she started judo and jiu-jitsu. A year later, influenced by her older brothers, she tried wrestling because, as she puts it, “I wanted to see what it would be like to beat up on some people.”
Turns out, she’s well-suited to beating up on people — particularly boys, with whom she did the majority of her wrestling until recently, due to the low number of girls in the sport. “I liked beating up on boys,” she says. “It made me feel better about myself.”
Nine years on, Dias hardly remembers a life before wrestling. She loves it not just because of the physicality, but also because it’s taken her to tournaments around the world, where she’s gotten to experience other cultures with her teammate friends.
She attributes her success to quick reflexes and hard work. “I’m very small and compact,” she says. “So I have to use my speed against strong girls.”
AGE, DIVISION: 17 years old, USA Junior
WEIGHT: 112 pounds
USA WRESTLING RANK: No. 2
HIGH POINT: Second place, 2018 Women’s Wrestling National Championships, Irving, Texas
That Peyton Prussin is ranked so highly in her class is remarkable not only because of the relative immaturity of Nevada’s female wrestling program, but also because she herself only started the sport three years ago, persuaded by her father and friends to give it a try. Before that, like Dias, Prussin was into martial arts.
She took to wrestling immediately. “I was always an independent person, and in wrestling, it’s all on you. It’s your choice to win. You can control the way you’re going to wrestle, the way the match is going to go.”
Dias describes Prussin’s style as methodical and, yet, instantaneous. “She doesn’t really think; she just responds to whatever is coming,” Dias says. “She’s comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Prussin’s devotion to wrestling is paying off in tangible ways. She recently committed to Life University in Marietta, Georgia, which lured her with a wrestling scholarship. She’ll start there in the fall.
“Their coaches came to Vegas to help me train,” she says. “They flew me out there to train as a junior over the summer. They’ve been there for me since Day 1, not just when I was No. 1. It means a lot when someone believes in you for who you are.”