With more girls participating in Byron tournament, Albert Lea has opportunity to host event

Published 2:22 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Ayanna Eckblad

The Albert Lea High School gymnasium was crowded on Sunday with parents, coaches, fans and young athletes as they competed at the Byron Bear County Duals. The event was for girls’ wrestling from pre-K to sixth grade.

The dual had a hunting theme so teams were encouraged to dress in hunting-themed attire for the chance to win a prize.

Email newsletter signup

The event was sponsored by Byron Wrestling club and Wrestle MN. Wrestle MN focuses on providing and sharing youth dual opportunities in Minnesota for both boys and girls, according to the organization’s website.

Chase Williams, one of the founders of Wrestle MN, organized the event. He said duals are usually planned after other youth tournaments to utilize the mats that are already set up. Sunday’s event was originally set to take place at Byron High School, but Williams said he realized that plans would need to be adjusted.

“We did this last year, we did three events really briefly,” he said. “We didn’t know what we were going to expect, and we averaged about 50 to 60 girls per event. And this year it’s more than doubled, we have almost 130 girls here today.”

While he said it was gratifying to have so many girls interested in the sport, it also meant that there had to be a last-minute venue change.

“We had so many girls registered that we would have been in Byron, where we originally planned to do this dual, until 10 p.m. and it just wouldn’t have worked,” he explained. “It actually grew so much we had to … have an emergency board meeting and thank goodness they approved it, and here we are.”

The dual included 15 wrestlers from Albert Lea. One of them was Laila Ignaszewski, a fifth grader. She has been wrestling for two years. She said her favorite part of the sport is “getting the feeling that you won and like you’re so happy about it.”

For Albert Lea girls’ wrestling coach Arie Hernandez, the best part is “being able to grow the sport and show younger generation girls that the sport is up and coming.”

Hernandez wrestled for seven years throughout high school and college.

Wrestle MN and Byron Wrestling Club thanked Albert Lea for allowing them to use the high school building for their tournament.