Breaking stereotypes is one thing, but for a female to be successful in a sport dominated by males is even a greater accomplishment.
This is what Juneau's Amanda Krafft has done over the past four years as a member of the Juneau-Douglas High School wrestling team. Now she hopes to become the first female from Southeast to qualify for state in wrestling.
Krafft and the rest of the Crimson Bears squad will get a chance to show off their skills at the Juneau-Douglas Pilot Invitational, their only home tournament of the year, beginning Friday and continuing through Saturday at the JDHS main gymnasium.
Round one competition starts at 3 p.m. on Friday with the final round of the day starting at 8 p.m. On Saturday, round five begins at 10 a.m. with the finals set to begin at 7:30 p.m. All times are approximate. Almost every school from Southeast will compete, in addition to the Valdez Buccaneers and the Anchorage Christian Schools Lions.
Juneau also added a dual meet with Valdez at Marie Drake Middle School gym today at 3:30 p.m., since the Buccaneers arrived a day early for the Pilot Invite.
The Pilot Invitational is also the last regular-season meet of the year for Juneau as well as the rest of the Southeast schools before the Region V tournament in Sitka on Dec. 7-8.
"What were going to see this weekend is what we'll see at regions," Juneau head coach Bob Mahon said. "There won't be any surprises."
Krafft, a senior 112-pounder, got her start in wrestling as the manager for her middle school wrestling team in the eighth grade.
"When I was the manager, I hated it. Wrestling looked like more fun," Krafft said. "In eighth grade there are usually a couple girls who try it, so I thought if they could do it, I could too."
Still, when Krafft reached high school, her plans were to play volleyball instead of wrestling.
"Bob (Mahon) came in a talked to me about it," Kraft said. "He said he saw me in middle school and said I would be really good for high school."
The mood changed from fun to serious when Krafft joined the Crimson Bears. "It was much more serious and the training was 100 times harder," she said.
According to Krafft, she was accepted right away by her male counterparts and within a couple weeks she was just "one of the guys."
"I think Bob talked to them (the boys) about it before I got there," Krafft said. "They were welcoming, but I was afraid. I told Bob I was afraid they wouldn't have any respect for me."
"I watched her in middle school and I noticed her work ethic was great," Mahon said. "She never gave up and if things didn't go well for her, she just worked harder. Her biggest concern was that she was afraid the guys wouldn't respect her."
The boys did respect her and she proved her worth right away by winning the first high school match she wrestled. Now the respect has changed to admiration by her teammates.
"Now Amanda's like the mother on the team," Mahon said. "She doesn't like to see people slack and when they do, she gets on their case. She's a great athlete and she's smart."
"She's really tough," fellow senior 112-pounder Anthony Manacio IV said. "It takes a lot of guts to wrestle. I hope she gets to state. I know it's her big goal."
"I put a lot of pressure on myself," Krafft said. "I feel like when I lose, people expect me to lose because I'm a girl. If I don't win, sometimes I get down on myself."
Admiration towards Krafft has spilled outside Juneau through the rest of Southeast. At the Bill Weiss Great Alaskan Challenge in Ketchikan two weeks ago, the smaller Southeast schools completed their rosters with extra wrestlers from the larger schools to give everyone a chance to wrestle.
"The smaller schools were fighting over who got Amanda. It was kind of funny," Mahon said.
"It feels good when the other coaches fight over me because they know I'm serious," Krafft said.
Krafft admits she feels the pressure of trying to accomplish something that has never been done before. "I feel the pressure because everyone talks about it." she said. "Bob talks about it a lot."
Krafft says she has lot of support from her coach, teammates and family, even though she acknowledges her mother worries she will get hurt.
"My parents support me, but my mother worries so much," Krafft said. "Dad's the same way. He doesn't get to see me much because he lives in Anchorage, but he comes and watches when we wrestle there."
Krafft also competes for the Crimson Bears in girls soccer in the spring where she plays goalie with her fraternal twin sister Leah, who plays midfielder. Krafft says Leah never even thought about trying wrestling.
Krafft's toughest competition this year seems to come from her own teammates. Manacio IV is one of the state's elite at 112 pounds and senior Vernon Perry is also one of state's best at 119 pounds. Fortunately, two wrestlers from each weight class are allowed to compete at regions, possibly leaving room for Krafft as the Bears' second 112-pounder.
However, Krafft will have to prove she belongs one last time since sophomore Mike Wright and freshman Ryan Nicholas have been coming on strong late this season and could challenge Krafft for the second 112-pound roster spot.
"He (Wright) beat me the last time we wrestled," Krafft said. "But I think he's going to move up to 119 this weekend."
"I'm going to do what I can to get her on the roster," Mahon said. "A lot of it depends on how this week goes. It's hard to say, but if she does the things she's done the past four years, she's got a shot. She's got to make the top six and on paper, she's there."
Krafft says the challenge and to do something different is what drew her to wrestling. "It puts a lot of things in perspective. On the hardness scale, other things don't seem that hard anymore when I compare it to wrestling."
As for the rest of the Crimson Bears, ever since the short fall-season wrestling season began in late September, they have been traveling from Ketchikan to Anchorage with much success. Now the Bears hope the success follows them home.
"Wrestling at home in front of everyone is great," senior 160-pounder Kyle Monte said. "The stress of travel is tough. It's difficult not knowing where you're going to sleep and being housed out and stuff."
"This weekend is really important," Krafft said. "I'm kind of sad because it's going to be senior night. But the biggest thing is I'm going to miss all the people. What keeps me here is all my teammates."
Jeff Kasper can be reached at email@example.com.
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