CAMBRIDGE, Minn – Take a peek inside the inside the Cambridge-Isanti wrestling room, and you'll see that senior Makayla Welch is just another one of the guys.
Make no mistake, though, Welch is a girl and she is good. She’s been taking down opponents on the mats since she was five years old, and this year has been her best yet.
“My mom thought it was just a phase,” says Welch, with a smile. “She honestly thought that I’d just do it for a year a two, then I’d be done.”
Welch joined the Bluejacket grapplers when she was a freshman. Her coach, Neil Jennissen, proudly boasts that Makayla is the first girl to complete four years with the team.
“There are a lot of tough girls, but there isn’t just girls wrestling,” Jennissen says. “For Makayla to step it up and come into the boys’ program…that’s impressive.”
For her teammates, having a girl in the wrestling room was an easy adjustment.
“When she came here in ninth grade, I thought it was really weird because I have never practiced with girls,” says Cambridge-Isanti senior Nolan Hentges.
Now, Hentges practices with Welch nearly every day. Welch is not just his teammate, but a good friend. The team has her back, and she has theirs.
“She’s like the mom of the team,” Nolan says.
A role her coach confirms.
“Yeah, I bet she’s taken on that role a little bit,” says Coach Jennissen. “More than I even know.”
Back on the mat, Welch wrestles both guys and girls. It’s mainly male matchups for Welch during the high school season. After that season concludes, she faces female opponents with the Minnesota Storm wrestling team. She is a four-time state champ at the non-MSHL girl's state tournament. She’ll go for her fifth title next month.
“I take a lot of pride in being one of the few girls in Minnesota who wrestle hard, and compete against the boys,” Welch says.
Her dedication has not gone unnoticed. She’s signed a letter of intent to King University in Tennessee, where she will compete as a part of the girl’s wrestling team there.
“Makayla is getting one of the best wrestling scholarships of any kid I’ve ever coached,” says Coach Jennissen.
That’s saying something, considering Jennissen coached Luke Becker and Tony Nelson, who both went on to wrestle for the University of Minnesota.
Welch’s teammates could not be more proud.
“My wrestling partner that I practice with every week, my really good friend, is going on to wrestle in college,” Hentges says. “I just think that’s really cool.”