Girl’s wrestling doubles participation in 2nd season

The girl’s wrestling team gathers for a photo from their winter 2023-24 season.
The girl’s wrestling team gathers for a photo from their winter 2023-24 season.

A new chapter started last year when Lake Park’s first girl’s wrestling team made its debut. This all started when Mr. Mark Cameron, boy’s varsity wrestling head coach, expressed interest in expanding the opportunities for girls. The administration and athletic department at Lake Park were quick to support Coach Cameron’s vision, recognizing the importance of providing additional participation opportunities for Lake Park students. According to Coach Cameron, in October of 2022, the school announced the girls wrestling program’s inception and Coach Cameron began officially recruiting girls for the team. Very shortly thereafter, Mr. Frank Novakowski was appointed as girl’s varsity wrestling head coach, and Mr. Brett Anetsberger volunteered as assistant coach. This winter season, Ms. Megan Kalbas was brought in as assistant coach.
As girl’s wrestling enters its third year in the IHSA state series and second year in Lake Park, the growth has been remarkable.
“Illinois, through the IHSA, approved girls wrestling as an IHSA-sanctioned sport on the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Based on IHSA data, the sport grew by 50% in terms of participation after the first year, and grew an additional 20% this year,” Coach Novakowski said. “The administration and athletic department were very supportive of providing an additional participation opportunity for the student body at Lake Park. This year, our team nearly doubled in size.”
Notable successes include three conference finalists: Joscelin Ritthamel (LP ‘25), Giovanna Sampognaro (LP ‘27), and Delaney Hajdich (LP ‘27) serve as affirmation of the impact that this up and coming sport has had on Lake Park. Likewise, the team was able to showcase their courage and might after placing second in the DuKane wrestling conference tournament.
Beyond the victories on the mat lies a deeper connection—a bond that the girls have developed through seeing each other at their best and also most vulnerable state.
Laurie Cando (LP ‘26), finishing her second year with the team described the girls’ friendship.
“We’re all very close and we’re all like sisters,” Cando said.
“There have been times when I struggled with my confidence in the sport. I remember that there was a 2-week period where I really wanted to quit. My coaches told me I wasn’t going to quit, but hearing it from my teammates felt so much better. They reassured me and told me that they believed in me, and that I have great things waiting for me. They acknowledge my hard work and skill. Honestly, without my teammates I wouldn’t be doing the sport. They’re my motivation when I have none left for myself. ”
Whether it’s through team dinners after competitions or the tradition of wearing matching holiday socks during winter, they celebrate not just victories, but also unwavering friendship.
Coach Novakowski acknowledged how powerful participation in the sport of wrestling is and its impact beyond the mat.
“Wrestling is one of the toughest sports any high school aged individual can participate in. The first time their hand gets raised after a match, you instantly see their confidence grow,” Coach Novakowski said. “These girls are going to be the leaders of tomorrow.”
Looking ahead, the coaches envision a bright future full of many raised hands and lifelong memories.
The coaches notice the dedication these girls exhibit in the gym and the confidence boost that glows on their faces after each win. In the end, it’s not just about wins and losses—it’s about the journey, the lessons, and the empowerment that comes from seizing opportunities and chasing dreams.

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