NEGAUNEE - The championship podium for the 103- and 112-pound divisions showcased a distinct mix of athletes at the Mid-Peninsula Conference wrestling finals in Negaunee on Saturday.
At 103, champion Alex Edwards of Iron Mountain and runner-up Alex Anderson of Gwinn were accompanied by Munising's Ali Rittenger, who was one of only seven girls competing at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium.
Rittenger, who lost to Anderson in her first match, eventually went on to beat Brett Rautio of Westwood to win the consolation bracket.
Gwinn's Brittany Dunklee, right, grabs the foot of Negaunee's Devon Hall during the 112-pound consolation finals match at the Mid-Peninsula Conference wrestling tournament on Saturday at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium in Negaunee. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"I think I could have beat my first opponent," she said of Anderson. "But my head wasn't really in it. I couldn't get in my zone because there were so many people around me.
"Then when I went out there, I kind of froze up and forgot what I was doing."
At 112, Brittany Dunklee of Gwinn and Amber Smith of Manistique made it on the podium, taking third and second places, respectively. Jared Gauthier of Iron Mountain won the top honors by beating Smith in the finals. Dunklee lost to Smith in what was the opening match for each of them, but the Modeltowners athlete went on to win the consolation bracket by defeating both Travis Hoffman of Ishpeming and Devon Hall of Negaunee.
Of her first match with Smith, Dunklee said she was out of her comfort zone in wrestling another girl.
"I just don't like wrestling girls, I freeze up," she said. "I kind of gave up halfway through (my first match) - I'm just not used to it, I'm used to wrestling guys - so I psyche myself out most of the time."
Dunklee, a junior, had been a runner-up at the last two M-PC finals.
"Honestly, I like to beat up boys," said Dunklee, who has been wrestling since fourth grade. "Guys always think girls can't do something, and I hate that. I like to prove that girls can do it."
Both Dunklee and Rittenger agreed that after a period of adjustment, their male teammates and opponents have taken them seriously and match up with them like any other competitor.
"When I first started wrestling, they didn't (really take me seriously)," Dunklee said. "But I've wrestled with most of these guys from the other teams since junior wrestling. So they got used to me, (and now) they take me pretty seriously."
Rittenger pointed out the big differences between how boys wrestle and how she wrestles.
"I usually beat guys more than I beat girls," she said. "Girls wrestle differently, I guess - they are more flexible than guys.
"Also, it kind of gets in their head that you're a girl and their not used to wrestling us."
Rittenger said that when she first started wrestling last year, she didn't feel the same way about the sport as she does now.
"When I first joined last year, I didn't like it at all," she said. "And then as soon as I pinned my first opponent, the adrenaline rush just took over and I fell in love with the sport."
Amanda Monthei can be reached by email at email@example.com.