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March 8, 2024

Two years ago, Lily Fitzpatrick ’25 was the only girl on the SPS wrestling team. Today she’s one of five.


In December, St. Paul’s School hosted a wrestling tournament at the Athletic and Fitness Center that featured 75 wrestlers from 40 schools around New England — all girls. The invitational was the second of what SPS head wrestling coach Alec Engler hopes will become an annual event exclusively for girls participating in wrestling programs at public and private high schools.

“It was awesome to have our own thing,” says wrestler Lily Fitzpatrick ’25, a two-time All-American who hails from Montana. “Back home, the girls program has grown exponentially, whereas here it’s getting to that point now. Seeing that tournament grow over the last couple of years has been amazing.”

The number of girls who participated in the tournament at SPS is not an anomaly; wrestling is one of the fastest-growing competitive sports among women in the United States. According to data published in 2023 by the National Wrestling Coaches Association, “since 1994, the number of women who wrestle in high school has grown from 804 to more than 50,000, 44 states [including New Hampshire] now sanction an official scholastic state championship for girls and 150-plus colleges now sponsor a varsity [women’s] wrestling program.”

It’s a trend that began to take off when women’s wrestling was added as an Olympic sport in 2004. Over the last two decades, it has continued to grow in the U.S., in part due to the success of American women medaling at the last two Olympics.

“Having women’s wrestling in the Olympics has helped a ton,” confirms Engler, a former college wrestler from Minnesota who’s in his third year coaching at SPS. “It’s why you see more clubs offering girls programs, and then middle schools and high schools continuing it. Girls want to have that same competition experience [as boys], to be able to push themselves.”

As a Third Former, Fitzpatrick was the only girl to represent St. Paul’s on the mat, and she paved the way for future teammates by winning the 2022 National Championship in the girls division of the 138-pound weight class. With Fitzpatrick’s advocacy and recruiting from Engler, the co-ed SPS wrestling program roster this year includes Madelyn “Maddie” Morse ’26, Camila Capdevila ’25, Allyson Duardo ’26 and Sooyeon “Danielle” Choi ’26. During the regular season, the SPS girls compete against boys if the opposing squad has no girl athletes at their weight class, but there is a separate girls division once the teams get to the postseason.

Last year, Morse earned All-American honors after placing second in her weight class at Nationals. The 100-pound competitor says she “wasn’t exactly an athlete before I came to St. Paul’s, so wrestling has taught me that I can do anything if I push through it.” As a team, SPS placed third in New England in the girls division, with both Morse and Fitzpatrick crowned individual New England champions (Fitzpatrick earned the same honor in 2022).

Maddy Morse during match against Exeter

I wasn’t exactly an athlete before I came to St. Paul’s, so wrestling has taught me that I can do anything if I push through it.”

— Madelyn Morse ’26

“I never thought I’d love it this much, but it’s really changed me as a person, and I think it would change others, too,” says Fitzpatrick, who was inspired to try wrestling in middle school after watching her brother, Kallen ’27, compete. “I think girls are just becoming more willing to do things that boys think they couldn’t have done before.”

Engler is grateful to the School for its support of the program, including offering to host the December all-girls tournament for a second consecutive year. In addition to the competition at home, Engler says the girls are headed to another tournament at Andover this season, while the SPS Athletic Department is looking to add other girls-only events next year.

In February, St. Paul’s competed in the first-ever Class A Championship for girls wrestling at Northfield Mt. Hermon. In addition to athletes from SPS and NMH, the tournament featured competitors from Choate, Andover, Exeter, Wilbraham Monson, Deerfield and Hyde. It’s yet another step for a sport whose popularity is on the rise.

“We’re at the point where the School is looking at girls wrestling as a separate sport,” says Engler, noting that the program is only a few athletes away from making that a reality. “The goal is to have 20 or more girls in our program, and then our current trailblazers can look back one day and see what they started.”

Follow along as Fitzpatrick shares a typical Winter Term day at SPS, including wrestling practice in the AFC.