The final and historic step for Riverside-Brookfield High School sophomore girls wrestler Eleanor Aphay took only minutes.
Aphay qualified for the first IHSA girls wrestling state tournament with a top-four finish at the Andrew Sectional on Feb. 12. Aphay (17-7) was fourth at 120 pounds after reaching the third-place match with a first-period pin in 1:34.
“It wasn’t my fastest [pin], but definitely up there. It felt really good,” Aphay said. “I definitely thought the match would go on longer but knowing I qualified, especially with a pin that fast, felt really accomplishing.”
Thirty-two states offer girls wrestling as a sanctioned high-school sport. The first IHSA state tournament is Feb. 25-26 in Bloomington.
“I do feel like being the first qualifier for RB is a big thing and hopefully something that’s encouraging more girls to come out for the team and hopefully reach for that goal,” Aphay said.
“Being a first-year wrestler, I knew it would definitely be a challenge but I was confident I’d qualify after putting all of the work in. I was pretty determined to make it there.”
Aphay was 4-2 at sectionals with other pins in 1:07 and 43 seconds and one forfeit. She was pinned twice by Curie sophomore Vanessa Torres (9-2).
RBHS freshman Jeylin Coss (3-8 at 125) nearly joined Aphay at state. Coss was one victory from the third-place match but was pinned in 1:39 after earlier recording pins in 27 and 30 seconds.
The Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association has conducted a girls wrestling state tournament since 2017, but this is Aphay’s first season in the sport.
Aphay has participated in jiu jitsu for more than four years. Many training partners also wrestle, and her jiu jitsu coach encouraged her to try the sport.
Aphay occasionally has competed and trained with boys wrestlers and received an early lift when she won the 120 girls title at the Fenton Tournament on Dec 4.
“[Wrestling and jiu jitsu] have helped a lot with both pretty much. Jiu jitsu is helping with my takedowns a lot,” Aphay said.