Seventeen-year-old MacKenzie Matta of Jefferson Hills loves wrestling.
Even though girls’ wrestling struggles to gain popularity in Western Pennsylvania, Matta is committed to the sport.
Instead of attending the prom with her Thomas Jefferson classmates in May, Matta took to the mat at the Body Bar Women’s Nationals in Irving, Texas.
Matta’s sixth-place finish qualified her for the ASICS/Vaughan Cadet National Championships being held this week in Fargo, N.D.
“Wrestling is the hardest sport I’ve ever done, and that’s what keeps me going,” Matta said. “I want to see how far I can push myself to succeed.”
Matta was disappointed she barely missed making the cut for the U.S. Women’s senior world team with her performance at the Body Bar meet.
“You get a certain amount of time to outwrestle your opponent to score more points. I missed making the world team by just three minutes. It was disappointing,” Matta said.
But Matta is excited that she did qualify for the U.S. Women’s cadet wrestling team. She is representing Pennsylvania for the third year in a row at the ASICS/Vaughn Cadet National Championships, competing in the 140-150 pound weight division.
Matta recently attended a four-day camp with Team Pennsylvania at the Pitt-Johnstown campus. Afterward, both the men’s and women’s squads traveled together to Fargo for the national finals.
“It’s a 22-hour bus ride to Fargo,” Matta said. “We compete against wrestlers from every other state.
“I placed fifth last year. I’m really hoping to improve on that this year.”
Matta, who won state championships in both Pennsylvania and Maryland this year, is coached by Tyler Nauman at the Team Nauman Wrestling Club in Pleasant Hills.
Nauman 27, was a 2007 state champion in wrestling. Originally from Harrisburg, he came to Pittsburgh to wrestle for Pitt, where he was a two-time All-American.
Of the almost 70 athletes who train throughout the year at Nauman’s gym, only two are girls. Nauman says they are accepted by the male wrestlers.
“We try to build a family in our club,” Nauman said. “MacKenzie is just another one of the guys here.”
Nauman, who will continue coaching Matta at Pittsburgh Wrestling Club following the national finals, acknowledges that women’s wrestling is growing at a much-faster pace in other states.
“It is still pretty non-existent around here,” he said. “But MacKenzie is really dedicated, and she’s good at it. She rarely misses practice, and she has to wrestle guys every day. No matter what, she keeps getting back up.”
Matta will be a senior member of the Thomas Jefferson wrestling program this winter. Although she does not wrestle in competitions, she is appreciative of gaining additional experience and being part of the Jaguars’ team.
“It gives me more mat time against good wrestlers, and I know it will help me get where I want to go,” she said.
“It was a little rough at first, but the guys are all my friends now. I can talk to them about anything.”
Jennifer Goga is a freelance writer.