Powell High School wrestler Emma Karhu matched up against some of the top female wrestlers in the nation last weekend, placing third at the USMC Girls Folkstyle Nationals in Oklahoma City.
Wrestling in the 117-pound weight class in the 16U division, Karhu posted a 4-1 record in a field of 29 wrestlers. She lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Jennifer Soto from California by a 9-1 decision. In the third-place match, the PHS sophomore shut out California’s Lexy Beadles 5-0 to take bronze.
“The whole experience was a lot of fun,” Karhu said. “It was good to get out and meet new people and wrestle new people. There was some pretty good competition there.”
Jessica Brenton headed up Wyoming’s contingent of athletes in Oklahoma City. Currently the women’s director of the Wyoming Amateur Wrestling Association, Brenton was the first female wrestler on the Natrona County High School wrestling team a decade ago, and the first to qualify for state.
“She [Brenton] kind of led the way,” said Rory Karhu, Emma’s father. After her successful high school career, Brenton wrestled collegiately for four years up in Canada, then returned to Casper and took over the women’s program with USA wrestling in Wyoming, Rory said.
Brenton took 15 Wyoming wrestlers to the Folkstyle Nationals over the weekend; eight of them returned as All-Americans, finishing in the top eight of their respective weight classes.
“... They got to wrestle a high level of competition from different states,” Rory said.
Previously, Wyoming had never had more than three wrestlers at the event — and Brenton said it’s a great feeling to see that many girls compete and do well.
“Emma had a pretty heavy bracket, and she wrestled really well,” Brenton said. “I think having that background of wrestling against boys helps a lot going into a girls’ tournament; what sets Emma apart from the girls down there is there are girls that come from sanctioned states where they only wrestle girls. Being able to wrestle against a boy partner during the high school season is definitely an advantage.”
In the first round of the tournament, Emma beat a wrestler from Kansas; the second round was a win against Beadles. She lost to Soto in the semifinals; Soto went on to win the title in a 2-1 thriller against Colorado’s Cayden Condit, while Emma downed Beadle for bronze after winning another match in wrestle-backs.
“It was pretty exciting,” Rory said. “There were some tough girls in that tournament. It was a little better, too, that the girls she lost to went on to win it. The level of competition was crazy. Emma usually looks pretty strong; she has the muscle tone. But man, every girl down there had that. There were some amazing wrestlers down there.”
Emma agreed, saying she was happy the only person she lost to became the champion. Emma also enjoyed getting to hang out with other female wrestlers from Wyoming. It’s an event she definitely looks forward to competing in again.
“Getting to hang out with the other Wyoming wrestlers was pretty cool; it’s crazy how much girl wrestlers have in common,” she said. “We think the same way and find the same things funny. We have the same sense of humor. So it was just fun to be able to hang out with them, we had so many things to talk about.”
As for the wrestling itself, Emma said doing as well as she did will be something she’ll always remember.
“Winning in general felt pretty good, to know that you’re on a national level,” she explained. “And to be able to win four matches on a national level is pretty cool.”
For his part, Rory said he was glad he made the trip to watch Emma wrestle, though his decision to go was made on the fly. After dropping off his daughter in Casper, Rory realized he was only about 14 hours away from Oklahoma City, so off he went.
“I took off in the old 4Runner she drives to high school, and it made it down there,” he chuckled. “I slept in the truck and had a great time. It was really exciting. I had a feeling she might compete, and I didn’t want to miss it.”
“We had talked about her competing in this tournament since she was little and just never pulled the trigger,” Rory added. “I’m glad we did this time around.”