Emily Price
The gym buzzes with energy as the wrestling team gears up for practice.
The athletes warm up, stretch their muscles and prepare themselves for the physical and mental challenges that lie ahead. The team members break into pairs and begin their drills. Sweat drips onto the mat, making their commitment and dedication to the sport evident. Coaches move around, offering guidance, instruction and motivation. But for the first time in Saint Ignatius College Prep history, the male-dominated sport looks much different. That’s because these wrestlers are young women. 

Saint Ignatius started the girls team this school year – which is "on trend" as women’s wrestling is the fastest growing female sport in the United States. Head Coach Benjamin Sanchez launched the program because of the growing popularity and the interest among female students. 

Coach Sanchez said, “There are girls out there who can do it and want to do it, and I’m here to support it.” 

Giancarla Garduño ‘27, or “GG,” is a member of the girls wrestling team. 
She discovered wrestling as a junior high school student two years ago when her friend convinced her to give it a try. The girls registered for a program with Beat the Streets Chicago, an organization that empowers local youth through wrestling. Turns out, it created a pathway in more ways than one. 

Saint Ignatius College Prep donates gym space to Beat the Streets Chicago, which is how Garduño met Coach Sanchez and first learned about Saint Ignatius. 

“This is a great kid. She needs a chance at a school like this. We want her to have all the means to succeed,” said Coach Sanchez.

Garduño is loving the connections she’s made because of wrestling. She says being part of the sport not only helped her find her way to Saint Ignatius, it’s helped her grow her school friendships. Catalina Flores ‘26 is part of Garduño’s friend circle. They met when Garduño visited Saint Ignatius on a shadow day for prospective students. Ever since, Flores has been a real mentor to Garduño and has helped her navigate school. 

Flores brings her own story to wrestling at Saint Ignatius. She says her father influenced her to pursue sports. She thought about giving soccer a try, but it wasn’t for her. Growing up, she would watch boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA), which inspired her to pursue wrestling. 

Flores is a prime example of how the girls wrestling team is providing opportunities for female athletes that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. It’s breaking down gender stereotypes and encouraging girls to pursue their athletic interests. 

The paths the wrestlers are forging come with goals. Garduño has made it her mission to qualify for the Illinois High School State Wrestling Tournament, and she has dreams of one day earning an athletic scholarship to college. Those kinds of opportunities are becoming more plentiful with many colleges starting women's wrestling programs. Athletes who build their skills in high school eventually will populate those programs. 

Speaking of high school athletes, the young women on the Saint Ignatius Wrestling team want to see the sport they love, grow. Right now, there are four wrestlers in the Wolfpack’s female ranks, but through word-of-mouth and the partnership with Beat the Streets Chicago, Coach Sanchez believes those numbers will rapidly increase. 

“It’s so exciting. I just think that it’s going to eventually surpass men’s wrestling. I really truly believe that,” said Coach Sanchez.

Saint Ignatius College Prep

Saint Ignatius College Prep, a Jesuit Catholic school in the heart of Chicago, is a diverse community dedicated to educating young men and women for lives of faith, love, service and leadership.