DEWITT – Even if they haven’t faced her, most Lansing-area wrestlers have heard of Rachel McFarland.
It’s a different story when DeWitt hits the road for Saturday tournaments. McFarland will run up against opponents who don’t know a thing about her – until she beats them.
The Panthers senior has won more than 100 matches over the last three seasons. She’s been asked about wrestling boys probably as many times.
“Sometimes, I feel bad for them. I’m not going to lie,” McFarland said, breaking into a laugh. “I don’t think of (wrestling boys) in a different way. But for guys, it’s probably weird because they never wrestle a girl.
“I just wrestle.”
A girl wrestling on an MHSAA team isn’t rare -- roughly 146 have participated in the sport per season over the last three. But McFarland is special.
She signed a letter of intent Wednesday to accept nearly a full scholarship from NAIA Oklahoma City University, which has the top-ranked women’s collegiate wrestling program in the country this season. She’s also wrestled on the international mat, taking fifth in a world competition in Hungary over the summer.
A 112-pounder, McFarland will carry a 101-39 record into her final high school season later this month. She’s both won a CAAC Gold championship and finished runner-up, and as a sophomore advanced to the MHSAA Regional round.
Not bad for only five years in the sport. After sitting through her younger brother’s tournaments while they were growing up, she decided in eighth grade to join her middle school team. She was tired of watching and not being a part. And she was drawn to the sport’s intensity.
“She had the drive to be great. I’ve never seen an athlete in any of my sports with such work ethic and dedication,” said DeWitt coach Brian Byars, who also coaches the school’s boys cross country team. “And so we knew that she could be something special. We just didn’t know what.
“Her commitment and desire kept her achieving goals, and we just kept setting them higher and higher. And then we just started realizing what a treasure we have.”
McFarland is following a short line to success at the MHSAA level. Goodrich’s C.C. Weber finished fourth in Division 3 at 103 pounds in 2009, the best MHSAA Finals finish by a girl. Martin’s Amy Berridge finished seventh at 103 in Division 4 in 2004. McFarland will be Oklahoma City teammates with Kristi Garr, also from Goodrich and an MHSAA Finals qualifier in 2010.
McFarland was a softball player during her middle school years, and ran cross country and track earlier in her high school career. She had picked up some wrestling knowledge watching her brother, and the rest came from natural ability and a lot of work on technique.
“I thought I was going to beat her because she’s a girl. She totally was better,” said DeWitt sophomore Alex Lantz, McFarland’s practice partner last season. “When she roughs around the guys a little bit, it’s like ‘Whoa, she just threw me. I’ve got to do it back or something.’”
McFarland’s success is opening the wrestling room door for other interested girls at her school. A few gave the sport a brief try over the last few seasons, and Byars said one in particular has talked to both he and McFarland about joining the team this winter. Byars and McFarland also have discussed starting a little girls wrestling program in their community.
McFarland also considered signing with King College (Tenn.) and Menlo College (Calif.), which like Oklahoma City are members of the 14-team Women’s College Wrestling Association. She intends to study biomedical science and will move far from her family – but anticipates few changes to life on the mat despite the fact she’ll no longer be wrestling boys.
“Everyone knows girls are more dramatic, so there might be more drama. But I think it will be about the same,” McFarland said. “I’ll definitely miss the guys. It’s fun being with them. But I think it will be OK. (The girls) are all wrestlers. They’ll understand.”