Queen of the Mat
December 16, 2011
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.”
Bragging Rights for Both as Multi-Sport Sage Twins Shine at Ford Field
By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com
March 10, 2023
SOUTHGATE – The question of “Which child is your favorite?” is impossible for any parent to answer, but Shawn Sage has an additional question that’s impossible to answer regarding his son Jackson and daughter Brooklyn.
That question is, “Who would win a wrestling match between the two?”
“They are both raising their hands right now smiling about it,” Shawn Sage said with a laugh during a phone conversation.
It’s a good-natured question anybody can pose to Shawn Sage, given his son and daughter are not only twins by birth, but in wrestling achievements as sophomores at Southgate Anderson.
Last weekend at Ford Field, Jackson Sage competed in his second Individual Finals, where he finished fourth in Division 2 in the 157-pound weight class.
It was an improvement from last year’s event, when he qualified as a freshman but didn’t place.
“I was more used to it,” Jackson Sage said. “Last year was a different experience being at Ford Field the first time.”
Brooklyn Sage qualified for the Individual Finals this season as well, where she finished sixth in the Girls Division 155-pound weight class.
The winter was busy for both, but especially for Brooklyn. In addition to competing in wrestling, she was also a member of the school’s competitive cheer team.
“I knew that it would be a commitment,” she said. “But I was up for it. I was at the school for about 14 hours a day, but it was worth it at the end.”
Jackson and Brooklyn are each three-sport athletes. Jackson is the quarterback on the football team in the fall and a member of the track team (he competes in 300 hurdles and two relays) in the spring, while Brooklyn plays softball.
But it’s wrestling where the two share their greatest bond athletically.
Jackson started getting involved in the sport when was around elementary school age, and Brooklyn would tag along to practices.
Along the way, she became intrigued enough to try wrestling herself.
“I liked being able to know that I could defend myself and take care of myself in different ways,” she said. “To be able to stand up for myself.”
Brooklyn said she stopped wrestling competitively around sixth grade because there weren’t opportunities for girls to compete only against each other, but that changed when a girls-only division was added to the MHSAA Tournament with the 2021-22 season.
With both able to compete in high school, at-home workouts intensified. The two regularly train against each other on a mat in their basement, where technique is honed and toughness is sharpened.
“She pushes me a lot,” Jackson said.
Both also learn from each other’s experiences.
“I feel like watching him made me more motivated to do it,” Brooklyn said. “He’s taught me a lot of technique that I wouldn’t have known from his past experiences and coach.”
Added Jackson: “I’ve learned from her matches.”
This week has actually presented a rarity for both in that they’ve had time off.
With wrestling ending and spring sports not officially opening practice until Monday, the two haven’t had practices and competitions.
That’ll change next week when they go their separate ways with Jackson to track practice and Brooklyn joining the softball squad, and they’ll focus on those sports for the rest of the school year.
But with two more years of eligibility left and all-state finishes in wrestling already, the sky is the limit for the next two years in that sport for both.
With that in mind, the questions to Dad about who would win a match are likely only getting started.
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties
PHOTO Southgate Anderson twins Brooklyn, left, and Jackson Sage both placed at this season’s Wrestling Individual Finals. (Photo courtesy of the Sage family.)