Wrestling bringing out the best in Kophazy

Warren Area High School senior wrestler Kasey Kophazy has signed to continue her career at Bethany College, beginning this fall. Photo submitted to Times Observer

Famous college basketball coach John Wooden is often attributed with saying, “Sports don’t build character; they reveal it.”

In Kasey Kophazy’s case, they revealed it pretty quickly. She didn’t get involved in wrestling until 10th grade, and after just two years, Kophazy has signed to wrestle at NCAA Division III Bethany College in Bethany, West Virginia, beginning this fall.

It’s something the Warren Area High School senior would never have imagined a few years ago.

“My middle-school self would have never even dreamed I would be where I am today,” she said. “Wrestling wasn’t even a thought in my mind back then. When I was in middle school, I thought that I was going to go to college for cross country or track as I had just started those sports and was decent at them. Looking back now at where I was, joining wrestling was probably the best decision I’ve ever made.”

The popularity of women’s wrestling has skyrocketed recently, culminating locally with the Warren County United Girls Wrestling Club as well as an official PIAA-sanctioned sport at Warren Area High School.

Warren Area High School senior wrestler Kasey Kophazy has signed to continue her career at Bethany College, beginning this fall. Photo submitted to Times Observer

“Tenth grade was the first time I wrestled, and it feels like I have just started,” said Kasey. “These couple of years have flown past, and I sometimes still feel like I’m a beginner. My first match was actually against my sister, and I remember being terrified of everyone on the mat. Over time, I became more confident and stopped being scared and looked at it like an opportunity to get better.”

Ten days ago, Kophazy finished fourth to earn a medal in the 130-pound bracket of the Mid-Winter Mayhem 25-team girls tournament at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her ultimate goal is to qualify for states.

“This season has given me a chance to show our school that the girls are not only capable of this sport, but also that we have had some great wrestlers all along,” said Kasey. “It means a lot to me that we get to represent our school officially now and show what we have to offer on the mat. Also, having an official team helps with the recruiting process because colleges can now reach out to our school and see what our records and our work ethic is like.”

Bethany College has a brand new women’s wrestling program.

“There is substantial momentum for women’s wrestling across the nation, which makes this an ideal time for Bethany to create more competitive opportunities for highly competent and capable female student-athletes,” said Bethany President Dr. Jamie Caridi.

Kophazy will study psychology at Bethany College and can’t wait to “compete at a higher level and to be a part of the first women’s team at this school,” she said. “I first started getting interest from colleges at the beginning of 11th grade when I was old enough to start being recruited, and over the last two years I’ve had about 20 different colleges reach out to me. The Bethany women’s wrestling coach reached out to me, and I started to research the school and decided I should visit because it seemed like a great opportunity. … I almost immediately fell in love with the campus itself; it reminds me of Hogwarts. I met with the coaches and decided I wanted to go there because of the community built around the school. Everything seemed to fit who I was as a person.”

That starts with “her huge heart,” according to her father, Keith.

“Mom and dad could not be prouder,” he said. “This is only Kasey’s third year of wrestling, and she has come a long way with less than half the training of most girls she competes against. She would get two to three days a week when others were getting five or six days. The first year we drove three hours a day for practice and she never has had a steady coach, but she is smart and that has worked to her advantage, picking up the moves and learning how to use her attributes to strengthen her performance. She has pretty much had only one practice partner, and that was her best friend, Katie (Seamens), that she had convinced to try the sport. She has wrestled against several No. 1 girls in the nation and used those as learning experiences and to build her confidence level. There was a lot of interest from colleges for her to continue her wrestling career — well over a dozen. We wanted to find that perfect fit for her, and after the visit to Bethany, it was pretty clear. … And, get this, the college will only field a girls wrestling program. No boys; that is unheard of. She will be coming in on the ground floor of the program, which is fantastic. Her personality, life attitude, and her story left the coaches wanting her to commit to come there on the official visit. They saw something special in her that we watched grow during her short wrestling career; that was confidence, strong leadership skills, and the ability to self-motivate while dealing with all the negatives our area presents about girls wrestling. We cannot take any credit for her success on the mat; it was all hers and her huge heart. She wants to leave it all on the mat every match.”

Overcoming adversity is a trait inherent to wrestling itself, and means something even more to the sport of women’s wrestling.

“I was always wondering why there was so much pushback against girls wrestling, not just in Pennsylvania, but in several other states,” said Kasey. “We competed just like the boys and had our own tournaments, so it didn’t make sense for it not to be considered as our own sport — which changed after Pennsylvania finally sanctioned it.

“I look at female wrestling very differently now than I did a few years ago,” she said. “Of course, I always knew about it because of my younger sister (Jenna), but I never understood why someone would want to be in such a physical sport until I joined, which was probably the best decision I ever made. Now, I look at it like a great opportunity for younger girls to get involved in a great community and sport that will make lasting memories and fun times. … When people ask me why I chose this sport over everything else, I tell them I’ve never enjoyed a sport as much as I have wrestling. It’s created some of the best memories, and I’ve also made lifelong friends.”

She doesn’t take for granted how much joy and how many opportunities the sport has given her in such a short time.

“… She has already started giving back to the sport by coaching some of the Warren County United girls and sometimes her teammates,” said her father. “She plans to be around the room for the girls when she comes home for breaks from college.”


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