Although senior Nicole Helseth is the only female member of the South Whidbey High School wrestling squad, her teammates see her as just one of the guys.
Helseth and the Falcons begin their postseason journey this week at their respective sub-regional tournaments.
The girls tournament is 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, and 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, at Bellingham’s Squalicum High School.
The boys gather at 9:45 a.m. Saturday at Sultan High School.
The top four finishers in each weight class advance to the regional tournaments.
The girls regional is slated for 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, at Sedro-Woolley High School. Sultan is also the site of the boys regional tournament Feb. 15.
South Whidbey coach Robbie Bozin emphasized during the regular season that the weekly matches and tournaments were just tune-ups for the primary goal — qualifying for state.
Mat Classic XXXII, the state tournament, is Friday and Saturday, Feb. 21 and 22, at the Tacoma Dome.
While qualifying for state is Helseth’s goal, it wasn’t even on her personal radar when she entered high school.
She didn’t wrestle as a freshman and was “talked into it by the guys” her sophomore year.
“I decided to give it my best shot,” she said.
Once on the mat, she “slowly fell in love with the sport.”
As a sophomore Helseth was one of three girls on the team. Last year another girl started the season but didn’t finish. From that point, Helseth has been the lone girl on the squad.
From the beginning, her male teammates accepted her as “one of their own,” Helseth said. “They saw past my gender and saw me as a teammate, not just a girl. It has never been me versus them.”
That acceptance and the family atmosphere of the team is what Helseth likes most about the sport.
“We do everything as a team,” she said. “Out on the mat, it is just us, put the others are supporting us in the moment.”
Helseth said the high school wrestlers share the mat room with the middle school team and it is important for her, as a senior, to promote the sport to the youngsters, regardless of gender.
While she didn’t start wrestling until her sophomore year, wrestling is in her blood. Her father, Wes Helseth, is a former Falcon coach.
“He is happy about me wrestling,” she said, “but he never pressured me to turn out.”
Wes Helseth and stepfather Tyson Diffie “watch video and help me out,” Nicole Helseth said, “and my stepmom (Shannon Helseth) and mother (Leah Kalahiki) are very supportive.”
She added that her high school coaches have helped her develop as an athlete.
“They have turned me into the wrestler I am today.”
Helseth is considering the military as a career, and she might join ROTC in college.
Another choice is going to a community college and either wrestle or play soccer.
Helseth was a second-team, all-league goalie for the league champion Falcon soccer team last fall.
Regardless, the immediate plan is to fight for a state wrestling berth starting this weekend.
While she will be there alone, she is certain her wrestling family will be cheering her on from afar.