Making new waves: GMLOS wrestling trio is ready for second girls state tourney in March

Published 8:41 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2023

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GRAND MEADOW – When GMLOS head wrestling coach Randy Smith was wrestling for the Austin Packers, the thought probably never occurred to him that he would someday be coaching his daughter in the state wrestling meet.

It definitely didn’t seem possible that he would also be coaching a former basketball player and a former cheerleader in that same girls state wrestling meet.

But that’s exactly where Smith is as the Bulldogs have qualified his daughter Diane Smith, former GM basketball player McKenna Hendrickson and former GM cheerleader Mackenzie Armagost to the MSHSL’s second ever girls state wrestling meet, which will take place during the boys state meet in March.

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MacKenzie is the daughter of Dan Armagost, who wrestled with Randy at AHS.

“For the last two years our daughters have wrestled together and they are wrestling partners,” said Randy, who is in the AHS Hall of Fame after wrestling in three state meets – including a third place finish as a senior in 1996. “It’s been really neat to watch them build that bond like her dad and I had. Our boys wrestled together too and it was by chance that I got a job here, where Dan’s kids were wrestling. We’d been working on (McKenna) for years to give wrestling a try. When she was a youth we wanted her to wrestle and play basketball. She always had that build and she’s athletic.”

Diane, a 138-pound junior, took second at 138 in last year’s state meet and she is the only Bulldog who knows what it’s like to wrestle under the lights at Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota’s biggest meet. She was once the lone wrestler in Grand Meadow as she wrestled in sanctioned state meets in the past, but now Diane has 11 teammates who are girls.

“It’s been a big improvement from the years in the past,” said Diane. “We have a good bond together and we like to push each other. It used to just be me, but they’ve all been trying their best even though they are new to it.”

Diane, who earned a trip to state by taking first in a meet that included wrestlers from Section 1 and 2 in schools of all sizes recently. She is coming into the state meet with solid experience and she’s tried to relax MacKenzie and Hendrickson before the meet.

“Once you’ve been there it’s really not as nerve racking as you think it is,” Diane said. “The first time being there, it’s kind of scary because a lot of people are watching, but you have to think of it as a normal match.”

Hendrickson, who won the section title at 132 pounds, was a point guard on last year’s Grand Meadow girls basketball team, which was the first group to play in a Section 1A title game in GM history. Hendrickson also ran in the Class A cross country meet this past fall and she competes in track and field as well and she’s been a natural on the wrestling mat as she has quickly figured out how to win.

Hendrickson used to watch her dad officiate at the state meet and she had dreams of one day wrestling herself at state. Now that dream is a reality.

“I was welcomed here with open arms and coaches who helped me the best that I could. Every day I looked up at the names on the board of the state qualifiers and my name was going to be up there,” Hendrickson said. “It’s taken hard work. When I lose focus, I remember what I’m working for. Cross country has given me a lot of endurance and if I can take my opponent to the third period, I’ll probably do very well.”

Hendrickson is excited to be a part of a growing girls sport in Minnesota, and she and her teammates haven’t been intimidated by going against wrestlers from bigger schools.

“It’s nice to see women’s sports growing,” Hendrickson said. “You can be a small school and work just as hard. It depends on how hard you work and how bad you want it. We respect each other a lot and I’ve formed a lot of bonds with opponents.”

MacKenzie gave up cheerleading last year to give wrestling a try and it was an eye opening experience for her. This year, she battled back and won a true second place match at sections to get to state. 

The MSHSL is including eight wrestlers in each weight class after only four wrestlers were allowed in each weight class at the girls meet last year. The boys state wrestling meet has 16 wrestlers per weight class.

“It meant a lot to us when they added more state qualifiers for the girls so we can have more opportunities,” MacKenzie said. “I come from a strong wrestling family. My first year I struggled a little bit, but I worked all season and I wrestled with the Storm team over the summer. It paid off this year.”

MacKenzie has not regretted following in her dad’s footsteps and hitting the mat this last year. The sport has helped her grow as an athlete, while also giving her some strong friendships on her team and other teams as well.

“It felt like a family from the start,” MacKenzie said. “All of us love each other and there is no drama in the room. We all get along.”

The Class A individual girls wrestling meet will be held at Xcel Energy Center on March 4, with matches beginning at 9 a.m.