Birmingham Groves junior Sammie Koch competes during the MHSAA state finals.

Birmingham Groves junior Sammie Koch competes during the MHSAA state finals.

Photo provided by Joseph Jones

Koch leading way for Groves girls wrestling

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 18, 2024


BIRMINGHAM — Don’t let the smell of perfume or the bright smiles fool you when you step into the gymnasium. These girls can wrestle.

Whether it’s facing the boys in a co-ed match or going head-to-head with another girl, there’s nothing lady-like about the fierceness and competitiveness girls across the state of Michigan have displayed with their wrestling ability at the high school level.

Since the Michigan High School Athletic Association added a girls only wrestling division for the 2021-2022 season, numbers have grown exponentially for numerous high schools across the state.

Girls have been wrestling for decades at the high school level, in small numbers, but this was the first opportunity where girls were prioritized in the sport of wrestling.

In its first year, nearly 400 girls wrestled in the regional meet, which was split into just two regions prior to the state meet.

Now holding four regions consisting of nearly 800 wrestlers, and over 1,000 that competed this year in meets across the state, there’s hopes of potentially holding district meets  —  like the boys side does —  next year because of the increasing numbers.

“It’s (numbers) almost tripled since last year,” Birmingham Groves wrestling coach Joseph Jones said. “It’s growing really, really fast.”

Jones and Groves hosted the first tri-county all-girls wrestling meet as schools from Wayne, Macomb and Oakland County went head-to-head. Local all-girls tournaments are becoming more and more popular in the surrounding counties whereas past years saw teams traveling two or three hours in order to compete.

The majority are learning the sport in high school. Some have seen siblings compete, but the one thing they all share is the love and passion for it.

As all-girls tournaments become more common, longtime coaches such as Warren Mott’s Paul Salyers, an assistant coach on the boys side and Mott’s girls head coach this past year, are still getting used to the environment.

“You go into a wrestling gym where a boys tournament is being held, and oh, my God does it stink,” Salyers said. “There’s BO (body odor) everywhere. You go into a girls tournament and it’s a cacophony of perfume. It’s hilarious to me. The girls will get down after beating the crap out of another girl, and with boys they’ll get done and they’re strutting around like they’re the king, but the girls will get done, get their hand raised, and go over and hug the girl they just beat up on and go, ‘Honey, this is what you need to do next time because I was able to do this because you were doing this wrong.’ It’s just funny. You don’t see that with the boys.”

As more girls continue to join, local teams are wishing upon a star that the popularity of wrestling and the success of their current girls wrestlers is only a sign of more wrestlers to come.


Birmingham Groves
A former Brazilian jiu-jitsu standout is making waves for Groves, and she’s bringing a plethora of girls on board with her.

Junior Sammie Koch was fully entrenched in martial arts, and she felt wrestling would only strengthen her jiu-jitsu background.

So, she came home and pitched the idea to her parents.

“One day I just came home from school and told my mom and dad I wanted to wrestle,” Koch said. “They were a little bit shocked. They were like, ‘What? Why?’”

Now a three-time state qualifier and earning fifth at the state finals this year, Koch is the veteran leader coach Joseph Jones is blessed to have on a girls side with 10 wrestlers to its name, which is one of the bigger female rosters in the surrounding counties.

Koch is Jones’ recruiter and poster child for why girls throughout Groves High School should give wrestling a try.

“I think it’s just girls wanting to try something different,” Jones said. “They see my one girl Sammie, who’s been doing it for a while, and they see the success she’s having, and they want to try something different. They feel like they can compete and do the sport too.”

Koch punched her state finals ticket with a third-place performance at regionals and followed it up with a 3-2 record at the state finals to take fifth March 2 at Ford Field.

Last year’s state finals trip didn’t turn out the way Koch had hoped after a referee error landed Koch a DQ in the blood round, and she said there was unfinished business left on the table.

“There definitely was,” Koch said. “Last year going into states, everybody had high hopes in me placing. That happening took a toll on me and definitely prompted me to work harder in the offseason.”

Groves and Jones have been big proponents of all-girl tournaments, hosting the Tri-County all-girls and the Groves Lady Falcons tournaments this year, and Koch said that’s been fun to watch and take part in.

“I feel like when I go to girls tournaments, it’s a lot more friendly,” Koch said. “There’s people in my bracket that will wrestle against each other and then end up being friends later on. Even at states, there was a girl I wrestled who I ended up becoming super good friends with the next day, whereas when I go to boys tournaments, it’s not like that at all.”

While Groves already sports one of the bigger teams around, Koch and her recruiting skills will be put to work one last time as she enters her senior season.

Koch said her typical recruiting pitch is something along the lines of, “You should wrestle. I love wrestling.” As simple as it is, it’s clearly been somewhat effective, but Koch said she just wants to share her love and passion for wrestling with all of the new girls.

“It’s felt really good to bring other girls into the sport,” Koch said. “I remember my freshman year, there were three girls on my team, and we were all first-year wrestlers. The next year I became a captain, and I thought it was just super cool to go up and see these new girls joining the team and see them fall in love with wrestling the way I fell in love with wrestling. It’s kind of amazing to be a part of it.”

Groves also earned contributions on the girls side from Avery Betts, Isabel De Demo-Choi, Kennedy Schindler, Sarah Alexander — who was the Macomb County champion in the 235-pound weight class — Amari Cochran-McKay, Semaya Jackson, Zora Wise and Induvari Hettiarachchi.