Twin power lays foundation for girls wrestling at Eisenhower

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Shelby-Utica News | Published March 18, 2024

  Utica Eisenhower senior wrestlers and twins Anna, right, and Grace Pontzious became the first girls in Eisenhower High School’s history to qualify for the Michigan High School Athletic Association girls wrestling state finals during their sophomore season. Anna Pontzious became the first girl to place at the state finals in school history, earning seventh this year on March 2 at Ford Field.

Utica Eisenhower senior wrestlers and twins Anna, right, and Grace Pontzious became the first girls in Eisenhower High School’s history to qualify for the Michigan High School Athletic Association girls wrestling state finals during their sophomore season. Anna Pontzious became the first girl to place at the state finals in school history, earning seventh this year on March 2 at Ford Field.

Photo provided by Anna and Grace Pontzious


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

Girls across the state of Michigan have displayed fierceness and competitiveness in wrestling, whether it’s facing the boys in co-ed matches or going head-to-head with another girl.

Since the Michigan High School Athletic Association added a girls-only wrestling division for the 2021-2022 season, numbers have grown exponentially at 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 more than 1,000 who competed this year in meets across the state, there are hopes of potentially holding district meets   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 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.


Utica Eisenhower
It’s a special moment for two sisters to achieve something special together, especially when they’re twins making school history on one of the biggest stages in girls wrestling.

Twin sisters and Utica Eisenhower senior wrestlers Anna and Grace Pontzious were on the regional stage sophomore year, looking to become the first female wrestlers in school history to qualify for the state finals.

“I remember saying to coach (David) Drath, ‘Oh my gosh, what happens if I don’t win?’” Anna Pontzious said. “He’s like, ‘Well, just win.’ He was like, ‘Just focus on winning,’ and I said, ‘OK.’ I remember I felt relieved that I won, and I remember the first thing I did was hug my sister because we were by each other’s mats, and then the focus was just finishing the meet and training for states.”

It was an incredible beginning to a journey that both Anna and Grace never saw in the cards for themselves.

Both practicing jiu-jitsu in their middle school years, the twins never gave wrestling a second look until meeting Drath, Eisenhower’s wrestling head coach.

“It (wrestling) didn’t even enter my mind until coach Drath came over to our junior high, Malow, and was advertising for the middle school team,” Grace Pontzious said. “I kind of grabbed the flyer and said, ‘Oh, I do jiu-jitsu. I’ll try it out.’ I grabbed a flyer and brought it home to my parents and said, ‘Oh, just sign this.’ I didn’t even tell them what it was about. I just said, ‘Can you sign this for me? I need a parent’s permission.’”

Their parents were caught off guard at first, but once Anna joined in with Grace, it was full steam ahead toward wrestling.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association had yet to recognize girls wrestling as its own entity at the time, but when the twins walked in on the first day of wrestling with Drath, becoming a part of Eisenhower history wasn’t his first thought.

“They started with me in the seventh grade when they were Malow Junior High students, and when they walked in the first time, I was like, ‘Yeah, right,’” Drath said. “These tiny little girls, you know? They just turned out to be tougher than nails.”

The twin relationship made one-on-one practices between the sisters fun to watch, except for Drath, who struggled to tell the twins apart.

“Sometimes it’s tough to tell, and it’s tough to tell because when they’re wrestling, you don’t know which one is which,” Drath said. “When they’re not wrestling, I can tell them apart a lot easier than when they’re wrestling and cutting weight.”

Luckily for Drath, they wear different shoes.

“When they’re wrestling each other, that’s how I tell the difference. Thank God Anna bought the blue-stripe shoes last year and Gracie bought another color,” Drath said.

Over the course of four seasons, the twins have been pioneers for the female side of wrestling at Eisenhower.

The passion for jiu-jitsu quickly morphed into a love for wrestling as the girls dedicated their time to their wrestling craft, training in the offseason on a constant basis.

As much as the twins gave to wrestling, Anna said it’s made an immeasurable impact on herself as a person.

“When I was younger, I used to be a little bit more of a doormat,” Anna Pontzious said. “I was always taught mental toughness, but I didn’t really have a way to implement it as much. When I joined wrestling, I realized, ‘Oh, I got to toughen up.’ I didn’t do it just because wrestlers are tough; I did it because I needed to do it.”

Anna Pontzious, a three-time state qualifier, put a final stamp on her wrestling career with an impressive showing at the MHSAA state finals on March 2 at Ford Field, placing seventh in the 105-pound weight class.

Anna Pontzious became the first female wrestler in school history to ever place at the state finals with her performance.

Their dedication to the sport paid off for the twins, as both are expected to wrestle collegiately for Grand Valley State University, which added a women’s wrestling program this year.

They continue to break barriers every chance they get, and the sisters are hoping the circle of high school girls wrestling in Michigan that they’ve become a part of will only grow as time moves on.

“It’s incredible to see the community built with it,” Anna Pontzious said. “We’ve met our best friends through wrestling. We all understand each other and want it to grow. We all support each other. We’ll braid each other’s hair at meets. We all understand each other to a different level. Not only are we wrestlers, but we’re girl wrestlers.”