In a testosterone-packed Columbus East wrestling room, Emma Mensendiek stands out in the crowd.
The senior is one of the smallest wrestlers for the Olympians. She’s also the only girl.
But while Mensendiek hasn’t been able to crack the varsity lineup for a powerhouse East team, she’s found a way to make her first year in the sport a memorable one. She has qualified for the first Girls Wrestling State Finals, which will begin at 6:45 p.m. today at Hamilton Heights.
“She’s extremely tough — mentally tough and physically tough,” East coach Chris Cooper said. “She just fits right in with the rest of the guys.”
Last week, Mensendiek went 2-1 at 106 pounds to finish second in the Franklin Regional and qualify for state. But she didn’t even know there would be a state tournament for girls until two weeks ago — long after she decided she would give wrestling a try.
Until then, Mensendiek was mainly a cross-country and track runner. She was a semistate qualifier in cross-country this year and shared team MVP honors with Kristen Lyons.
While many wrestlers run cross-country to get in shape for wrestling, Mensendiek actually wanted to give wrestling a try after a taste of another activity. Last winter, she began traveling to Greenwood to do Brazilian jujitsu in hopes of becoming a Mixed Martial Arts fighter.
She took a break from jujitsu when cross-country season began. When that ended, she thought she’d apply the jujitsu skills she learned to wrestling.
“I wanted to try something new,” Mensendiek said. “I actually wish that I would have started earlier because I really enjoy it a lot.”
Mensendiek said wrestling has taught her to be tough on herself and learn how to battle with the guys. She came in knowing she was going to be the only girl, so she got over that mindset quickly.
In practice, Mensendiek spars with fellow 106-pounders Jeremy Clark, Braeden Berger and Ashton Jones and 113-pounder Collin Phillips. She said they treat her like a guy, and that’s what she expects. She doesn’t like it when they go easy on her.
“She’s really tough,” Clark said. “She’s really strong from weightlifting, so she’s a good partner to wrestle with. We’re all teammates, and we just help each other out.”
Now in his 17th year as East coach, Cooper had a couple female wrestlers earlier in his career. But Mensendiek is the first in several years.
Cooper said Mensendiek is extremely responsible.
“Being a female in a sport with a lot of males, there’s a lot of things she has to take care of on her own, and she does,” Cooper said. “The very first day, I told her how hard it was going to be, and she was OK with that.”
Mensendiek, whose father Mike wrestled at East, has wrestled exclusively junior varsity matches, aside from the girls regional. She has posted a winning record in those JV battles, going 15-13.
Although she may try to run cross-country and track next year when she attends University of Indianapolis, wrestling has captured the attention of Mensendiek at the present. She will be one of eight girls — four from each of the two regionals — competing at 106 pounds tonight.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Mensendiek said. “I just have to keep correcting the stuff that I’ve been making mistakes on and then hopefully just do my best.”
Name: Emma Mensendiek
School: Columbus East
Sports: Cross-country, wrestling, track
Notable: Qualified for semistate in cross-country; has qualified for the first Girls Wrestling State Finals