Girls Sports Month: Being a girl never affected Delaware wrestler Bri Woodward

Girls Sports Month: Being a girl never affected Delaware wrestler Bri Woodward

Girls Sports Month

Girls Sports Month: Being a girl never affected Delaware wrestler Bri Woodward


When Brianna Woodward moved the the Cape Henlopen (Del.) School District area in the middle of her eighth grade year, she could have tried to blend in.

She didn’t.

One of Woodward’s new friends encouraged her to be the wrestling team manager for Mariner Middle School.

Woodward never managed the team, however, instead she saw a different opportunity.

The sport intrigued her.

She didn’t want to manage.

She wanted to wrestle.

And she did.

“I started wrestling and I wasn’t great at it – or good at all actually – but I just loved it,” Woodward said. “Something about it made me feel like I was myself.”

Woodward never gave up. She attended as many practices as she could and learned as much as she could. As girls – and boys – dropped out of the sport, Woodward never wavered in her desire to wrestle, earning the respect of her teammates and coaches.

Four years later after finishing up her senior season on the Cape Henlopen High School wrestling team, she thought her wrestling career was all over.

But it might not be quite yet.

Growing up tough

The Cape Henlopen senior did not grow up along Delaware’s coast.

The Woodward family, parents Daniel and Vanessa, along with Brianna and her four siblings, lived in Harrington, Delaware, when their house burned down.

After it was rebuilt, the family decided to move to Denton, Maryland, before heading back to Delaware in the Milton area when Woodward was in eighth grade.

In the midst of the moves, about 13 years ago Daniel Woodward was in an accident. With their father’s back injured, and their mother recently giving birth Alyssa Woodward, Woodward and her older sister had to pick up more responsibility around the house.

Woodward’s father raised them to be tough.

It paid off when it came to wrestling.

“So going into the mindset (of being tough), it seemed cool and became natural,” Woodward said. “Then there’s that thing you do that is the opposite of what people say you can’t do.”

It’s not that she grew up with people telling her she couldn’t or shouldn’t wrestle, but there were a few raised eyebrows and questions when she initially started.

The extra attention faded away as high school started.

Woodward wasn’t really noticed until the end of her freshman year. She had gutted through the difficult season.

In that time, she had earned the respect of her teammates.

Vikings’ head coach Chris Mattioni has coached girls on the team before. As long as they are there for the right reasons, it’s no difference at all, he said.

“At least on our team and in my experience, if the girls, and Bri being one of them, are out there doing everything we ask just like every other athlete than the boys are willing to accept them,” Mattioni said. “That’s what she did.”

Not the first, not the last

Cape Henlopen has had women on the team before. Woodbridge wrestling coach Jenna (Pavlik) Day grappled at the high school when she attended the school.

In 2001 as a senior, Day was the captain of the team and one of the first women downstate to win a varsity match.

Woodward got to meet her once at a tournament, knowing her legacy, said it was pretty cool.

As for Woodward’s progress through the years, she attributed that to her teammates. On Senior Night, Mattioni read off a note for each senior before the team wrestled Sussex Tech.

Woodward’s was by-far the longest, thanking her teammates for never letting up on her.

It was never easy.

Freshman year, she learned the basics and then tried to develop them while getting even better the following year.

Wrestling against boys who were stronger than her and who had been wrestling since elementary school put her at a disadvantage.

But it only made her better.

“In practice, especially Max Norquest, he never failed to push me,” Woodward said. “He never went easy on me. He was definitely tough on my every time we had to wrestle together in practice. It was rough wrestling him sometimes, but it made me better in the end.”

Finding her future

Woodward wrestled junior varsity this season because of a stacked Cape lineup and job responsibilities pulling her away from practices.

Woodward, in the 132-pound weight class, earned a record of 6-6 – undefeated against girls – though when they were rolling up the mats at Polytech on Feb. 13 that her career was over.

“It was a little rough that day,” she said. “It hit me heavy.”

She planned on joining the Army until a letter came to the family’s Milton home recently.

It was a letter from D-III Ferrum College in Virginia. They are starting a women’s wrestling program and were gauging Woodward’s interest.

The Cape senior isn’t sure what to do. Mattioni is just glad she has options and told her about Ferrum’s respectability in the wrestling world.

Woodward will reflect and eventually make a decision, thinking about many of the reasons of why she got into the sport in the first place.

“It’s kind of like the thing where everyone says a girl can’t do this or do that – a girl can’t wrestle, they can’t be strong, they can’t beat boys in wrestling,” she said. “Going against everything they said I couldn’t do – I actually did do, and it was a good feeling.”


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