Freya Munshi wrestles barriers to the top

by Grace Grabowski, Sports Reporter
photo contributed by Freya Munshi

In February, sophomore Freya Munshi won the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) Girls State Wrestling Tournament in just her second season on the South team. As the lone female member of South’s wrestling team, Munshi is the school’s first female wrestler to win a title at the tournament. 

“She’s literally making history at our school, which all of us think is amazing,” teammate junior Tyler Kadish said. “We just love to see our teammates be able to succeed.”

Munshi said she stumbled into the sport by chance. Typically, the wrestling season takes place in the winter, when Munshi plays hockey; however, last year, wrestling was pushed to the spring due to COVID-19, allowing Munshi to give the sport a try. 

 “I normally would have never tried it if they hadn’t switched it to the spring,” Munshi said. “I didn’t have anything to do, so I thought, ‘why not try something new?’”

Although the season was fraught with pandemic-forced changes, Munshi still found a love for the sport, wrestling coach and wellness teacher Alan Rotatori said. 

“We hardly had any competitions,” he said. “She might have had one or two matches last year because of the modified schedule and shortened season, but she was all in after last year. She ended up joining a club, so she works on wrestling all through pre-season to get ready and is just really focused.”

After months of training, Munshi’s hard work paid off as she worked her way through the state tournament, winning her first four matchups before defeating Gianna Daniele of Minnechaug High School to win the 118-pound state title.

In recent years, girls’ high school wrestling has seen an increase in popularity, with the number of participants nearly tripling from 2005 to 2018. In 2018, Massachusetts introduced a separate girls state championship, which has given girls an opportunity to compete at a higher level. 

Now, female competitors have the option to compete in the boys or girls state championship, a choice they did not have just a few years ago. For Munshi, the choice was difficult, as she knew she had potential to be successful in either tournament. 

Despite the expansion of girls’ wrestling, the sport is still male dominated. Munshi, the only girl on the South team when she joined in her freshman year, said that this gap provided unique challenges. 

“I had to wrestle people that were at least 20 pounds heavier than me because there was nobody my weight,” she said. “I was this little girl wrestling with seniors and they’re heavier and bigger than me. I’m not going to have the same amount of strength but I can definitely use my strength to wrestle just as fine.”

Although South has not seen the uptick in female wrestlers that other schools around the country have experienced, the team hopes to recruit more girls in the future.  

“The whole team is really invested in this, which is nice. We were trying to recruit girls at the eight grade sports night,” Munshi said. “I’m in touch with one eighth grade girl who I know wants to wrestle … which is awesome, even if we just have one more girl.”

Kadish said Munshi’s success plays a role in expanding the popularity of girls wrestling. 

“We definitely want more girls to be involved with the team and join,” Kadish said. ”She’s not only helping South, but she’s helping Massachusetts build girls wrestling, which is something that we think is amazing … we’re just extremely proud of her.”

Munshi said that in the future she hopes to push herself and continue to grow as a wrestler. 

“Next year I’m going to probably do boys’ states, not girls’ states, because it’s an added challenge,” she said. 

Munshi also said she hopes to extend beyond state competition as well and compete at tournaments on a national level, where the competition is higher. 

“My other big goal is to place at nationals for girls,” she said. “Once you get to the national level, there are girls who are on the world team and have been to the Olympic trials, so it’s just a totally different situation.”

Rotatori said that he hopes more students who share Munshi’s drive and determination will join the team. 

“If there are more kids like her, whether they are boys or girls, I do not care. We just want more kids like her,” he said. “She won states at five o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, raising her arms as a champion, and 24 hours later, she was lifting weights in the fitness center. That is who she is. We are really pleased to have her.”