A wrestler through and through: GMLOS' Diann Smith the inaugural PB Girls Wrestler of the Year
Diann Smith has been wrestling on her family's living room carpet with her brothers since she could crawl, and that has led her into being one of the pioneers of the sport in Minnesota.
GRAND MEADOW — Diann Smith's journey into wrestling technically started when she was in the sixth grade.
One would say technically, because, well, that's when her first official match was.
On that day, she was in the stands, supporting her little brother in his wrestling tournament with her father and Austin High School Hall of Famer, Randy Smith, who had participated in three state wrestling tournaments back in his hay day.
Her brother's team was down a wrestler.
The coach that day — Troy Gilbert, whose presence on the Grand Meadow/LeRoy-Ostrander/Southland program will be felt for years to come — asked her dad a question.
"He was like, 'Could she weigh-in?'" Diann said. "I was not prepared at all."
So Diann grabbed an extra singlet the team had and her brother's extra headset.
In addition to not only having a not-so-comfortable uniform, she had quite a welcome into the sport as she went up against Ella Pagel in her first-ever match.
Pagel, now a Northfield High School sophomore, has become one of the top female wrestlers in the country and has won a Minnesota state title in the first two Minnesota State High School League-sanctioned state girls wrestling tournaments.
It was a tough battle but at the time it gave Diann hope, for a number of reasons.
"I was like, 'Another girl wrestling?' ... I was like, 'Oh, she's doing it. So I could do it too.' You know?" Diann said.
Smith fought hard and the truth is, she had unexpectedly been preparing for this moment for a long time.
She had spent most of her youth wrestling with her brothers on the floors of the Smiths' home. Plus, she had always enjoyed laying down the hammer against anyone she faced — in any sort of competition.
"I've always been that person that didn't really matter if it was a boys sport," Diann said. "I used to play football and I would just do things that are fun. It was fun tackling the other boys. I started wrestling. I never planned on staying out. I did it because my little brother's team needed a weight. Once I realized I could potentially be really good at it, I wanted to show the boys that I was capable of doing what they could do.
"I thought it was cool to show them up."
Quite honestly, her father, too, thought it was only a matter of time before Diann would find herself on the mat.
"I always knew she had a little spunk you know," Randy Smith said with a bit of a chuckle. "She always wrestled with her brothers at home. I was all for it. And I was one of the youth coaches at the time with Troy and, you know, for me, it was, I knew she could do it."
As they say, the rest is history as the wrestling mat has become her second home.
"Ever since that moment, she's been pretty much been addicted to wrestling," Randy Smith said.
From those years, her skill and persistence to not only improve her craft, has allowed her to become successful in her own right, but also become a pioneer for girls in the sport of wrestling.
It's led to her making history.
She competed in both the first ever MSHSL-sanctioned girls wrestling section and state tournaments the past two years. She has won a section title and after this year, is now a two-time MSHSL state runner-up. But the GMLOS junior's impact off the mat has been just as important. For those reasons, among many others, she is the inaugural Post Bulletin All-Area Girls Wrestler of the Year.
"It's a huge achievement," Diann said after being told of the honor. "I'd say I never thought that I could ever get an award like this. But I was really shocked when I found out because I've never heard of anything like that before. So just really thrilled."
She wins the honor among finalists Chloe Berg of Chatfield and teammate McKenna Hendrickson.
For Smith, it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears.
"Diann's been wrestling for quite a few years," Randy Smith said. "For her to get recognized is pretty awesome because she has been putting a lot of work in the last many years without, being recognized and she just kept plugging away."
With a resume that includes back-to-back state runner-up finishes, Smith's accolades alone make her an easy pick for this honor. But when it comes to Smith's involvement in the growth of the sport, whether it comes to recruiting for her own high school or offering tips for others, she's the run-away winner.
"She's really knowledgeable," teammate McKenna Hendrickson said. "She pushes us and teaches us to be our best."
Smith started as the only female in the GMLOS wrestling room.
Now, more than a dozen girls represent Bulldogs' wrestling. Three — including Smith, Hendrickson (a former basketball player), and Mackenzie Armagost (a former cheerleader) all placed in the state tournament earlier this month.
For Smith, that's what this is all about.
"Just all of us making it to state, going up there and getting our medals and then coming home just really — at least a lot of girls at my school — helped open their eyes to what they could possibly do. I've already had so many girls ask me about summer practices," Smith said, "and if I could give them some one-on-one time and help them learn more so that they could maybe get ready for the next years and be able to compete."
It's something that still blows her mind to this day.
"The amount of girls that have been coming out it's just crazy because it went from me being in the wrestling room all by myself to a ton of others with me," Diann said. "It's just 'wow.' It's really nice to have more people doing the thing that I liked the most with me.
"When I was a little girl, I never thought that I'd be the girl that people were looking up to. I had those girls for me, but girls wrestling was so small and so when I went to girls tournaments and I saw these older girls wrestling, it really was so empowering to see them and I knew that I could possibly be like them in the future."
One of those elder wrestlers was Emily Shilson of Mounds View.
Smith caught a glimpse of her in the Augsburg University girls-only tournament, which at the time was considered the girls state tournament for Minnesota, even though it was not recognized by the MSHSL. Those days, Smith was just a little seventh-grader.
Yet, Shilson became that role model for her.
"I just wanted to be like her," Diann said.
In a way she is.
Smith has grown to be the person she had envisioned Shilson to be when she was a young grappler. This summer, she is trying to get together a girls-only wrestling camp either at Southland — the school she attends — or wherever southeastern Minnesota makes room for her.
Because, at the end of the day, the growth of the sport is all that matters to her.
"I really want to get more girls out there and show them that, you know, this is this is a sport we can do," Smith said. "It's really taking off."
Although she enjoys the fact that wrestling is taking off as an MSHSL-sanctioned sport, Smith still has some business to take care of.
Her goal is to get stronger, build muscle on top of her already technically sound game, so that she can end up on top of the podium and become GMLOS' first girls wrestling state champion.
"I have one more year," Smith said. "I thought this year was going to be the year but you know, it just didn't happen and that's OK. It makes me want to work even harder. Either way, I just I feel like there's always room to grow and you can be proud but you can't be ever satisfied."