McKendree women's grappler has her sights set high

News-DemocratNovember 6, 2013 

McKendree University wrestler Kassi Strano talks about her goals and the new women's wrestling program. The McKendree University women's wrestling team is ranked No. 17. She said the pace is different, but when spectators give women's wrestling a chance, their mind is blown because the women fight like dogs.


— The achievements of McKendree University freshman Kassi Strano on the wrestling mat speak for themselves.

A graduate of Battle Ground High School in Washington, Strano was a two-time all-state wrestler, placed second in the Washington state tournament in the 106-pound weight class as a senior and placed eighth at the prestigious Fargo Nationals at 112 pounds.

Now, about a month into her collegiate career with the first-year Bearcats women's program, Strano remembers the day she approached her dad, Vince, about wrestling a little over three years ago.

It didn't go well.

"My mom (Niki) was all right with the idea. My dad, on the other hand, had a much harder time with it. He was like 'why do you want to do that,''' Strano said. "He was more afraid I was going to get hurt. I think most dads would feel the same way.

"It took a while, but finally dad said fine. Do it.''

A long way from home and adjusting to life and the pressure that being a college student-athlete brings, Strano has done quite well at McKendree

Competing at 109 pounds, Strano is 9-4 heading into the Bearcats' home match Friday against Missouri Valley College

A sociology major with an emphasis on criminal justice, Strano has set her goals high this season. She wants to be an All-American.

"There is no doubt in my mind that it's going to happen. There really isn't,'' McKendree coach Sam Schmitz said. "Kassi just outworks everybody. I mean all the wrestlers work hard. But Kassi just works her butt off.

"I think she's matured a lot in the last few months and she realizes that it's a whole new ballgame now, and that it's a whole different level as far as college wrestling goes. Staying in condition and being patient is going to win you a lot of matches at the college level.''

Strano's rise to becoming a top wrestler is even more impressive considering she didn't begin competing in the sport until she was a sophomore in high school.

"My dad didn't play sports in high school, but I had a cousin who wrestled and there was this girl that I knew who also wrestled. ... I just thought it looked kind of cool so I thought I'd give it a try,'' Strano said. "We had a pastor where we attended who was a three-time world champion and he's like 'you should really try wrestling and give it a chance.'''

Located three hours south of Seattle, Battle Ground had a girls wresting team and, after getting the go-ahead from her father, a future college wrestler was born.

Strano had some doubts when she began wrestling.

"The hardest part when I started was going to practice and making myself do it,'' Strano said. "We had a girls team. There were 19 girls when I started, but by the time I got to be a senior we were down to five or six because we got a younger coach and practices were more difficult.

"Actually, my sophomore year, I didn't know if I could do this so I kind of backed off a little bit. Then after my junior year, I started thinking that 'I'm good at this' and really started wrestling a lot more. I joined two different wrestling clubs and started wrestling like five days a week.''

The work paid off. Seventh at the Washington state tournament in the 100-pound weight class as a junior, Strano placed second a year ago at 106.

Strano hasn't missed a beat at McKendree.

After winning her first five college matches, including three by fall, Strano has split her last eight bouts.

She said the difference between high school and college wrestling is in skill level.

"That's it. In high school, there is a wide spectrum of wrestlers. You have wrestlers who range from being very good to those who aren't. In college, you've got a range from good wrestlers to great ones.'' Strano said. "Everybody is good. You won't see any bad wrestlers at the college level."

Strano is happy at McKendree, a school she probably had never heard of a few months ago.

"It's a long way from home. But it's a good school and the girls on the team, we all get along well and are very supportive of each other,'' Strano said. "I wanted to wrestle at the college level.

"I'm sure some people wondered why I would want to go to a first-year wrestling program. I think it's cool to think that we're part of the first-ever McKendree University women's wrestling team. We will set the standards for future McKendree wrestlers and teams to reach.''

Strano hopes to work in law enforcement one day.

But as for her freshman year at McKendree, she'll settle for being an All-American.

"To be a national champion is the goal for every college athlete. That's a longer range goal for me,'' Strano said. "This year my goal is to be an All-American. I think that's realistic."

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