Beyond the Blue: Master Sergeant Leads Girl’s Wrestling Sanction Efforts

  • Published
  • By Airman Kylie Davidson
  • 179th Cyberspace Wing

In the tunnel of the Schottenstein Center at The Ohio State University, a team of female wrestlers prepared to take the mat, while thousands of spectators began flooding the stands to watch the state wrestling tournament. The sound of cheering and whistles filled the arena; this was one of the moments the wrestlers and coaches would never forget. However, the sport itself will never forget one of these coaches.

That coach is Vanessa Oswalt, who duals in leadership roles as both the girl’s wrestling coach at Olentangy Orange High School, Lewis Center, Ohio, as well as an Ohio Air National Guard Service Member. Master Sgt. Oswalt is the Superintendent of the Comptroller Flight at the 179th Cyberspace Wing, in Mansfield, Ohio.

“Being a female leading a female squad out of that tunnel, there was no other feeling like that,” said Oswalt.

Oswalt was an advocate and leader in the recent sanctioning of girl's wrestling, and is recognized for her contributions to those efforts in an upcoming docuseries, WrestleHER.

“My Chain of Command has been super supportive, allowing me to take on such a load within the community,” stated Oswalt. “I’m super grateful for their support and giving me approval to coach and be a part of the sanctioning efforts.”

During Oswalt's season being the head coach for the girl's wrestling program the National Wrestling Coaches Association named her the Scholastic Division Section 2 Coach of the Year for the 2022/23 season. The Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association also named her the Girl's Coach of the Year in 2023, making her the first female coach to earn those honors.

Oswalt began her own wrestling journey at just 7 years old as a practice partner for her brother and continued when her parents encouraged her to go out for the youth wrestling program.

“I had to rely a lot on technique, and not so much strength,” stated Oswalt. “It was extremely difficult going against just that male strength.”

Being a female in a male dominant sport was not short of its challenges. There were times Oswalt said when wrestling she felt unwelcomed. She had opposing parents, coaches, and wrestlers telling her she didn't belong.

“Wrestling the guys felt like a punishment,” stated Oswalt. “They would just physically beat me because they didn’t want me there.”

In 2004 Oswalt qualified for the Olympic Team Trials which was also the first year for women's Olympic wrestling. Later on in 2009, she began serving her country in the Army National Guard. She was activated on Fort Carson with the World Class Athlete program while wrestling for the Army.

It wasn’t until 2012, after not making the Olympic team, Oswalt decided it was time to take a break from wrestling and move back home. She then joined the Air National Guard at the 179th in 2017.

After moving home, Oswalt realized there had been no significant growth in female wrestling within Ohio. That’s when she decided she wanted to cause a change and make a difference. So, in 2019, Oswalt and fellow coach, Brian Nicola, began the girl's wrestling sanctioning efforts at Olentangy Orange High School.

“I took a year or two to figure out where I fit in,” said Oswalt. “That's when I started advocating for the sanctioning efforts.”

Building the teams from the ground up with the youth, middle school, and high school programs helped ensure the success of the program, said Oswalt. Her team competed in a state tournament and earned runner up in 2020, which was the first unsanctioned state tournament by the Coaches Association. The girl's wrestling team continued to establish a platform at tournaments the following years.

The team earned state runner-up for the 2022/23 season, the first season as a sanctioned girl’s wrestling program. Then, in the 2023/24 season nine athletes qualified for the year-end meet and the wrestlers of Olentangy Orange girl’s wrestling made school history. The team secured the state championship and dethroned the previous title holders by 12 points.

“Leading these girls and being passionate for them is what it’s all about,” stated Oswalt. “It’s about growth, its changes, and embracing equality.”

Oswalt has been given the opportunity to be an active advocate for women’s wrestling in a new documentary, WrestleHER, which is currently in production by TGR Sound and Vision. The docuseries followed alongside Oswalt and her team for two years during the sanctioning efforts capturing history and memories being made. This documentary is meant to provide girls with hope and validity within the sport. WrestleHER is projected to hit screens in the fall and inspire more schools to add girls wrestling and states to sanction.

“You work so hard for so long, and get the crap kicked out of you for so long,” stated Oswalt. “To be able to give these girls a safe place and build their confidence, there’s no other feeling than gratitude and accomplishment.”