MOREHEAD CITY — Ariana Wolkerstorfer didn’t quit wrestling in high school, and she’s not about to start now.
The recent graduate shined on the mat, as well in cross country and track and field during her time at West Carteret, and figured her college future was limited to the latter two sports.
She initially accepted a running scholarship from UNC-Pemboke.
However, she is now the first recruit of the new women’s wrestling team at Greensboro College – the first women’s wrestling program in the state. The Division III team will hit the mat this winter.
“I wanted to wrestle in college. That is what I really wanted to do,” she said. “But there was nowhere around that would allow me to do that. Everything was out of state and we couldn’t afford out of state, and I didn’t want to be that far from home. And so UNC-Pembroke was my best option.”
Wolkerstorfer made a name for herself in wrestling with the Patriots as the lone girl on the team and one of only two girl wrestlers in the county.
In February, she became the first county wrestler to win a state championship at the N.C. High School Athletic Association Women’s Wrestling Invitational.
The senior captured the 113-pound B division by pinning Cox Mill’s Ava Ferrell in 5:14 at Carolina Courts in Concord.
“Just before states is when I found out Greensboro was starting a women’s program,” Workerstorfer said. “That was my opportunity to do what I love, to make something big of it like I did here.”
She did everything in her power to find a spot on the team, and the Greensboro coaches did everything they could to make it available. After filling out as many scholarships as she could find, the tuition dropped from around $30,000 to about $12,000.
“I was full-steam ahead once I found out about Greensboro,” Wolkerstorfer said. “I figured out a way with grants and scholarships. I made it happen. It’s scary but also very rewarding. Wrestling isn’t something I want to give up.”
West coach Kevin Smith saw her evolve from a struggling freshman to a wrestler that finished third as a junior at the NCHSAA Women’s Wrestling Invitational and captured two runner-up finishes in the 3A Coastal Conference.
“Her upside potential in wrestling is just a rocket ship,” he said. “She has barely scratched the surface as far as what she is capable of. I really believe she is going to make a huge impact on the college scene. She will be a great leader.”
Smith reported his former student-athlete has never stopped training. Wolkerstorfer runs six to nine miles a day and does hundreds of pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups and lunges.
“Her schedule is incredible,” he said. “She is on fire. She lives it. She trains for it. Her lifestyle matches what she is trying to do. It’s what you have to do at the next level, pretty much in any sport, but especially in wrestling. If you’re not working hard, you’re not making it. It’s an unforgiving sport.”
Her unrelenting work ethic helped her capture all-region and all-conference honors for three consecutive seasons in cross country. She was also a two-time state qualifier in the pole vault.
Those accomplishments helped her earn the running scholarship at UNC-Pembroke, but her desire to wrestle never wavered. She called UNCP coaches to tell them she had changed her mind and was following her heart.
“Wrestling was the thing that drove her,” Smith said. “It is what drives her. She really wanted to be a wrestler all along. But she just never thought there would be an opportunity or it would fit what she was looking for. And she really didn’t want to go out of state. This brand new program opened up, and she jumped at it.”
Wolkerstorfer has come a long way since her freshman season when she considered quitting. She figured the sport wasn’t for her and was picked on for being the only girl on the team.
“I didn’t want to do it anymore. It was too hard,” she said. “But I’m not a quitter. People told me, ‘You can’t do it, you’re a girl, this isn’t for you, this is a boys sport.’ I wanted to prove people wrong.”