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Notre Dame wrestling’s Lily Ahlvin overcomes adversity to become conference champion

Notre Dame senior Lily Ahlvin became a first-time SEMO Conference Champion by winning the 135-pound weight class at the conference tournament on Jan. 20 at Sikeston. Photo by Nick McNeal

Two weekends ago at the SEMO Conference Tournament, Notre Dame girls wrestling senior Lily Ahlvin made her dream come true of winning a conference championship with a second-period pinfall in the 135-pound finals. This made Ahlvin the second wrestler in girls program history to bring home conference gold.

It was a dream that at one point almost became impossible to achieve a year ago when Ahlvin could not walk off the mat under her own power. This was at the 2023 district tournament when Lily had to actually be carried off the mat by former Bulldog and the first-ever Notre Dame girls SEMO Conference Champion Emma Steimle.

Ahlvin had been slammed on the mat in the same spot on her back she was back at last year’s conference tournament a few weeks prior. However, this time Lily at districts was unable to stand up, forcing Ahlvin to forfeit in the semifinal round.

“At first, I thought it was just my muscles, so I went to a chiropractor and did muscle therapy,” she said. “I took a break from going to the gym and wrestling practice, but then I went to the gym a few months later after going to the chiropractor, and I couldn’t even lift weights without it hurting so bad.”

It was found that Ahlvin had an injury to her spinal cord in her neck and ended up going to physical therapy for six weeks after that. Lily said this did “a lot” for her as she finally started lifting weights and going to wrestling practice after.

Ahlvin noted that every now and then she will have some spasms, but she said she feels fine for the most part when wrestling or training. Heading into this season, Lily said she was certainly scared, but knowing it was her final year of wrestling in high school motivated her.

Along with that, Ahlvin is also the only girls wrestler on the team this year after Steimle graduated last spring. Emma became Notre Dame girls wrestling’s first-ever all-state medalist and first state qualifier last winter as Ahlvin hopes to follow in Steimle’s footsteps in districts two weeks from now.

“I look up to Emma so much — we were definitely the closest,” Ahlvin laughed. “I miss her a lot actually, but I do look up to her a lot. Definitely seeing her be the only girl wrestler and then me coming in and having to take that role is like, ‘Wow, she did make a big impact on my life.’ Seeing her win conference champ and everything was amazing.”

Lily, who has only wrestled in eight matches this season and is 5-3 overall, said the start of the season was a little rough for her, but she said she’s no longer scared or worried about the injury. Ahlvin also noted that even though it’s “kind of sad” she’s the only girls wrestler at Notre Dame, she describes her male counterparts as family and like little brothers.

“I love the guys in the room — we’re all real close,” she said. “They don’t really look at me any different since I’m a girl, and I love that. They don’t say anything weird. It’s a little sad to me that there aren’t more girls because I wish we had a bigger girls team like Jackson does. It’s still kind of cool to be the only one and get recognized like this.”

Ahlvin only got into wrestling her freshman year as she used to play multiple sports with softball being a big focus for her. She quit all of it for wrestling and advises any other girl at Notre Dame who might be having the same thoughts to “just do it.”

Lily describes wrestling as incredibly rewarding and can recall the feeling of her very first pin as being like nothing else she’s ever experienced. Ahlvin was motivated to join wrestling by her old coach Damon Dowdy, who had a son wrestle at Notre Dame, Owen Dowdy.

“We were all close with family and stuff, and he was like, ‘Just come in the room and try,’” she recalled. “I was terrified, but my dad was like, ‘Just go in there.’ I did and Emma and all of them were so welcoming. Wrestling is so independent, and I think that’s what I like about it.”

What Ahlvin has found out about herself through wrestling is that she’s much stronger than she thought, considering it’s the only sport she’s played with “blood time,” she laughed. Lily said she’s learned a lot about life in wrestling as well as it’s much more of a mental challenge compared to the other sports she played.

While it’s a very rewarding sport for Ahlvin, she also said it can be tiring since she doesn’t have many matches during the season because of being the only girl on the team. She’s only had eight matches this winter and never more than 20 throughout an entire season.

“I just go to practice, and then the boys get to go off and wrestle,” Lily explained. “I don’t get to go with them because there’s no girls, but it is cool when I have matches. Knowing I get to practice, practice and practice is nice, though, because practice makes permanent.

“If I practice perfect, I’ll be permanent, and that’s what I like about it. I wish I had more matches, but at the end of the day I can’t change anything. I just face what gets put in front of me.”

At practice, Ahlvin is tasked with going up against the boy wrestlers, but she’s been doing this ever since she was a freshman when she had to face an all-state medalist like Owen Dowdy. Lily said this has done wonders for her on the mat since she noted that boys and girls have two different styles.

“Usually I come out fast and strong — I don’t like to sit there and mess with them,” Ahlvin said. “I’ll feel them up for a few seconds and then hit my first move, or they’ll hit theirs, and I’ll react. I’m really fast at reacting — that’s what I think I’m good at — but I’ve definitely gotten faster over the years.”

Lily added that she feels everything in wrestling has to be fast-paced, and this mindset ultimately led her to becoming a SEMO Conference Champion. Ahlvin pinned not one but both of her opponents at conference as neither match went past the second period.

While girls have always been able to wrestle, the Missouri High School Activities Association only officially started girls wrestling as its own sport back in 2018-19. This has allowed wrestlers like Ahlvin across the state to not only flourish on the high school scene, but they also see wrestling as something they could potentially do in college as well.

“I love it, and it’s getting huge, especially seeing all of these colleges getting women’s wrestling,” Ahlvin said. “It’s especially nice seeing teams like Jackson and Sikeston having full girls teams — it’s crazy to see. I love being a part of it and being able to say, ‘I was a girls wrestler when it was getting big.’ When it becomes big, I can say that. I’m excited to see more and more girls try it out.”

While wrestling is something that’s personally fulfilling for her, Ahlvin also hopes that girls can see her in the news and be like, ‘Oh, I want to do that!’ Lily wants to leave the type of legacy that helps girls overcome their own fears of trying out because she was once that girl.

“You can wrestle, and you don’t have to be scared to do it,” she said. “It’s all fun — wrestling should be fun. I think the legacy of what I have achieved being the only girl and winning conference and everything, they can look up to that and try it out. I hope they can look up to me in some way.”

Even though getting hurt again is something that’s on her mind, Ahlvin said she still might try to do the sport collegiately and even visited a school last week. Lily is now focused on the upcoming Class 1 District 1 Tournament in hopes of making it to state for the first time, further cementing herself in Notre Dame wrestling history.

Nick McNeal covers high school sports, college sports and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Cape Girardeau County for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjsports@socket. net.

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