Second-year Michigan team wins girls state; unites veteran coach and sport’s newcomers

Updated: February 19, 2020

Photo : Women’s lead coach Rick Kacher led a second-year program with nine girls to the first-ever Michigan Wrestling Association state title. The perspective from the long-time veteran boys coach Kacher on his enjoyment in coaching the girls team: “In all my years of coaching, no male wrestler ever came to practice with a plate of cookies just to say thank you for being his coach!”

Written by Mike Finn

Rick Kacher had heard Forest Hills Central High wrestling coach Brad Anderson speak many times about starting a girls wrestling program at the Michigan school considering the head man had three girls of his own.

“I told him he ought to start one,” said Kacher.

Little did the 70-year-old Kacher — the owner of the Adam Takedown Machine — realize that Anderson would make him responsible for turning a group of novice wrestlers into a team … and eventually lead them to the Michigan Wrestling Association’s state championship on Feb. 1.

“(Anderson) asked me to coach it because I was his coach and he knows my background of coaching for over 40 years,” said Kacher.

But Kacher, a native of Waterloo, Iowa, and former West High School teammate of Dan Gable, had never coached girls before nine females showed up for their first practice two years ago.

And less than two years later, many of those girls from the first team joined five other girls and together finished first among 154 teams at the state tournament that was held at Adrian (Mich.) College.

“The outcome surprised me because I didn’t expect really anything,” said Kacher.

But what makes this story more important than a state championship banner that will eventually hang in Forest Hills Central’s home gymnasium, a championship trophy and plenty of successful memories for nine young women … is that it is happening at a time when many high school are starting programs and state associations sanctioning state tournaments.

Anderson, who has served as FHC head boys coach for 15 years, said a conversation with Jayla Williams, the homecoming queen of this suburban high school near Grand Rapids, Mich., played a big part in starting a girls team.

“I told Jayla that if she could recruit ten of her friends, I would build a girls-specific schedule for them and find or create opportunities for them to compete in as a team,” said Anderson. “We’ve had young ladies on our (boys) roster before, but what we wanted to build was new, a girls team within our ranks that participated against other young lady wrestlers. Jayla brought nine girls to the wrestling room on the first day of practice and the rest is history.”

But like many of these emerging high school teams around the country, someone had to deal with the day-to-day needs of a girls team.

“(Kacher) has forgotten more about wrestling than most people know about the sport,” Anderson, 38, said. “There was no one better to lead these young ladies than Coach Kacher. He’s tough but he has a big heart.”

Along with assistant coaches Michael Moore, Kelsey Eisen, and former Michigan State wrestling letter-winner Matt Becker (who specialized in helping the ladies), as well as with support from staff members Dan Anderson, Mitch Hrnyak, Derrick Jacobs, & Rasoul Solati, Kacher endeavored to build the corps of Lady Rangers into a force to be reckoned with.

Hovering over them at the east end of the wrestling room Kacher would cajole, joke, point, and call out moves. Even though most of the ladies were new to the sport, Kacher demanded the same he would out of a veteran wrestler. He set a standard and the girls answered the call.

Only two of the girls had any family members who had wrestled before.

“You teach them like you do a youth program except that they are 15 to 17 years old,” said Kacher. “First, you show them the base for wrestling and then you show them some common moves like a double, high-crotch, single-leg; just basic standard moves. If you have those things in order, you don’t need anything else.

“They are very intelligent girls, many in the National Honors Society. And they were already athletes who were participating in girls swimming, water polo, soccer and track.

“I asked them why they wanted to do it and they said they just wanted to try it.”

After the season, Hannah Becker — the daughter of assistant coach Matt Becker, who finished second in this year’s state tournament at 107 pounds and will wrestle at NCAA Div. II Davenport University (which is starting a women’s program) — told the local media that she was actually afraid of Kacher when they first connected two years ago.

Kacher had no idea.

“I didn’t know that (the girls) were dealing with anything so I didn’t try to change anything in how I coached,” Kacher said. “I’m a disciplinarian on the mat. I bark loud a few times. If I don’t see something done right, it’s all about repetition. We are going to keep doing it until we get it right. It might be boring, but if (the girls had) only see a hundred (double-leg takedowns), I’ve seen a million.”

Kacher said he wanted the girls to feel like they were part of the overall wrestling program at Forest Hills Central High.

“You have to provide them a safe environment, including providing their own locker room,” Kacher said. “But really you coach them the same, you treat them the same. Don’t make any exceptions.”

Three girls placed in the state tournament for a second straight year — sisters Sarah and Rachel Schnenk finished third and seventh, respectively — but were thrilled to hear that a team champion would be crowned in 2020.

“Everyone had a role to play,” Kacher said. “We had girls win one match that weren’t supposed to. We had a young lady who was sick up until a few days before and we weren’t sure if she was going to compete. These girls made a great memory that they won’t ever forget.”

Kacher and Anderson hope that the Michigan High School Athletic Association, which gave the tournament its blessing and provided team trophies like those at the boys tournament, will eventually make girls wrestling a varsity sport and sanction a state tournament.

“Girls wrestling is a part of our collective future,” Anderson said. “Some of our most progressive leaders saw that early on and we appreciate their vision and initiative. It’s a team effort here in Michigan.”

“Girls wrestling is the fastest growing sport in America,” Kacher added. “Why wouldn’t you want your sons and daughters learning about toughness, discipline and hard work? Homecoming kings and homecoming queens alike can learn some pretty valuable life lessons right here (in the wrestling room).”


(This article appeared in the Feb. 2020 issue of WIN, which was just published. Click HERE to subscribe to WIN and get the February issue in print, type “FEBRUARY” in the notes area.)