By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on March 27, 2021
While wrestling is increasingly gaining ground in women’s sports, in most corners of the country it’s yet to be seen as a mainstream sport among girls who are exploring what athletic avenues to pursue. But here on the Outer Banks, two young women – Reagan Riddick and Brooke Zak – are dominating on the mat at not just the local level, but at the state and national level as well.
Riddick, a sophomore at First Flight High School, and Zak, who is a freshman at Currituck High School, are in Iowa this weekend (March 27 and 28) to compete against female wrestlers from all over the country in the 2021 USA Wrestling National High School Recruiting Showcase and the 2021 United States Marine Corps Folkstyle Nationals.
“This is a really big tournament and a good chance to get some exposure for them against top girls in the country,” Zak’s father, Ben Zak, told the Voice. The two wrestlers “find the toughest competitions and they learn from them and they do a lot of winning…and then they find some really tough girls, and learn from them, too.”
Riddick and Zak, have become fast friends and training partners over the past few years as they’ve piled up wrestling achievements, travelling several times a week to the Alchemy Wrestling Club in Chesapeake, Va. to train and competing at the state and national level.
Riddick, who before wrestling was a champion Tae Kwon Do competitor, is the 2020 North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) 2A Women’s 120-pound State Champion. Also in 2020, she was the first female freshman wrestler in the state to ever qualify for the NCHSAA Men’s State Championships. Riddick brought home the 2019 and 2017 State Championship in middle school and is a three-time champ during the National United Wrestling Association for Youth (NUWAY) Summer Nationals.
As for Zak, an accomplished runner and multiple weightlifting recordholder, she was named MVP of her middle school wrestling team in 2020 and even with being injured and missing half of her season, she placed second in the conference. In 2020, she placed first in the Guerilla Open in Virginia as well as the 2020 Bear Weekend in Tennessee, where she received the outstanding high school wrestler award. She’s also brought home championship titles from the Virginia Duals and NUWAY Summer Nationals.
Riddick said she first became interested in wrestling in fifth grade, after watching her younger brother practice. She recalls his coach at the time inviting her to come out on the mat. “I wrestled his son, and his son threw me on my neck, and I told him, ‘I’m gonna do that to one day.’”
On her high school team, Riddick said, the guys treat her just like any other teammate, noting that she has learned to adapt her wrestling depending on the gender of her opponent.
“When I go to national competitions and wrestle girls, it’s a whole different setting for me because I’m used to wrestling guys,” she said, adding that while guys are typically stronger, girls are more flexible and quicker during matches.
More generally speaking, Riddick noted that “wrestling definitely has made me a more confident person, I can easily talk to people…Wrestling just gave me a huge mental advantage. It just changes everything for me.”
Before a match, Riddick says she focuses on keeping calm. “I don’t go out there wrestling out of anger or emotion because then I wrestle messy. If I wrestle like how I do in practice, I’ve wrestled a good match.”
Her father, Todd Riddick, notes that she doesn’t go to tournaments just because there’s a girl’s bracket, but only goes to tournaments where she’ll be faced with good competition and “she’s going to have to fight.”
Zak, who also plays soccer and runs track for Currituck, told the Voice in an email that she was excited to see how women’s wrestling is growing so quickly, but she noted that it still requires a lot of travel since there are no girls’ tournaments close by.
“I really like how wrestling is an individual sport,” Zak noted, adding that she appreciates the willpower and determination it takes. “You still have all the support from your teammates and friends, but when you get out on the mat, it’s just you and the other person.”
“The main thing that keeps me motivated is always wanting to get better,” explained Zak. “I enjoy competing in other states so I can wrestle the top girls…you don’t always win, but it’s always a learning experience.”
Ben Zak said his daughter fell in love with the sport several years ago after watching her cousin compete in a tournament in Great Bridge, Va., a tournament Riddick was also competing in. “She had a good time watching the wrestling,” he said. “But she also saw a lot of girls there who were crushing a lot of boys and realized she could do it, too.”
“Brooke competes in weightlifting, soccer and running so she had all the tools to be a good wrestler,” he added. “She’s excelled at it, which makes it a lot of fun.”
As the two local wrestling champs move into the NCHSAA wrestling season next month, Riddick is the highest ranked girls wrestling sophomore in the state and Zak, the highest ranked freshman. Noting the significance of their rankings, Ben Zak adds proudly: “That’s pound for pound, not just in their weight class.”