Skip to main content


John’s Journal: History Is Made At State Wrestling Tournament

Northfield’s Caley Graber Becomes First Female To Win Vs. Males And Take Home A Medal

Posted: Saturday, March 2, 2024 - 4:41 PM


Caley Graber competes in one of her five matches at the state wrestling tournament.


Caley Graber.

In February 2009 I drove to Luverne High School for a section wrestling tournament. The focus for me was a sophomore who weighed around 100 pounds. Her name was Elissa Reinsma, and the wrestler from Murray County Central made history that day by becoming the first female to qualify for the state wrestling tournament.

There is a direct line from Elissa competing in the 2009 state tournament (and again in 2011) to what transpired this weekend at Xcel Energy Center during the 2024 tourney. Elissa ended up advancing to state twice; next in that line was Emily Shilson, who went to state three times while wrestling for Centennial and Mounds View before graduating in 2019. Neither Elissa nor Emily won a match at state.

Reinsma was honored prior to the state championship matches in 2022, called to the center mat as the big crowd gave her a roaring ovation. And before Saturday’s first matches, Shilson was honored in similar fashion.

This is the third year in which girls-only competition has been held in Minnesota section wrestling tournaments as well as state. The spark that girls have added to the sport cannot be understated. Around 250 Minnesota girls competed on their high school wrestling teams in 2021-22, that number climbed to 550 in 2022-23 and in 2023-24 more than a thousand girls competed. And it’s probably no coincidence that the number of male wrestlers has also increased.

Girls wrestling will surely continue to grow, as evidenced by the girls-only competition at the 2024 state tournament. This year there are 13 weight classes for girls in Minnesota, with eight advancing to state in each division. The boys also have 13 classes, with 16 reaching state.

At some point, 16 females will go to state and again, at some point, there is likely to be team competition for girls, as the boys have done since 1938.

The new age of wrestling in Minnesota is exemplified by Northfield sophomore Caley Graber. Even with the addition of girls-only competition, females remain able to wrestle against boys if they choose to do so. Caley, who won the 100-pound state title at the girls tournament in 2023, chose to compete exclusively with boys this season, and the results are more than impressive.

She came to state – wrestling at 107 pounds in Class 3A – with a record of 38-4 and only one loss against a wrestler from Minnesota. Standing on the shoulders of Reinsma and Shilson, Graber became the first female to record a win against a male opponent in individual competition at state, which she did on Friday. And a few hours later she won again, which put her into Saturday’s semifinals.

She came to state this year with a goal of reaching the podium, and she accomplished that goal with the two wins on Friday. After losing in the semifinals as well as in a consolation-round opener on Saturday, she won the fifth-place match with a 7-0 win against Mounds View sophomore Owen LaRose (Caley had defeated Owen 5-2 in Friday’s quarterfinals).

Fittingly, Graber’s final match of the season took place on a mat that had the words “Northfield” and “Raiders” running down the sides (all eight mats used at state each year are brand new and shipped to their new homes after the tournament).

As the final seconds of the fifth-place match ticked off, Northfield coach Geoff Staab hollered from the corner, “That’s the way to finish the season!”

I asked Caley if she has heard comparisons between herself and Iowa women's basketball star Caitlin Clark.

"I've heard a couple people actually say that," she said. "It's amazing to be compared to someone of that level."

Also competing against boys this year was Anoka junior Gabrielle Bragg, who wrestled twice in the same weight class as Graber and lost both matches.

Staab said that before the season began, Caley was contemplating competing exclusively against boys. The early returns clinched it.

“We were talking about it in the beginning of the year,” he said. “I asked her what she was thinking, and she was like, ‘Let’s see how the season goes.’ Then she went out and dominated her first tournament and beat a couple of really good kids. I knew she was going to go against boys from there on out.”

Graber’s only loss to a Minnesota wrestler during the regular season came at the Rumble on the Red tournament in Fargo, where she lost in overtime to Shakopee eighth-grader Anthony Heim. They met again Saturday in the consolation bracket, and again Heim won in overtime, on a tiebreaker.

Being in the spotlight as a female competing against males surely adds pressure, right?

“There is a little bit of pressure,” said Caley, who is the middle child in her family between brothers Riley and Jacob. “I'm one of the only girls here at this tournament, but also I'm just coming out here wrestling for myself. There's really not a ton of expectations.”

She is accustomed to pressure and competition in multiple sports. Graber also is a high-level cross-country athlete, having run at the MSHSL state championships the last three years. She finished 44th as an eighth-grader, 36th as a ninth-grader and 45th last fall.

Cross-country and wrestling are similar in the amount of dedication and perseverance that is required. And the results extend far beyond who wins.

“I love the camaraderie that comes out of it, being with my friends,” Caley said. “I love being able to push myself and my hard work determines how well I get to do.

“Wrestling helps a lot with mental toughness. Because in wrestling, you know, that's a big part of those matches. You can win before you even step on the mat.”

She has two seasons of high school eligibility remaining, but her goals extend beyond graduation. She wants to become a world champion, and who can doubt her?

Asked what makes her a good wrestler, Caley said, “I think my work ethic, definitely. I have plenty of coaches and great practice partners and my parents and my brothers. Without them I definitely wouldn't be where I am today.”

--To read about Elissa Reinsma, click here:…

--MSHSL senior content creator John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

Next Article

Boys Swimming and Diving State Meet: Finals Recap