Dominated by male athletes, wrestling is hardly a sport most women succeed in, but don't tell Waynesville's Lauren Webber.
In Tacoma, Wash., Webber began wrestling as one of four freshman females at Franklin Pierce High before her military father, Shane, was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood.
“I got here and it was just me,” Lauren said, “I was like, 'Oh, this works'.”
A background in gymnastics gave Lauren an immediate edge in flexibility and agility, and she jumped right in, wrestling any takers from day one.
“I'll wrestle a girl the same way I'll wrestle a guy,” she explained. “There's no gender barrier.”
Earlier in the season, Webber stepped in to wrestle for an overweight Charles McNeal and inspired her entire team. Down 7-4 in the final round against Nixa opponent Lane Reppond, she wriggled from the bottom position and turned Reppond to his back and won by pin fall with just seconds remaining.
After her arm was raised as victor, Tiger teammates welcomed Lauren to the team bench with smiles. With tears in her eyes Webber recalled that experience, which was her first varsity win.
“That was enormous,” she said. “I was so glad about it. I was talking to Charles and it was just this huge embrace that we had. He was like, 'You saved me!' And I was like, 'I won!'”
She then ran to her father and, with a heartwarming hug, relished in her moment of wrestling glory.
Overjoyed and struggling to speak, she simply said, “It was great,” especially since her father can't always watch his daughter compete.
“I was absolutely proud of her,” Shane said. “The whole crowd was getting up and stomping on the bleachers and when she won, I couldn't believe it. A standing ovation in a wrestling tournament – that's not often heard of.”
Her father, who also wrestled in high school, recognized Lauren's wrestling intuitiveness as uncanny, especially under the tutelage of Waynesville's coaching staff.
“She has boomed since we came to Waynesville,” Shane said.
And with the help of Coach Jeff Davis and his assistants, Lauren takes pride in defeating young men.
In Washington, Lauren even took a defending state champion three rounds and lost by a one point decision. Afterward, she couldn't help but jump up and down in celebration (which earned her a little heat from her coaches).
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“Throughout the match, even [her opponent's] coach was offering her advice,” Shane said.
Perhaps it is that exact drive that motivates Lauren to succeed in a sport where women aren't always successful.
“I've had guys walk off the mat crying, but a lot of times I'll be nervous,” she said. “But then I look at them and realize he might be weak in this area and I'll try to work on his weaknesses.”
She also acknowledged that there is always room to improve and is looking forward the the season's outcome.