At the end of every wrestling practice, Kaylyn Harrill finds a practice dummy to toss around.
Over and over, the inanimate training partner soars high into the air before crashing back down to the mat as the Fremont-area sixth-grader bends over backward to ensure its shoulders land squarely on the mat.
The reasoning is simple.
“I want to be able to do that move in that match and nobody else is working hard, so I might as well,” Kaylyn said.
At 12 years old, Harrill may be one of best girl wrestlers in the state before wrestling at the high school level.
In the past year alone, she has become a high school All-American and national champion while earning a spot on the Nebraska AAU High School National team, which will compete at the prestigious Disney Scholastic Wrestling duals this summer.
Kaylyn was introduced to the sport at just 4 years old.
Growing up in Creighton, Nebraska, there were not many options for athletic pursuits, and with her older-brother-by-a-year Tyler signing up to wrestle, Kaylyn wanted to give the sport a try.
“My parents were like, yeah, you can try it but we aren’t going to buy you any shoes or anything in case you quit because they didn’t think I’d like it,” Kaylyn said.
Eight years later and enough medals to overflow the trophy case, both Kaylyn and Tyler are still going strong on the mat.
“She has always loved it, but this past year, she has really come into her own as a wrestler,” Kim Harrill, Kaylyn’s mother, said.
It helps when Kaylyn’s favorite part is “getting my hand raised at the end of the matches,” and she has done that a lot lately.
This past season while wrestling around the 100-pound mark depending on the tournament, Kaylyn won the USAW Preseason Nationals championship, the AAU Wrestling Winter national championship, the RMN Strike Zone Championship in addition to being named outstanding wrestler at the tournament.
She also had a third-place finish at the Tulsa Kick-Off tournament.
In her home state, Kaylyn has run through the competition, winning the NEUSA District 5 tournament, the AAU and the NEUSA Middle School state championship and the AAU High School girls state championship. She also had a runner-up finish competing in the boys NEUSA state tournament.
The growth coincides with joining a new gym — The Best Wrestler just outside of Council Bluffs.
“I’ve learned so much since I’ve switched,” Kaylyn said.
The gym, which opened in August, clocks in at just over an hour away from Fremont, making for long morning and evening commutes because they practice five days a week.
“She is so dedicated, she never misses practices,” coach Ivan Ivanov said. “We have morning workouts at 5:50 a.m. … she never misses practices, and that tells me how dedicated she is.”
Kaylyn’s rise also matches the projection of girls wrestling as a sport nation-wide with Nebraska High Schools offering the sport for the past two years and the NSAA nearing a vote to possibly sanction it.
“It’s been pretty awesome,” Kaylyn said. “There used to barely be any girls and now we can have full girl divisions, full brackets and everything.”
This summer as a sixth-grader on a team for high schoolers, Kaylyn will represent Nebraska in Florida as part of the AAU High School National team.