Justin Northwest is now the third wrestling program in the state to name a woman as the head coach of its boy's program.
Jessica Fresh, the 5A Assistant Girls Coach of the Year, earned that honor after Dan McCready, who coached the Texans for eight years, announced he was leaving Northwest to take over at Frisco’s Lebanon Trail. Last season was Fresh's first year at the school.
Fresh has previous coaching experience at the collegiate level, too, so the progression wasn’t a stretch.
Now, Fresh becomes just the third permanent female coach to direct a boys wrestling program in Texas.
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The others are Matiana Wiley at Grand Prairie and Katy Taylor’s Ashley Campos.
Both local coaches wrestled in high school – Fresh in Iowa and Wiley at South Grand Prairie.
The obvious questions aren’t a concern for either coach.
“Like with any person,” Fresh explained, “show me respect and I’ll show you respect. I can teach them something. I can teach them wrestling and how to be a better person."
Wiley, who is also the girls athletic coordinator, said the opportunity allowed her to continue to be a part of the sport she grew to love. While she never envisioned taking over the boys’ team, the chance to break a barrier and set an example for other women was too great to pass up.
“I wanted to set an example of being capable of doing the same thing as men,” Wiley said. “Why can’t leadership be based on the ability to lead rather than gender? I think there’s a lack of female coaches in all sports.”
Fresh, an Iowa native, went on to compete at Waldorf University in Forest City, IA, and was a standout wrestler there, becoming a three-time Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association (WCWA) All-American. She later became a graduate assistant at Wldorf.
A 2012 Olympic Trials qualifier, Fresh took on the task of training for mixed martial arts after her collegiate career.
“I missed the competition. Something was missing,” she said. “It was more of a hobby but something where I could better myself physically. It was the ultimate challenge and a way to use my best skills of wrestling.”
She fought six MMA matches but said her focus is now on her head coaching responsibilities and continuing the trajectory of the Northwest program.
Last season, in addition to the state assistant coaching honors, she helped four Texans place at the state tournament. Among them, was repeat state champion Mike Kumlien, voted Most Outstanding Wrestler of the 5A tournament. Andrena Carter was also a state champion for Northwest. Kumlien will wrestle at Northeastern Oklahoma while Carter will compete for Wayland Baptist.
Both DFW coaches said their hiring wasn’t fraught with questions about how they would be able to handle oversight of a boys program.
“It wasn’t a big issue about whether I was coaching boys, but more of whether I could handle the behind-the-scenes tasks like UIL (regulations) and the administrative side,” Fresh said.
Wiley said the principal knew she could take over the program as they saw what she could do as an assistant coach. She noted that 100 percent of her girls have gone to state.
“There are a lot of people that are supportive and just care about supporting wrestling – for boys and girls,” Wiley said.
Any awkwardness is managed by setting the expectations, the coaches said.
“The boys are not allowed to take their shirt off, be presentable and no sexist or gender comments, like ‘you wrestle like a girl’,” Wiley said. “It’s just setting expectations and it doesn’t become an issue.
“When you increase communication and you’re very clear about what the expectations, goals and vision are for the program, you get them to trust you.”