Local Wrestling Phenom Makes History at State Championships

Jayden Smith
McPherson Sentinel

A McPherson Bullpup placed third in the 155 lb. bracket at the KSHSAA Div. II girls’ wrestling State Championships Friday, marking the first time in school history that a female wrestler placed at the tournament.

Holli Giddings (left) picked up a 3-1 win over Lauren Kinsey of Nickerson to advance to the 155 consolation finals — and finished her season with a 33-2 record.

Junior Holli Giddings, the No. 2 ranked wrestler in the division, beat Hailey Horton of Silverlake in the third-place match by fall in less than 45 seconds.

Giddings entered the tournament on a hot streak, with a 30-1 record after placing first at Sub-State on Feb. 19.

Her performance in the 2020-21 season signified a steady climb from when she started wrestling in middle school, especially considering her initial reluctance to even get on the mat.

Holli Giddings competed at the second-ever KSHSAA girls state wrestling championships.

After watching her older brother Caleb wrestle for McPherson in his junior and senior year, Giddings wanted to manage for the team, but she missed the meeting for it.

“Our son gave Caden [Kretzer, a McPherson assistant coach] her number, and he called and he goes, ‘So you’re going to wrestle for me?’” said Giddings’ mother, Cori, with a laugh. “She goes, ‘No, I want to manage,’ and he goes, ‘So you’re going to wrestle for me?”

“And she just goes, ‘Whatever.’”

Beginning in seventh grade, Holli showed promise, but her trajectory as a wrestler was gradually positive. Her parents talked about how she always had been strong and tough, and that she also played softball growing up.

“We had gotten into a couple of tournaments that weren’t school-sanctioned, out-of-state tournaments and everything, and that’s where she really started to grow more into the sport,” Holli’s father, Brandon, said. “Over the last five years, she has grown immensely from where she was to where she is now.”

Part of the reason for her success is the continuity in coaching from middle to high school, as Caden was her head coach in middle school and continued with her as she moved up.

Doug Kretzer, Caden’s father, has been the head coach at McPherson for the last 10 years. He described Giddings as a quiet and focused athlete, who, as a young girl, was always ready to travel with Kretzer’s daughter’s national team and learn about wrestling.

“Usually her demeanor is, ‘Let’s go to work,’ and she’s done a good job,” Doug said. “She’s an upperclassman now, in the past she was an underclassman, so she’s stepped into a leadership role and has kinda taken command of our wrestling room from the girls side of things.”

As a shorter wrestler, Kretzer said Giddings has learned to be patient and strike when necessary, which has led to much of her success.

A student of the game, Giddings began her high school career with an above-average freshman year and a 17-13 record. She improved dramatically in her sophomore season, finishing with a 28-7 record and posting two wins during last year’s state tournament.

Heading into this past season, Giddings knew she wanted to make it into the tournament and contend for a championship, despite the uncertainties regarding the current pandemic.

She did not wrestle with Team Kansas, a national team, in the summer as she normally does, and could only train during her high school practices with one girl that matched her weight class. She found ways around those difficulties, however, often working with the boys’ team.

Her work ethic showed through her historic season, as she became one of the few wrestlers in school history to achieve 30 wins.

Giddings’ only loss of the season happened on Jan. 15, when Andover Central’s Jaquelyn Tschohl pinned Giddings to the floor in the first period at an invitational in Abilene.

Immediately after the match ended, she went up to her parents and said, “I’m not losing again,” according to Cori.

She used her anguish to fuel the next part of the season, as she went on to win her district and Sub-State.

“After she had beat me, it hurt a lot because I wanted to go undefeated this year, and that’s how I wanted to come into State,” Giddings said.

Both her parents, Giddings, and head coach Doug Kretzer all had high expectations going into Friday’s tournament.

She had already faced and beaten most of the opponents that were in her bracket, but she knew that she could not take those previous wins for granted.

During the quarterfinals, Giddings recovered from a shaky start to defeat Daniela Kozacova, of Baldwin High, by fall and secure a top-4 finish.

In the semifinal round, however, her dreams of a state championship were dashed after Oskaloosa’s Allyson King held on late to win 9-3.

“Right after that match, I cried,” Giddings said. “I got really upset, because that’s where I wanted to be this year, was first or second. I just calmed myself down, I went and talked to my family, and I just knew that if I didn’t get my head in the right place, I wasn’t going to do as well as I wanted to.”

She then outlasted Lauren Kinsey, from Nickerson, needing three extra overtime periods to win the tiebreaker 3-1 and advance to the third place match, where she quickly dispatched Horton.

After the pindown, Giddings jumped up and fist pumped the air, smiling nonstop for several minutes while embracing her coaches and family.

“It felt really good,” she said. “It’s something that I needed after the last match I had, that went into overtime. It’s something I needed after a loss and a match like that.”

She ended her season with a 33-2 record, becoming one of the few in school history to achieve such a mark.

Giddings has received looks from local Central College, Friends University, and Baker University, but is still undecided on her future plans regarding wrestling in college.

Regardless, she has plenty to look forward to next season.

— Jayden Smith can be reached at jjsmith@gannett.com