January 24, 2018

Ayres Making Impact for PHS Wrestling, Showing that Girls Can Thrive on the Mat

GIRL POWER: Princeton High freshman wrestler Chloe Ayres, top, takes control in a recent bout. Ayres, one of two girls on the PHS squad along with sophomore Jasmine Aizley, has emerged as a solid performer at 106 pounds for the Little Tigers. Ayres and her PHS teammates will be looking to step up as they compete in the Mercer County Tournament from January 26-27 at Robbinsville. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Chloe Ayres started running competitively in the third grade, but harbored a desire to take up a new athletic pursuit by the time she got to middle school.

With her father, Chris Ayres, having served as the head coach of the Princeton University wrestling team since 2006, Ayres had spent a lot of time around the sport and decided to get on the mat.

“I didn’t really see a lot of girls in the sport, so it was hard to see where I would fit in. I didn’t really see it as an option for me,” said Ayres.

“My parents noticed that I had been sitting on the mat and watching my younger brother at the Princeton Wrestling Club (PWC) and coming to all of his practices and they were ‘hey do you want to give it a try’ and I said ‘yeah.’”

It didn’t take long for Ayres to develop an affinity for the family sport. “The summer going into eighth grade is when I started doing sessions with my dad and practicing with him as much as possible,” said Ayres. “I really just fell in love with sport; I loved the feeling of being out on the mat and competing.”

This winter, freshman Ayres has been competing for the Princeton High wrestling team, emerging as a solid performer at 106 pounds.

While Ayres was initially uneasy about joining the PHS squad, she has been welcomed with open arms.

“I was really nervous because going into high school, you don’t really know how people are going to take it,” said Ayres.

“There was already a girl on the team (sophomore Jasmine Aizley) and everyone was super accepting. All of the captains are really nice. The coach (Rashone Johnson) was very welcoming, and it felt very natural. It was a good transition; it was them being very supportive and helping me feel comfortable in competing.”

As the season has progressed, Ayres has become more comfortable on the mat.

“I was not expecting anything out of it because I haven’t been wrestling for very long,” said Ayres, who will be looking to step up along with her PHS teammates as they compete in the Mercer County Tournament from January 26-27 at Robbinsville.

“I was super nervous for the first match. It was ‘alright, this guy probably knows what he is doing.’ In the beginning of the season I wasn’t as confident when wrestling. I have gotten more comfortable with wrestling guys. It is ‘hey, why not, just give it your best shot.’ I have been more successful now than I was in the beginning of the season.”

Having enjoyed a successful debut campaign for the PHS girls cross country team this fall gave Ayres a boost of confidence.

“The persistence that it takes to go through a cross country course and push yourself for that long obviously helps,” said Ayres.

“I wasn’t expecting to run as well as I did this year. It gave me more confidence going into wrestling that I was able to compete at this level. What I really enjoy about the two sports is that you are on your own, you can’t blame anyone for anything that happens on the mat or on the course. It is all you and the work you have put into the sport.”

The endurance that Ayres developed from cross country has helped her push harder on the mat.

“I haven’t had a lot of experience in matches, so the stamina that I have built up from cross country is a huge asset in my wrestling,” said Ayres. “I don’t get tired as fast, so that has been super helpful. Also, my dad is great in helping me with technique, so that really helps a lot.”

Seeing Ayres embrace wrestling has been made her father very proud. “Even though I am a wrestling coach, I never envisioned my daughter doing it,” said coach Ayres.

“It is great for me. With cross country, I can’t help her. I watch but there is not much I can really say. With wrestling, I can watch and help her. She comes in and we work together when she has time. We will watch a match and then we will go into the Princeton room and work on things that she needs to work on.

Having the sport as a common bond has led to more quality father-daughter time for the Ayres.

“We have connected on a higher level,” said Ayres. “I am so busy with wrestling, it is part of both of our lives now so it is really cool to be able to spend the time together.”

That connection paid dividends last Sunday as Ayres took third at 116 pounds competing for PWC at the USA Wrestling’s New Jersey girls’ state championship meet.

“I love wrestling against girls, it is super fun to see other girls in the sport and build a community,” said Ayres, reflecting on her experience at the competition. “I was super excited to have that opportunity.”

Last week, Ayres got a special opportunity to influence the girls wrestling community as she appeared on the Today Show for a feature regarding the Wrestle Like a Girl program, founded by Sally Roberts, a World Bronze Medalist in women’s wrestling, to help girls and women across the United States get more opportunities to participate in wrestling.

“It was cool to be able to talk about what I have gotten from the sport and encourage girls to give it a try,” said Ayres.

Having gotten a lot from wrestling over the last two years, Ayres is looking forward to see how far she can go in the sport.

“I am hoping to progress, but I am not sure how that is going to go; I am just going to take it one step at a time,” said Ayres, who hopes to compete in the U.S. women’s junior nationals in Fargo, N.D. this spring.

“I am excited about the next few years because I am a pretty young wrestler so I have a lot of time to get better and improve.”