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Democrat Photo by Jeanne Sager

LAUREN MICHAUD, LEFT, and teammate Andrea Stabak, right, have formed a lifelong friendship on the mats as the only two girls on the Liberty wrestling team.

In a Boys' World,
They're Tough Enough

By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY — February 14, 2003 – Lauren Michaud and Andrea Stabak aren’t looking for attention.
They just want to compete.
They want a fair fight, and they want to be ranked right up there with the boys.
The Liberty teens are the only two girls wrestling under Coach John Lennon. In fact, they are a rarity in the OCIAA National Conference in which they wrestle – at a recent tournament involving approximately 10 schools, they were the only girls on the roster.
But after three years on the mats, the girls are starting to hold their own.
Michaud has successfully pinned three boys in matches this year (neither girl won a single competition their first year), and Stabak captured a state ranking in her weight class at an all-girl tournament in Schenectady last year.
Michaud, 16, a junior at LCS, joined the wrestling team to prove herself.
“I always wanted to show guys that a girl could do this,” she said.
On day one, Michaud met Stabak, now 17 and a senior.
Stabak originally joined with a friend who was afraid to jump into the ring alone. But that girl quit after her first season. Stabak’s still here.
“I watched her that day, and I just fell in love with it,” Stabak explained.
They met with a lot of opposition that first year – from guys on the team, guys on rival teams and coaches across the board.
“They were horrible to us,” Michaud recalled. “But the past two years, things have been much better.”
“They consider us part of the team now,” Stabak added. “I think we’ve gotten some more respect from other teams.
“There are still some teams and coaches that don’t like us, but they’re more used to it.”
And Lennon is the best coach they could have asked for, the girls added.
Does he treat them differently? Absolutely, they said.
“He spoils us,” Michaud said with a laugh.
Talking with other female wrestlers, Stabak discovered few coaches will set up matches for the girls on their teams.
“Never Lennon,” she said. “He says, ‘You’re part of the team, no different.’”
Starting out, Michaud added, Lennon was always very supportive.
“It really wasn’t a problem because I’ve had others girls on my team before when we were combined with Jeff,” Lennon said. “I’m more than willing to have girls come out as long as it’s for the right reasons, and these two girls did.”
Stabak and Michaud have grown a lot in the past three years, Lennon said. They’ve developed thick hides to deal with comments from male chauvinists who tell them to go back into the kitchen.
And they’ve worked to develop their techniques. Stabak toned her body to fit into the 145-pound weight class, where she could be more competitive.
Michaud confesses that she loves to eat, but when she’s down in the 125-pound weight class, she has the strength and ability to be a competitor to be reckoned with.
“This year they’ve had to check some of their milestones,” Lennon said. “My expectations have risen after three years, and they’re having a hard time dealing with that.
“They’re very mature girls,” Lennon said. “They definitely came to wrestle.”
If other coaches were as open to females joining their squads, Lennon said, there might be a greater demand for girl matches.
“If more coaches propagated it, more girls would join, and they would have other girls to compete against,” he explained. “But it’s a tough sport, and they’re going to have to make their own way.”
Michaud and Stabak are currently working toward the all-girl tournament in Binghamton later this month. There they will compete against the best of the best female wrestlers in the state, having honed their techniques in practice at home in the Liberty gym against the boys.
The girls who attend that tournament, Lennon said, are true competitors, and Stabak and Michaud’s rankings mark their real talents.
“These other girls are good wrestlers,” he said. “They’re not going there as slouchers.”
But the Liberty girls should do well, he said.
“Wrestling is a tough sport, for girls and guys,” Lennon explained. “It’s about how much effort you put into it.
“They’ve been great to work with, and I’m really proud of them.”
With Stabak looking to graduate in the fall and attend SUNY Potsdam, a best friendship formed on the mats will have to grapple with a long-distance break. Stabak, the daughter of Ron and Patti Stabak, will focus on her studies and give up wrestling.
“College is an extreme level,” she explained. “But this is a great sport.
“I almost didn’t do it this year, and if I hadn’t, I know I would regret it,” Stabak continued. “There’s just something that pulls you back.”
Michaud doesn’t intend to give up just yet. She’s looking forward to a fourth year on the team.
The daughter of Luci and Stephen Castellano, Michaud was “the kind of girl who would roll around in the dirt, climb trees and play with GI Joes” when she was a kid. And she’s still looking to prove she’s as good as any guy.
After that, she said with a laugh, “I plan to be a rock star.”
Stabak said she’s not really as tomboyish, but she’s definitely not a “girly girl.” But she’s gained a lot from the wrestling team.
“I can do a real push-up now,” she said with a laugh.
“And we made a lot of friends on and off the team,” Michaud added.
As for any naysayers out there, the girls just don’t care anymore. They’re on the team to win matches, not a popularity contest.
And they’re holding their own.
“We kick ass,” Michaud said with a laugh.

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