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State champ Witt adds to medal collection


March has been quite the month for Savannah Witt.

The Palisades High School junior made history earlier this month when she became the first PIAA girls state champion in the 118-pound weight class, defeating Butler senior Ana Malovich 13-7.

Witt went on the offensive early, taking Malovich down 15 seconds into the match. She was able to take Malovich down once again late in the first period. En route to her victory, Witt ended up in danger at times, but she was able to escape and counter Malovich’s moves.

When the referee raised her right arm, declaring her the winner, she let out a massive smile – one filled with joy and relief.

“It was just so much stress that went away and I was just so happy it was over,” Witt said. “I was happy for myself and I think I made my parents and my teammates proud. Obviously beating everyone is great but this match was a better opponent and one that meant a little more to me. It was a more honorable win.”

Wrestling Witt for six minutes is a tough task. Her victory in Hershey, at the Giant Center, was the culmination of her season. She finished with a perfect 31-0 record.

“It was really cool to be a part of that whole process,” Witt said. “I didn’t really think that I was ever going to get to this point, that I was going to be able to wrestle in a PIAA state tournament. It was shocking. But once it (winning gold) happened, it felt pretty good.”

In a quick turnaround, Witt headed to Tallinn, Estonia, to compete in the Tallinn Open as one of 10 members representing the United States. Wrestling against “better competition,” an aspect she noted she was looking forward to, Witt brought home bronze in the 55kg weight class on Saturday, March 23 after a 10-0 technical fall over Adelina Bondarenko of Ukraine.

Witt is wrestling better than ever before. Her physicality and strength, two of her best attributes, were forged from the challenges of wrestling boys all her life. She wasn’t always this much of a formidable wrestler, however.

In fact, Witt was close to giving up wrestling. It’s not that she didn’t like the sport; she loved it. But she had her struggles in elementary school and thought those struggles could continue into the sixth grade. She was working just as hard – if not harder – as the boys and wasn’t seeing her desired success. It was tough for her.

“I told myself before I had to join the middle school program, ‘I don’t think I want to continue,”’ Witt said.

She never liked to use the excuse, “It’s because I’m a girl.” But eventually, she realized that, as she got older, perhaps that was a reason success wasn’t translating to the mat.

“There were definitely times it was super, super discouraging,” Witt said. “I would do privates with coaches, I would do my lifts multiple days a week to try to keep up with my strength. It was definitely discouraging, especially as I got older trying to keep up with the guys.”

Witt’s coaches convinced her to stay, but those doubts lingered into her seventh grade year. Still, she stayed – and she realized she wasn’t the only one going through what she was feeling.

As Witt entered her freshman year of high school, girls wrestling was becoming widespread. Midway through her first year at Palisades, the doubts that she had about wrestling, and specifically the idea that she wasn’t able to keep up with the boys, could be put to bed because of a revelation – the school was approved to form its own girls wrestling team.

“My freshman year, right away when I stepped into the room my coach (Nick LaFevre) was awesome,” Witt said. “He told me his plans like, ‘I want to get a girls team.’ We had a team of 10 girls, and when you put it into perspective, we had like 13, 14, maybe 15 guys on the team at the time. Our school is pretty small and we had 10 girls so it was cool.”

Growing up wrestling boys allowed Witt to face tougher opponents, ultimately making her transition to wrestling girls almost full time quite easy. She’s been dominating since her arrival at Palisades.

In the 2021-2022 season, Witt amassed an impressive 25-8, 19-pin record and won the 2022 girls state championship. The following year, she was the runner-up at the girls state tournament. A couple months later, in May 2023, the PIAA officially sanctioned girls wrestling as a sport.

Witt knows there are areas to improve in, and that’s all she’s focusing on ahead of a couple of big-time events. She said she wants to work on taking shots when they are fully there. Witt also wants to run her feet around more on sweeps.

In the coming months, Witt has USA’s World Team Trials and the 2024 U.S. Marine Corps Nationals held in Fargo, N.D., a tournament she placed eighth in last year. This year, she’s looking to compete better, and she’s coming with added accolades and a higher confidence level.

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