Woodland Park Girls’ Wrestling Star Makes History

Arial Johns Snags Fifth Place at State Tournament

Trevor Phipps

Four years ago, Colorado high schools decided to start allowing girls to hit the wrestling mats and face off against their female peers.

Ever since, the sport has grown in numbers and popularity to the point where universities across the country are handing out scholarships like candy to young women that are willing to grapple at the college level.


To date, Woodland Park High School has produced a number of Lady Panther wrestlers that have succeeded on the mat. Last year, two star grapplers earned scholarships to continue their sports after high school.


This year, one of the star Lady Panther grapplers, senior Arial Johns not only fared well enough during the season and regional tournament to qualify for the state championship tourney, but she was able to make history for the young girls’ wrestling team not once but twice.


First off, Johns became the first WP High School female wrestler to willingly have her skills tested as a part of the Colorado Girls National Wrestling team in 2022. And then earlier this month, the star grappler not only dominated her opponents well enough during the season to make it to the state championship, she became the first female in the sport hailing from Woodland Park to place at the tourney when she took fifth place statewide.


During the tournament, Johns competed for all three days of the tourney to earn her spot on the podium. Her only two losses were to the number one and three ranked girls in the state.


According to head coach Dustin Rodriguez, he has had several colleges and universities including Oregon University reach out to him, wanting Johns to continue her sport after high school. But, the coach said that she has not decided whether or not she wants to wrestle at the collegiate level.

He also said he was expected to send more wrestlers to the state championship tournament, but the team’s showing at the regional tournament didn’t quite meet earlier expectations. Overall, the WP girls wrestling team qualified Johns and Cheyenne Becker to compete at the state level.


In the end, the coach said that he was proud of all of his wrestlers, and what they accomplished during the season. “They just keep going,” Coach Rodriguez said. “A lot of my wrestlers are year-round wrestlers. They don’t have much of a break compared to our seasonal wrestlers who just come in a couple of weeks before season, their season is only three to three and a half months long. Most of my girls are planning on wrestling in college.”


But even though wrestling all year has brought the ladies success, their year-round dedication to the sport has come with some challenges. The coach said that the girls have had to work through fatigue and physical soreness due to the fact that their wrestling season never actually stops.


The team also dealt with other adversity during their ’23-’24 season. According to their coach, one of the wrestler’s mothers passed away just before Christmas, which was an unexpected event that emotionally impacted the entire team.


“They were pretty down in the dumps for quite a while,” the coach said. “They were just able to pull themselves out of it right before the state tournament. So, we had a lot of hurdles this year, but I am just proud of the girls for coming together and doing that.”


He said that he has also seen a big improvement in team cohesion compared to previous seasons. “I have never had a team that is as close as this group of girls is right now,” Rodriguez explained. “They are extremely close with each other and extremely close with coaches. I have never had that in a team before. They have come to grow together which is good because a lot of them couldn’t stand each other in the beginning.”


Rodriguez is currently the coach of the pre-high school age wrestling club in Woodland Park that works as a feeder system for the high school wrestling teams. He has been the high school girls’ wrestling coach since the program launched during the ’21-’22 school year, but he said that he resigned at the end of this season to put more focus on his younger wrestler club.


However, Rodriguez said that despite the fact that he will not be leading the team next season, he is confident that the young female grapplers have what it takes to be successfully in the future. “Hopefully, the team’s success continues and the program that I founded and built continues to grow,” Rodriguez said.