BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bloomfield High School girls wrestling state champions Gianna Faura and Kira Pipkins enjoyed great showings at the USA Wrestling Junior Nationals at the FargoDome in Fargo, N.D., July 16-19.
Faura, who graduated in June, finished between eighth and 12th place out of 60 competitors in the 200-pound weight class. She was a match away from placing as an all-American, said BHS head coach Ryan Smircich in an interview with The Independent Press. Faura went 3-2 in the tournament.
Pipkins, a rising senior, went 4-2 in the 122-pound weight class and finished between 12th and 16th place out of more than 100 competitors. Pipkins had a great start as she won her first first three matches. After losing in her fourth match, Pipkins came back to win in her fifth match. But her inspiring run ended with a loss in the following match.
Indeed, Smircich was extremely elated for Faura and Pipkins.
“Both girls should be very proud of themselves,” Smircich said, “and we are proud of them as a community. They really made the whole community proud. It’s a really, really big stage. Overall, both of these girls are going to continue competing. To get this under their belt to where they are not caught like a deer in the headlights when they get to the next level, this is something they have to start doing now, because once they get to the collegiate level, this is going to be something of the norm. To get this underneath their belt while they are in high school, is an advantage.”
In an interview with the Independent Press, Pipkins said she enjoyed her experience at the nationals. Pipkins said that it was enjoyable to be with other New Jersey competitors at the tournament.
“It was super fun, because there were people from all over (the country), and it’s nice to be with all the girls from New Jersey,” she said.
Though she was not satisfied with her end result, Pipkins is looking forward to returning to the nationals next year.
“I’m ready to come back and do better,” she said. “But I am definitely proud of myself.”
Pipkins also was grateful for the support she received, especially from Smircich.
“I’m very lucky to have him as a coach,” Pipkins said. “He’s so supportive. He helped me fund-raise for this trip and other trips I’ve had. I know that he was watching my matches when I was out (in Fargo) and he wasn’t obligated to do that, so I really appreciate it.”
Faura also enjoyed her experience at the nationals.
“I had a really great time in Fargo,” she said in an interview with the Independent Press. “It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It was an amazing opportunity that I got. It showed that all my hard work pulled off. I got to meet a lot of girls from other states.”
Faura was hoping to go even further in the tournament. But overall, she said she was satisfied with her showing.
“I was satisfied,” Faura said. “I think going 3-2 at a national tournament is something amazing. I ranked top 12 in the nation, which is a huge accomplishment as a 17-year-old girl.
“I wished I had gotten farther,” she added. “I feel like if I had gotten a little more time to rest, I could have placed. But there was like only five minutes in between (matches) and I never really got a break, so I was like exhausted.”
Faura also was humbled by all the support. She especially is glad to see that female wrestling is gaining support.
“It felt really good to know that we have a lot of support and that a lot of people support female wrestling,” she said, “because before then, people used to judge girls that want to do boys sports. So seeing it now, from four years ago when nobody really accepted female wrestling, it feels really good.”
At the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s girls wrestling state individual finals held at Phillipsburg High School on Feb. 20, Pipkins and Faura captured titles in their respective weight classes. Pipkins won the 120-pound title, while Faura won the 235-pound crown.
For Pipkins, it was her third state individual championship. Next year, she will attempt to become the first girl in state history to win four-straight state championships.
Pipkins said the experience she gained from the nationals and other offseason tournaments will prove beneficial in her goal to win a fourth-straight state title. She said she wants to improve on any holes in her skill set and “keep getting better.”
For Faura, it was sweet redemption to win a state title after she finished runner-up in the state tournament as a junior. Faura will continue her wrestling career at Alvernia University, in Readington, Pa.
“I’m excited to compete in college,” said Faura, who plans on majoring in political science with a minor in social work. “I am excited about the future and see what I do. My goal is to get better at freestyling. Going from folkstyle to freestyle is a little hard. My first year, I hope to do somewhat good and throughout the years I hope to do better.”
This past spring, Faura was the BHS recipient of the Yogi Berra Museum Best Teammate Award.
Photos Courtesy of Jerry Simon, Gianna Faura, Shantale Pipkins and BHS Athletics.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include comments from Pipkins and Faura.