When Abigail “Abi” Gontarek graduated from Laurel High School in 2014 she wanted to keep wrestling. She had just made history by becoming the first female high school wrestler to place in the state of Montana, but despite offers from schools across the country, she wanted to stay in state. So instead of wrestling she decided to attend the University of Montana and hope that an in-state school would add women’s wrestling before she graduated.
Those hope were realized when the University of Great Falls announced on Tuesday, January 10 that it was starting the state’s first women’s wrestling program. Before the announcement press conference was even held, Gontarek had already contacted Caleb Schaeffer, UGF head men’s wrestling coach and newly named director of wrestling, about becoming the school’s first woman wrestler to sign with UGF. She officially reached that goal, signing with the Lady Argos on Monday, January 16.
“I got my email and number to Caleb as fast as I could. I don’t like to wait so I sent him an email with all my recruiting stuff and then waited for the call,” Gontarek said. “I’m excited just to get back on the mat. My heart is stuck in Montana, so having the opportunity to wrestle here is incredible.”
Gontarek’s signing with UGF is simply the next step in an already historic career as a women’s wrestler in the state of Montana. The Laurel, Montana native wrestled for the Locomotives for two years, improving her record from 1-29 as a junior to 17-23 as a senior. In her senior year she became the first, and still the only, woman to place at the Montana High School State Tournament, taking fifth place in the Class A 98 lb. weight class in 2014.
After verbally committing to an NAIA program, Gontarek decided that she didn’t want to leave Montana. While she hasn’t been able to wrestle at U of M, she hasn’t been away from the sport. She is currently part of the coaching staff for Missoula Big Sky, using her knowledge of the sport to teach high school boys and hoping for a few girls to coach as well.
Her enthusiasm, skill, determination, and leadership abilities made her an obvious choice for the program’s first official recruit said Schaeffer who is acting as head coach until the university hires its first head women’s wrestling coach.
“We wanted to make a big splash with the right girl and we got the right girl,” Schaeffer said. “Some people have said there’s no female talent in the state, but we got the one that we wanted. We watched her at the state tournament in 2014. I never thought a girl would ever place in the Montana boy’s division and we got the first one.”
Gontarek will be a sophomore for the Lady Argos when she starts wrestling in the fall of 2017 and she already has high aspirations for both herself and her team.
“I have the same goal for every year that I wrestle – I want to win a national championship as an individual and I want the team to win the national championship,” Gontarek said. “The individual title is something that’s within my control to win, and I’m going to do everything I can to reach my goals. Come next March I want to be standing on top of the championship podium.”
Schaeffer said he hopes to have at least five more wrestlers signed before the new coach is hired and will look to Gontarek as the start of that momentum.
Courtesy: University of Great Falls Sports Information