When she started high school last year at Andrew, Alyssa Keane got a surprise question from her big sister, Mickaela.
Mickaela, who was a junior at the time, decided to give up basketball and try a new sport. She wanted to wrestle, and she hoped Alyssa would do it with her.
Alyssa was skeptical.
“Actually, I thought she was crazy,” Alyssa said. “When she first asked me, I said no. She kept repeatedly asking me about it and I was like, ‘I’m going to get crushed. That’s not for me.’
“But eventually I decided to try something new. When I started it, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I love this.’ I’m so glad my sister got me into it.”
The Keane sisters both qualified last season for the inaugural Illinois High School Association girls wrestling state finals and won matches. Mickaela went 2-2 and Alyssa finished 1-2.
Now, the pair is helping Andrew’s co-op team — which also includes girls from Sandburg and Stagg — establish itself as a power in the growing girls wrestling landscape.
Andrew has won back-to-back tournaments at Schaumburg and Pontiac. At Pontiac’s Munch Invitational on Dec. 9, sophomore Alyssa won the 135-pound championship and senior Mickaela finished second at 170.
The sisters have learned how to wrestle while getting better together.
“I feel like we’re kind of besties now,” Mickaela said. “We definitely hang out more. We’re here together every day. We’ve learned together and we’re kind of at the same level. We’re at different weights.
“I beat her up, but you know, we’re learning the same skills.”
Both girls have enjoyed being a part of the birth of Andrew’s girls program, which started two years ago and has grown to a roster of 30.
When Mickaela won her first round match at state last season, she made history.
“I was the first Andrew girl to win a match at state,” she said. “That made me so proud of myself to be a part of something bigger. It’s so empowering because it’s something new and we get to be a part of it.”
Andrew girls coach Demeri Pajic said the Keane sisters have set an example for any girl wanting to try wrestling.
“They’re still developing as wrestlers, and just in one year, they got so locked in,” Pajic said. “Mickaela is being offered scholarships. Alyssa looks up to her and is still going to have a few years to keep improving. They’re completely different wrestlers now. I see that sense of confidence they have.
“I’m always telling our first-year wrestlers, ‘Look at the Keanes. They were right where you were last year.’ They’re giving those girls confidence that they can do it, too.”
Alyssa sees how far she has come when she watches her matches from this season.
“My stance, my shots and the technique have gotten better since last year,” she said. “I’ve gotten faster with my moves. I can definitely see an improvement.
“I watch my videos and I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s me!’”
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Still on top: Homewood-Flossmoor senior Attalia Watson-Castro, the area’s only girls wrestling state champion last season, is 8-0 after winning at 135 at Pontiac.
Junior Ini Odumosu, Watson-Castro’s teammate, won the title at 235 to improve to 7-0.
Gridiron grit: After helping Lincoln-Way East finish as the Class 8A runner-up in football, defensive linemen Caden O’Rourke and David Wuske shifted right into wrestling mode.
O’Rourke went 5-0 at 195 and Wuske was 4-1 at 220 as the Griffins (16-0) won the Gassen Dual Tournament on Saturday at Downers Grove South.
Tyson Zvonar, football coach Rob Zvonar’s son who played most of the football season on the sophomore team, also went 5-0 at the event.
“Those football players are going to make a huge impact this season,” Lincoln-Way East coach Kevin Rockett said.
Steve Millar is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.