HOOSICK, N.Y. >> Zoe Gress, a freshman at Hoosick Falls Central School, started wrestling when she was in third grade. Now, seven years into her wrestling career, she is headed south of the equator to compete in the 2016 Pan American Games, competing for Team USA.

Gress became interested in wrestling when information about the program was sent home in her elementary gym class. She's the first girl to stay with the program into high school, and her presence has inspired other girls to become interested in the sport — two more may join the team this year.

"I'm definitely excited, but I try to stay calm about it. I know it's a big opportunity. I don't want to feel pressured about it. I'm going to have fun but not get too worked up over it. I think once I'm there I'll be much more excited," Gress said.

She is one of seven girls going to Medellin, Colombia where she will be wrestling freestyle, which is the same style in the Olympics. Gress wrestles all three styles and wrestles year-round.

Gress won the Body Bar Women's National Championship in Texas this past spring for her age and weight class. At the Body Bar, she stayed positive and didn't get overconfident. Gress explained, "I went into the match ready and did everything to win." That's one of her strategies – always stay in a positive mindset.

Shortly afterward her mother was contacted by a USA Wrestling representative from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. This year was the first year for the Pan Am games with her age group, so they wanted to take the national champions.


She treats everyone the same when she wrestles.

"Being a girl in a sport that has been dominated by boys, I treat everyone the same when it comes to wrestling. It's a sport. It's a one-on-one sport. It's you and your opponent on the mat, and when you're out there it doesn't matter if it's a boy or a girl — you do your best and try as hard as you can," Gress said.

It's a great way for her to start her year. She's looking forward to nationals again, and this year she will be able to qualify for the world teams, and also be able to qualify for other national tournaments, such as Fargo. She's old enough this year to participate in more competitions.

When wrestling for the Panthers it is a different style, but she says, "I do like wrestling for the school. It's harder with the boys because they are stronger — some are bigger — it takes more mental work to overcome those things. I'm going to do my best this year to make varsity. If I don't, that's okay, there's next year."

Gress will compete at 52 kg/114.5 lbs. The games begin Friday and go through Sunday.