From the moment she stepped on the wrestling mat this past summer, Dripping Springs High sophomore Cat Miller was hooked.
Sure, there were plenty of attributes that made track and field and softball, the other two sports she competes in, equally as enjoyable and entertaining.
But there was something about wrestling – that you versus your opponent mentality – that grabbed Miller’s mind and never let go.
“At the end of the day, it’s what you do and what you leave on the mat,” Miller said. “It’s really just you against another person and it’s just whoever is the best will win.”
That drive to succeed, aided by a support staff of coaches and teammates, pushed Miller to become the first female Tiger wrestler to reach the UIL state tournament in school history.
For Miller, the ability to not only reach state, but also to be part of the first group of female wrestlers to compete in the Tiger wrestling program, has been an enthralling venture.
“I wasn’t expecting this. I knew the first week I joined, I wasn’t thinking that I was going to compete at state,” Miller said. “It was an amazing experience.”
Miller’s path in wrestling began when she was invited by a friend to an open mat event at the Tiger wrestling team’s practice facility within the DSISD administration building.
Joe Kirksey, Dripping Springs Tiger head wrestling coach, didn’t think Miller was interested in the sport early on, seeing as she was focused on softball.
Once she hit the mat, however, Miller’s mind, and that of her friends, instantly changed. They all came back the next day to participate again.
“After the first day, we fell in love with it,” Miller said. “I knew it was something I had to do.”
Miller soon began the process of learning a sport she knew nothing about. Providing assistance was Kirksey and assistant coach Trevor Marshall, who Miller said were so welcoming and open to questions. Miller’s natural athletic ability was apparent early on, Kirksey said.
Also helping was teammate Allyson Welch, who has had wrestling experience in her youth. Miller said Welch helped her to understand the sport and to be “less awkward” on the mat. That included learning some of the basic moves and getting more comfortable with her positioning.
While it was a challenge to learn it all, Miller said the sport made more sense over time.
“Now that I understand wrestling, I realized I can go to this move or that move,” Miller said. “It’s a learning process.”
It didn’t take long for Miller to find success. She pinned an opponent who had reached state several times within the first month of the season. Soon afterward, Miller began looking forward to much more competitive matches against more experienced opponents as the season went along.
Kirksey credited Miller’s willingness to learn while on the mat. Having practice partners also played a key role as well.
While Dripping Springs’ wrestling program has had female athletes show interest in the past, they were unable to find a consistent female training partner. Currently four female wrestlers are on the Tiger team.
“She (Miller) grew over the season and she was tough enough at the start. She is that good,” Kirksey said.
Taking on the field at state had both its advantages and disadvantages, Miller said. While the venue and atmosphere was exciting, she also saw just how far she needs to improve to contend for a possible medal in the future.
Weight training, along with improving technical skills, are some short term goals Miller plans to employ to get better for next season.
Long term, Miller said going through wrestling has opened her eye to possibly competing in the sport in college.
“Wreslting is such a different sport. More different than anything I’ve ever done,” Miller said. “It’s just so exhilarating to go out on the mat and wrestle.”