Two KCHS girls wrestlers place second at state

The young program garners several honors, with Aliya Whaley finishing third at a national event   

By Dan McWilliams

The Knoxville Catholic High School girls wrestling team has a short history, but two of its members recorded program-best state-runner-up finishes at the state meet last month.

Senior Rebecca Deyo, competing in the 165-pound class, and freshman Delilah Queen at 138 each won her first three matches before falling in the championship round in the state competition held Feb. 23-24 at the Williamson County Expo Center in Franklin. Senior Gemma Deyo, Rebecca’s sister, at 235 won one match at the state meet. Rebecca (24 points), Delilah (21), and Gemma (three) scored 48 points for the team to help the Lady Irish finish eighth out of more than 80 programs competing.

Another Knoxville Catholic girls wrestler, junior Aliya Whaley, finished third in the 152 class in the National Prep Wrestling Championships at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania as she became the first girl from Tennessee to qualify for the prestigious event.

Jason Hughes is the head coach of the Lady Irish.

“From what I understand, this is the third year that girls have competed for the high school team. They have had a previous state medalist, fourth in 2022, but this is the highest any girl from the high school has finished in the TSSAA state tournament,” he said. “It is indeed the best finish the Lady Irish program has experienced in its short history.”

Mr. Hughes is in his first year at the helm of the program and said the two second-place finishes in the state meet were “very special.”

“Coming from my alma mater, Maryville High School, where I had established a winning tradition with the youth, boys, and girls programs, to achieve success in my first year is very rewarding,” he said.

Rebecca opened the state meet with a win by fall 46 seconds into the match over Emma Husser of Clarksville. In the quarterfinals, she scored another fall at 2:48 to defeat Marley Harris of Warren County. In the semifinals, she won by fall over Samarah Tafiti of East Ridge at 4:33.

Piper Fowler of Cleveland won by fall over Rebecca at 0:47 in the championship match.

Rebecca had a tough draw for the title tilt.

“Her match was against the now three-time defending state champion, who also won the under-17 world title in Turkey last summer,” Mr. Hughes said. “The year before, Aliya wrestled against Piper in the finals of the same 165-pound weight class and actually had a lead, although briefly, before getting pinned late in the third period. Piper is the pound-for-pound best high school wrestler in the nation, and we now have two girls who have competed against her in big events.”

The finals loss was just the third defeat for Rebecca this season.

“Becca finishes her senior season with an astounding record of 27-3, with 25 of her wins by pin or forfeit,” Mr. Hughes said. “She is one of our three seniors and just finished her second year of wrestling. I actually coached against her last season but enjoyed watching her growth this season under the tutelage of our staff and fully expect her to continue her career in college over the next few years.”

Delilah won her first-round match at the state meet by a fall at 1:34 over Isabel Dvenas of Spring Hill. The Lady Irish wrestler followed that up with a 9-4 decision in the quarterfinals over Jocelyn Kolozsy of Montgomery Central. Delilah won by a bigger margin in the semifinals, scoring an 11-2 major decision over Brooklyn Whiteside of Clarksville.

Mariana Bowen of West Creek, finishing with a 44-1 record, won by fall over Delilah at 1:24 in the championship round.

Lady Irish junior Aliya Whaley (right) placed third and earned All-American honors at the National Prep Wrestling Championships at Lehigh University, becoming the first girl from Tennessee to qualify for the event. (Photo courtesy Jason Hughes)

“Delilah Queen is a young lady I have had the privilege of coaching since she was a sixth-grader in Maryville City Schools,” Mr. Hughes said. “She was a two-time middle school state champion and has numerous accolades both statewide and national. As a very young freshman, the sky is the limit for her, and I expect her to win multiple state titles before she graduates.”

Delilah rolled up a 31-2 won-lost record this season, “with 28 of her wins by pin or forfeit,” Mr. Hughes said.

Gemma lost in the first round of the state meet on a fall at 3:13 against Samantha O’Leary of Summit. In the first consolation round, Gemma won by medical forfeit over Tyvenoria Munene of Clarksville Northwest. Ashleigh Williams of Stewarts Creek won by fall at 3:33 over Gemma in the second consolation round.

The eighth-place team finish for the Lady Irish in the state meet, also a program record, “was a bit of a surprise since we had only three qualifiers competing in the tournament, and most schools had many more than that,” Mr. Hughes said. “The three who did compete scored a ton of team points for us that allowed the finish to be so high.”

At the national event, Aliya won by fall at 2:37 in the quarterfinals. She lost by a 13-6 decision in the semifinals but won the third-place bout on a fall at 2:14 over Lily Fitzpatrick of St. Paul School in Cut Bank, Mont.

“Aliya Whaley is another one I have coached since she was a middle-schooler,” Mr. Hughes said. “She is a two-time TSSAA state medalist, sixth in 2022 and second in 2023, from Maryville High School and came to our program this season. Based on her accomplishments from the previous year, she was eligible for competition in National Prep Championships and became the first girl from a Tennessee high school to compete and place in the tournament, earning All American status in the process.”

Aliya finished her junior season “with all of her National Prep Championship wins coming by pin,” Mr. Hughes said. “She was ineligible for TSSAA competition due to her transfer from Maryville to KCHS.”

Also competing for the Lady Irish this season were senior Georgia Jenkins and her sister, sophomore Genevieve Jenkins, and freshmen Sophia Edmands, Julia Parish, and Ava Sills.

Mr. Hughes has some help in coaching the Lady Irish.

“I have one girls assistant, Kenya Sloan, and several of the coaches on the boys team helped out as well,” he said. “Kenya is a former four-time state champion from Hardin Valley Academy here in Knoxville and was a college national champion out of Campbellsville University. I myself wrestled for Maryville High School (1996 graduate) as well as on the varsity NCAA squad at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.”

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