1/29/2017
Varsity Voice: Nanticoke Area's Kocher inspiring younger wrestlers
Eric Shultz - Citizens Voice

Nanticoke Area wrestlers of all ages lined the mat before the varsity team’s dual with Lake-Lehman on Thursday night.
The entire program was there for its senior night, and Megan Kocher is the lone 12th-grader this year.
Kocher was introduced with a brief bio detailing her career, as well as other extracurricular activities. Not everything could be included, though — in some ways, Kocher’s impact on the Trojans can’t be measured.
Kocher won’t go down as one of the Trojans’ best. However, her influence as a female wrestler in the high school ranks might mean more for Nanticoke Area than paper statistics could.
“Girls aren’t afraid to try (wrestling),” Trojans coach Harold Shotwell said, describing Kocher’s importance. “They’re willing to come out and give it a shot.”
Giving it a shot
Kocher grew up practicing karate at an early age. As the daughter of a wrestler, that sport always appealed to her, too.
“My dad (Gene), the way he would joke around, he would just beat me up,” Kocher said. “I’ve always wanted to do it.”
Once in junior high, she and Krystal Daniele, a 2016 graduate of Nanticoke Area, joined the team together.
From the beginning, Kocher said they were accepted right away by the team. There was a lot of hard work to endure — not just learning technique, but plenty of conditioning and weight management.
Making sure she was under 106 pounds meant Kocher couldn’t always give in to her urge to “drink a gallon of chocolate milk.” That part of the sport turned out to be the biggest push-back she’s gotten in her career.
Older women would tell her she’s “supposed to be a girl” and gain weight, Kocher said. She’s simply dismissed the comments.
“Just stupid stuff like that,” Kocher said. “Like I can’t be losing weight because I’m a girl, or I can’t be wrestling.
“It’s mostly the weight stuff, honestly. I don’t really let anyone say anything, though. I stop it.”
Unprecedented success
It wasn’t long before Daniele and Kocher began to make their mark in District 2 history.
At the 2014 tournament, Daniele was the first female wrestler to medal when a pair of forfeits led to her fifth place.
Then, in 2015, Kocher earned her first varsity win, also a female first at the D2 tournament. In the Class 2A consolations, she held down her opponent in the closing seconds to win 4-3.
Shotwell said fans from all schools cheered for her during the match, a victory he won’t forget.
The coach noted Kocher’s D2 win is one of his favorite memories from her career. He’s also taken pride in her aggressive nature, which has actually led to a docked point for unsportsmanlike conduct in the past (in Shotwell’s example, Kocher was whistled after a legal move).
“That just shows how tough of a girl she is,” Shotwell said. “Once she gets in her head she wants to do something, she sets her sights and just goes and does it.”
Making an impact
Kaitlyn Pegarella is another girl who knew early on she wanted to wrestle, since kindergarten.
Pegarella tried out the sport for a few years before her interest in it began to wane. When it comes to wrestling, Shotwell said he’s seen plenty of girls fade away in the lower levels.
But right when Pegarella was questioning her desire to wrestle, she saw a Trojans match that featured Kocher and Daniele.
“I’m getting kind of, ‘Eh, do I still want to do this?’ But then I saw one of Megan and Krystal’s matches,” Pegarella said. “I’m like, ‘I’m staying in this.’”
“I don’t know, it just — it lit a fire in me.”
Pegarella has stuck with the sport ever since. She didn’t meet Kocher and Daniele until later, but she made sure to attend as many of their matches as possible from then on.
Seeing a girl wrestle is “out of this world,” Pegarella said, adding she makes sure to watch when they’re wrestling at her brother’s own tournaments.
That kind of inspiration is something hard to measure. However, Shotwell, a 1997 Nanticoke Area graduate, said he can’t remember any female wrestlers when he was in high school. The numbers are trending up, though, and “opening eyes,” he said.
There are local wrestlers to look up to like Kocher. Beyond her, there are other sources of motivation like Helen Maroulis, who won the United States its first women’s wrestling gold medal at last summer’s Olympics.
Kocher said her coaches share stories about female wrestling across the country on social media and have told her that girls like Pegarella look up to her. She admitted it’s weird to hear she’s a role model as a high schooler — “I don’t feel like I’m some big, revolutionary leader” — but her impact has settled in.
“As I thought about it, I started to really appreciate it,” Kocher said. “I could do something. I do mean something to her, just because I’m doing something that she wants to do one day.”
Pegarella is already getting the same treatment. A kindergarten girl in the Trojans’ program recently told her and Megan “she wanted to be just like us when she grows up,” Pegarella said.
Next in line
Much to her disappointment, Kocher didn’t get to wrestle on her senior night. Lake-Lehman forfeited at 106 and 113 pounds, and she had her hand raised for a win.
She’ll get a few more shots at another win before graduation, including at the upcoming District 2 tournament. If she comes up short, though, Pegarella will be ready to take the baton from Kocher before long.
Pegarella said she hopes to top Kocher’s and Daniele’s career marks and turn some heads herself. She’s already started her medal collection, taking second in 2015’s MAWA Wilkes University District Tournament and winning by decision twice on her way to fourth in last year’s Penn Elementary League tournament.
Kocher doesn’t have her future entirely figured out yet. She said she’s gotten letters for women’s collegiate teams but wants to stay close to home and possibly study political science at Wilkes — at her senior night, it was announced she hopes to become the first female president of the United States.
Kocher does know what she wants to see in Nanticoke Area’s future, though.
“I definitely want there to continuously be a girl in Nanticoke’s program. It’s great,” Kocher said. “If a guy on our team has to wrestle a girl … they’re used to it.
“I’ve realized some guys on other teams don’t really respect me as much, but my team knows how much work I’ve put in. They know I’ve earned it.”