BENZONIA — Kelsey Novogradac thought about it for two years.
Once she jumped on the wrestling mat, becoming good came much faster.
The Benzie Central wrestler took advantage of one year on the boys team to earn an offer from Division 2 Davenport University for women’s wrestling next season.
It all started in gym class at Benzie Central.
Josh Lovendusky, who also coaches the wrestling team, runs a 4.5-week self-defense course as part of physical education. After working on things like escaping an attacker’s grip, a week of that course is wrestling, teaching basic takedowns like double legs and single legs, culminating in a tournament of sorts.
“He was like, ‘You’re pretty good. You should try out,’” Novogradac said.
“She was eating up all the girls and I was like, ‘You have to wrestle for us,’” Lovendusky said.
It’s important to note that Novogradac was also the smallest girl in the class, yet beat everyone else.
The gym class as a sophomore led to considering joining the wrestling team as a junior, but she ended up taking the plunge as a senior.
“I didn’t really believe him at first,” said Novogradac, a 3.70 GPA student who plans to major in sports management or legal studies. “It took me awhile to think about it.”
She ended up with a 12-16 record against boys in the 112-pound weight class and 4-2 against girls, coming up one win short of placing in the top eight of the girls state championships. That’s where Davenport coaches saw her.
“We saw her athleticism and hard work,” Panthers head coach Jamie Boyd said. “In close matches, she fought back.”
The Panthers had three recruits signed for their 2020 class two weeks ago, including Novogradac. Traverse City West’s Andrea Frary has also committed to Davenport.
Novogradac was able to visit Davenport before the coronavirus pandemic, and came away impressed with the school’s campus and dorm rooms.
“We were lucky we did get a lot of girls on campus before the shutdown,” said Boyd, who expects to have more signees during summer when visits may be possible. “We’re definitely looking for individuals such as Kelsey. Typically most women wrestlers haven’t been wrestling for a long time. We look for athletes, and of course academics. Kelsey fits that mold.”
Davenport’s women’s wrestling program starts its first season next year.
“I had a lot of people say, ‘No, you can’t do that,’” Novogradac said. “So I wanted to prove them wrong.”
Did she ever. The 5-foot-2 athlete who also played volleyball and ran track, took to the sport quickly, developing an affinity for the double-leg takedown.
“She had some of the best positioning in the room out of all our wrestlers,” Lovendusky said. “She has natural ability. There was never any hesitation on her part.”
Iowa Wesleyan, another school starting up a new program for the 2020-21 season, also recruited Novogradac.
“My favorite thing is the discipline and how physical you need to be for it,” Novogradac said. “It’s really awesome being there for the start of a new program.”
Boyd, a sixth-year coach in his first season taking over the new women’s program, said Davenport has one woman on its coaching staff and hopes to add another dedicated women’s coach.
“She’s going to transition into the college level well,” Lovendusky said of Novogradac. “She loves the workout aspect. Wrestling is a sport where you can’t cheat it. If you don’t embrace the grind, you’re not going to succeed.”