WOOD RIVER JCT. — Like so many high school athletes, Chariho freshman Allie Nelson finds being part of a team the greatest reward of her sport.
"Being on the team makes me feel like I am at home," the 15-year-old said.
But Nelson, who lives in Charlestown, finds herself in the rather unusual position of being the only girl on the Chargers wrestling squad.
"Yeah, I was nervous at first, 'What would other people think?' But the team was very supportive," she said.
That support and acceptance have played a role in the success Nelson has experienced in her wrestling career.
On March 21, Nelson won the girls national championship in the U16 152-pound class at the USA Wrestling/United States Marine Corps championships at the Cox Center in Oklahoma City.
Nelson beat Sidney Sullens of Cleveland, Ga., 7-5, in the title bout, using an escape and a takedown in the final period of the match to earn the win.
She won her two previous bouts in the tournament by identical 2-0 scores.
Girls wrestling continues to grow in popularity across the country. Twelve states have sanctioned separate girls state championships, with six joining in 2018, according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association website.
Massachusetts conducted its first girls state championships this season, with 60 wrestlers competing.
Nelson started wrestling in sixth grade at Chariho Middle. Her father, Ken, had wrestled in high school at South Kingstown. She also had a cousin who wrestled, and Nelson used to attend his matches.
"Sixth and seventh grade weren't great seasons, but I was improving," Nelson said.
In eighth grade, she went undefeated and won the state title wrestling against boys.
"In middle school, a lot of the kids would talk crap before the match. A lot of them would not expect me to beat them," she said. "When I would actually beat them they would get mad at their coaches."
Nelson also trains at the Mayo Quanchi Judo and Wrestling school in Coventry during the offseason. She is a year-round wrestler.
Nelson said her friends are accepting, too.
"They know what level I am at, and when I tell them I can't hang out, they understand," she said.
Her father coaches her in the offseason.
"My dad is my coach and that really helps," Nelson said. "He pushes me and he has gotten me to where I am today."
Nelson hopes to wrestle varsity matches for the Chargers next season. She may have to move down a weight class — the current 152-pounder for Chariho, Dominic Bonanno, won the state title this season.
Nelson said she has learned a lot from the sport.
"The biggest thing is you really have to be brave about everything," she said. "You have to be confident in yourself and never underestimate your opponent.
"I definitely have a lot more drive than I would have had if I had not wrestled. I have a lot of willpower. If I want to do something, I know I can get it done."