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National Wrestling Hall of Fame names New Jersey’s Kira Pipkins as Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award National Winner

by Jack Carnefix, National Wrestling Hall of Fame

Kira Pipkins, winner of the 2023 Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award winner

STILLWATER, Okla. – The National Wrestling Hall of Fame on Tuesday announced that Kira Pipkins of Bloomfield, New Jersey is the 2023 national winner of the Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award (TSHSEA).
“I would like to thank the National Wrestling Hall of Fame for this award, and to Tricia Saunders for being a true trailblazer for women's wrestling,” said Pipkins. “It means a lot to be recognized for this award. When I watched a few of Saunders' matches during my freshman year of high school, I was immediately inspired by her grit and focus on the mat.
"These are traits I continuously strive for in my own wrestling,” she added. “I also hope to continue to inspire women and girls to join women's wrestling."
First presented in 2014, the TSHSEA is named for Tricia Saunders, a four-time World Champion and women’s wrestling pioneer. Saunders was the first woman to be inducted as a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2006 and was inducted into the United World Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2011.
The award recognizes and celebrates the nation’s most outstanding high school senior female wrestlers for their excellence in wrestling, scholastic achievement, citizenship, and community service.
The national winner of the Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award will be announced on Wednesday. The DSHSEA recognizes and celebrates the nation’s most outstanding high school senior male wrestlers for their excellence in wrestling, scholastic achievement, citizenship, and community service.
The TSHSEA and DSHSEA national winners will be honored during the 46th Honors Weekend at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum on June 2 and 3 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. To purchase tickets for Honors Weekend, visit
“Clearly a young woman on a mission, Kira has a driving desire and passion to excel in the sport of wrestling while also impacting her community and the world in a positive way,” said Executive Director Lee Roy Smith. “She is constantly holding herself to a higher standard of effort, responsibility and respect for others.”
The daughter of Robert and Shantale Pipkins, she will continue her wrestling career at Columbia University.
Pipkins became the first female wrestler, and the fifth wrestler overall, to be a four-time New Jersey state champion while also becoming the first female wrestler in New Jersey history to reach 100 career wins (106-9). She was named the Girls Wrestler of the Year and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Most Outstanding Wrestler.
Pipkins was team captain of both the BHS boys team and the girls team from 2021-23, and received both the BHS Most Valuable Wrestler award and BHS Wrestling Scholar-Athlete award four years in a row.
Pipkins gave motivational speeches to youth groups, painted murals in BHS hallways, participated in park cleanups, and produced art for senior citizens through the BHS on the Corona Homefront. She also volunteered at Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair and the Montclair Emergency Services for Hope while spending time with senior citizens at nursing homes and collecting and donating to canned food drives and food pantries.
An entrepreneur, she owns and operates art, personal training and babysitting businesses.
Pipkins is a member of the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta Math National Honor Society, Science National Honor Society, and the World Language Honor Society. She received the College Board African-American Recognition Award in 2022 and is a multiple recipient of the Bengal Pride High Honor Roll Award.
Thirty-eight state high school athletic associations have approved girls wrestling as an official sport and 38 held official girls high school state wrestling championships in 2022-23. Hawaii was the first state to host a girls state championship in 1998 while Texas began its girls tournament in 1999. The number grew to six states by 2015 and has exploded in recent years to 38 states.
States that hosted state-sanctioned girls wrestling championships in 2022-23 are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
To date there are 153 intercollegiate women’s wrestling teams. The NCAA has approved “Emerging Sport Status” for women’s wrestling at the Division I, Division II and Division III levels while the NAIA recognizes women’s wrestling as an official varsity sport and held their first official championship in 2023.
Women’s wrestling is one of the fastest growing high school sports with participation growing by more than 71 percent from 16,562 in 2018 to 28,447 in 2020. Growth has continued through the pandemic and more than 52,400 female high school wrestlers competed in 2022-23.
TSHSEA winners are evaluated and selected on the basis of three criteria: success and standout performances and sportsmanship in wrestling; review of GPA and class rank, academic honors and distinctions; and participation in activities that demonstrate commitment to character and community.
The Hall of Fame accepts nominations for its high school excellence awards from state chapters and coaches. The nominations are reviewed by a committee, which selects state and regional winners. The committee then determines the national winners from the regional winners.
All-Time National Winners of Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award
Year - Name, High School, Hometown, State
2023 - Kira Pipkins, Bloomfield High School, Bloomfield, New Jersey
2022 - Sofia Macaluso, Minisink High School, Otisville, New York
2021 - Olivia Brown, Broken Arrow High School, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
2020 - Nanea Estrella, Lahainaluna High School, Makawao, Hawaii
2019 - Emily Shilson, Mounds View High School, North Oaks, Minnesota (Junior World Champion)
2018 - Alleida Martinez, Selma High School, Selma, California
2017 - Cierra Foster, Post Falls High School, Post Falls, Idaho
2016 - Katie Brock, Sequatchie County High School, Whitwell, Tennessee
2015 - Marizza Birrueta, Grandview High School, Grandview, Washington
2014 - Marina Doi, Kingsburg High School, Kingsburg, California
2023 Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award Regional Winners
Region - Name, Hometown, State, High School, College Attending
Central Region - Maddie Kubicki, Kansas City, Missouri, Park Hill South High School, Presbyterian College
Midwest Region - Lilly Luft, Charles City, Iowa, Charles City Community High School, University of Iowa
Northeast Region - Kira Pipkins, Bloomfield, New Jersey, Bloomfield High School, Columbia University
Southeast Region - Loralei Smith, Milton, West Virginia, Cabell Midland High School, Indiana Institute of Technology
West Region - Alivia White, Lake Stevens, Washington, Marysville Pilchuck High School, University of Iowa
2023 Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award State Winners
State - Name, Hometown, High School, College Attending
Alabama - Akerah Artis, Sparkman High School, Madison
Alaska - Trinity Donovan, Soldotna High School, Soldotna
Arizona - Trinity Bouchal, Basha High School, Queen Creek
Arkansas - Presley Givens, Bryant High School, Benton, Oklahoma City University
California - Kiely Tabaldo, Menlo-Atherton High School, Sunnyvale, Colorado Mesa University
Colorado - Taylor Knox, Calhan School, Peyton
Connecticut - Samantha Yap, Stamford High School, Stamford, Sacred Heart University
Delaware - Alyssa Mahan, Delaware Military Academy, Wilmington, Presbyterian College
Florida - Kealonie Vega, Osceola High School, Kissimmee, Gannon University
Georgia - Lilly Chavis, Jackson County High School, Jefferson
Hawaii - Isabelle Asuncion, Moanalua High School, Honolulu, University of Providence
Idaho - Alyssa Randles, Coeur d'Alene High School, Coeur d'Alene
Illinois - Attalia Watson-Castro, Homewood-Flossmoor High School, Homewood
Indiana - Mackenzie Konanz, Penn High School, Granger, Aurora University
Iowa - Lilly Luft, Charles City Community High School, Charles City, University of Iowa
Kansas - Makayla Rivera, Olathe West High School, Lenexa, Lindenwood University
Kentucky - Addison Messerly, Grant County High School, Crittenden
Louisiana - Gabriella Cook, Hahnville High School, Luling, Carl Albert State College
Maine - Mya Moran, Bucksport High School, Verona Island
Maryland - Alex Szkotnicki, South River High School, Riva, McKendree University
Massachusetts - Jacyln Dehney, Central Catholic High School, Pelham (New Hampshire)
Michigan - Emaline (Emme) Hicks, Saline High School, Ypsilanti
Minnesota - Joel Makem, Shakopee High School, Shakopee
Mississippi - Bel Manteith, Oxford High School, Oxford
Missouri - Maddie Kubicki, Park Hill South High School, Kansas City, Presbyterian College
Montana - Kassidee Savaria, Skyview High School, Billings
Nebraska - Reagan Galloway, Amherst High School, Kearney, Hastings College
Nevada - Katie Ward, Robert McQueen High School, Reno
New Jersey - Kira Pipkins, Bloomfield High School, Bloomfield, Columbia University
New Mexico - Makayla Munoz, Aztec High School, Farmington, Oklahoma City University
New York - Emily Sindoni, Tioga Central School, Nichols, Utica University
North Carolina - Jeulenea Khang, Freedom High School, Newton, University of Mount Olive
North Dakota - Allyssa Johnson, Grand Forks Central High School, Grand Forks, Chadron State College
Ohio - Josie, Davis Sidney High School, Sidney, Campbellsville University
Oklahoma - Peyton Hand, Choctaw High School, Choctaw, Ottawa University
Oregon - Destiny Rodriguez, West Linn High School, West Linn, McKendree University
Pennsylvania - Abbie Miles, Laurel High School, New Castle, Albion College
South Carolina - Caroline Gilstrap, Summerville High School, Summerville, McKendree University
South Dakota - Taylor Graveman, Spearfish High School, Spearfish, North Central College
Tennessee - Ella-Lina Gonzalez, Clarksville High School, Clarksville
Texas - Fernanda Lopez, Lake Highlands High School, Dallas, Southern Oregon University
Utah - Ashley Cannon, Westlake High School, Saratoga Springs
Vermont - Paityn Delong, Fair Haven Union High School, Fair Haven, East Stroudsburg University
Virginia - Charlize Olivia, Shuler, Grassfield High School, Chesapeake
Washington - Alivia White, Marysville Pilchuck High School, Lake Stevens, University of Iowa
West Virginia - Loralei Smith, Cabell Midland High School, Milton, Indiana Institute of Technology
Wisconsin - Kylie Rule, Mineral Point High School, Mineral Point, Wartburg College
Wyoming - Maggie Smith, Rock Springs High School, Rock Springs, Colorado Mesa University
National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum
America’s shrine to the sport of wrestling, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum was founded as a nonprofit organization in 1976 to honor the sport of wrestling, preserve its history, recognize extraordinary individual achievements, and inspire future generations. The National Wrestling Hall of Fame has museums in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and Waterloo, Iowa. The Stillwater, Oklahoma, location reopened in June 2016 following a $3.8 million renovation and now features interactive exhibits and electronic kiosks, as well as the opportunity to watch NCAA Championship matches from the 1930s to present day. It also has the John T. Vaughan Hall of Honors where the greatest names in wrestling are recognized, including iconic granite plaques presented to Distinguished Members since the Hall of Fame opened in 1976. The museum has the largest collection of wrestling artifacts and memorabilia in the world, including the most collegiate and Olympic wrestling uniforms. Wrestling truly is for everyone and the diversity and accessibility of the sport continues to be highlighted through exhibits featuring females, African-Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Latino Americans. There is also a library featuring historical documents, including NCAA guides and results, as well as books on the sport. For more information about the Hall of Fame, please visit