Johnson, Betz continue Western wrestling tradition

Written on 02/20/2024
Patrick Munsey

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Western’s legacy of wrestling dominance is alive and well. This winter, the school had two grapplers take home state titles; one at the high school level and one in middle school. The surprise, however, is that one of the champions is a female, wrestling in a male-dominated sport.

Chloe Johnson is a 2024 IHSWCA Middle School State Champion at 148 lbs. The meet took place in January and is sanctioned by the state coaches’ association. Last weekend, Mitchell Betz became the fourth wrestler in Western High School history to win an IHSAA state championship, taking home gold in the 157-lb. division.  

Betz joins Joe Swartz (1977), Ray Shepherd (1984) and Chad Shepherd (1991) as Western’s champions. The wrestling team also sent Tye Linser (132 lbs.) to the state finals this year, where he took seventh place. Tanner Tishner also qualified for state at 120 lbs.

For Johnson, however, the road is a bit tougher. In order to win, she has to compete against boys, which she does quite often. Her performance at the IHSWCA finals earned her Western’s “Hammer of the Week” belt for taking the state title at 148 lbs., but she felt like the championship was enough. There were other wrestlers she felt deserved the internal honor.

“We had a kid who lost 30 pounds in a week because he was a heavyweight,” said Chloe. “You can't wrestle over 300 lbs., so he lost 30 pounds to wrestle. That’s a lot. He worked hard for it.”

Chloe feels plenty of support from her teammates and coaches, she said, though she knows her time excelling in school wrestling is coming to a close. Adolescence will add muscle and height to boys’ frames naturally, while she will have to put in long hours to keep pace physically.

The challenge won’t stop her. It seems nothing will. Chloe’s father, Josh, was more impressed by his daughter’s recovery from a long illness before the state event. She was 140 lbs. -- well below the 145-pound limit -- and she had no power. At least, that’s what he thought.

“I didn’t expect it,” said Josh. “She went in there with a look in her eyes. She killed everybody. It was like watching Brock Lesner.”

Indeed, Chloe made short work of her first three opponents, even scoring a pin in just 27 seconds in the match that put her into the finals. But the title match presented a challenge.

“She got tired,” said Josh. “I could see her out there, huffing and puffing. She was struggling.”

“I was really frustrated because I kept hitting double-legs, I don’t know how many times, like seven times, but we kept going out of bounds,” said Chloe. “I didn’t get a single point from them. We went into the second period with no points.

“When we finally went to the mat in the second, I scored some back points. I did a bunch of turns, and then I got a good double. I scored two more sets of back points. I was gassed. I was really out of breath.”

The match went to the end, and Chloe won the title on points; the third middle school state title in Western history. It was a surprise to many who knew her journey.

“Everyone was really pumped because this year no one thought I would win it,” said Chloe. “I've been injured two years in a row; my shoulder and my knee. I hadn’t won anything since I won Nationals two years ago. But I worked out like non-stop. I worked really hard this year.”

The end of the school wrestling season won’t mean the end of Chloe’s wrestling schedule. She will be travelling this year to compete in national showcases, including a big national meet in Fargo, ND, this summer.

Her goal remains unchanged. She hopes to wrestle in the Olympics someday. Mixed martial arts is also on her radar. But should neither of those pan out, she intends to join the military. In the meantime, she can be found in the makeshift gym in her basement, building strength and preparing for her next challenge.

“I want to win everything,” said Chloe. “I am like dead serious. I’m not messing around or anything.”