VIAN – High school wrestler and title contender Taya Hunt’s biggest fan is her younger sister, Joely, a third-grader who followed the lead and has become a champion in her own division.
“When she first started, she was a stud,” said Taya, 16, a Cherokee Nation citizen and sophomore at Vian High School. “She started off really good. She’s just mean on the mat.”
At 8 years old and 60 pounds, Joely, also a CN citizen, is already a two-time state wrestling champion in her age and weight division, taking first in the 2020 and 2021 Oklahoma Kids Wrestling Association tournaments.
The younger Hunt said she jumped onto the wrestling scene “because they did it,” referring to Taya and her brother Garritt, 14, the first wrestling sibling.
“My little brother started,” Taya said, “and my dad kept talking me into it, like going to practice and seeing how I liked it. I guess I just kind of fell into it.”
After Taya fell in love with wrestling, “it kind of snowballed from there,” their father, Rusty Hunt, said.
“Joely the next year started then pretty soon we had three kids wrestling sometimes at three different places,” he said. “It’s overwhelming and humbling to see your kids excel like that.”
Joely, he added, “caught on pretty quick.”
“She’s pretty good at replicating what she sees,” Rusty said.
Taya, one of only two girls on the Vian wrestling team, passed on cheerleading, band and chorus to wrestle. She said she drills, practices and sometimes competes with boys in tournaments.
“Boys, when you go against them, they’re kind of like iffy about it because they’re not used to going against girls,” she said. “A lot of girls do ask about wrestling. They’re like, ‘should I join?’ But they end up not doing it because they’re intimidated and they have to go against boys.”
Taya began her sophomore season ranked fourth in the state, then wrestled her way to No. 2 in the 136-pound division. She took part in the first Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association-sanctioned girls’ wrestling tournament on Feb. 25, losing in the finals to Jay senior Lilly Gough.
“I’ve been going against her all season,” Taya said. “It’s always been very close matches.”
Her new goal is to become a two-time state champion during her last two years of high school.
“I’m planning on going to college and hopefully get a coaching degree,” Taya said. “I’m not for sure what college I want to go to yet.”
Both sisters also take part in out-of-state events such as the Adidas Nationals in Kansas City, where Taya earned All-American honors. Joely recently took second place in the Reno Worlds tournament held in Tulsa.
“The girl that beat her, they ended up talking and ended up friends,” Rusty said.