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HS WRESTLING: OWEGO’S CRAFT TO TRAIN IN JAPAN (2023-09-13)

By TIM TAYLOR
Tioga County Sports Report
OWEGO — RaeAnn Craft will be spending a few days in Japan next month, honing her skills at the 2023 American Kintaro World Team/Immersion Training program.

The Owego Free Academy sophomore is one of 11 U.S. female wrestlers (eight from New York state) selected to Oct. 11-19 in Japan, competing with one of the preeminent world powers.

Not only will they be working on their wrestling technique, they will be embracing the Japanese culture and learning about their way of life.

Craft’s father had a connection who helped her land a spot on the team heading to Japan.

“My dad got a text message from a good friend of ours, Heath Macaluso. He's a very big women's wrestling advocate and he works with a lot of higher-up people in the women's wrestling community. My dad got a text from Heath asking if I wanted to go with him and the team to Japan and compete, and invited me out of a whole bunch of girls in the entire country to go.”

While the journey to Japan is new to Craft, the sport of wrestling is not.

“When I was a lot younger, my dad had signed me and my brother, and my cousin up,” she said. “I've just been doing it for so long and it's a sport that I enjoy doing a lot because of the family that it gives you, and the hard practice and the lessons that it teaches you as a person.”

Despite wrestling still being heavily dominated by men, it is rapidly growing in popularity with women.

Craft is still very much into the sport and realizes it takes a certain mindset to stick with it.

“Once you get into high school, you see what girls are actually like, dedicated to the sport and actually like it because they continue to put in the work and continue to get better in high school and still compete with the boys,” she said. “That's how you can tell which girls were just like, just wrestling to wrestle, and which girls actually are like dedicated to the sport.

Craft draws her inspiration from her friend, Cheyenne Sisenstein, the 2017 Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award winner. That honor is bestowed annually on a female high school senior and is based equally on outstanding wrestling success, scholastic achievement and citizenship or community service.

“I've known her since I was, I think eightish,” Craft said. “I met her at a tournament. We were on the same dual team and she went out, first time ever wrestling freestyle, she went out and destroyed everybody just because of her skill and her talent.

“She really inspires me because she kept working and kept trying to better herself to be able to compete on the higher level. She ended up going to college and doing really, really well in college, so she kind of inspires me to keep going.”

Craft has her sights set on taking wrestling to the next level also.

“I hope to go to college,” she said. “I hope to get more experience internationally and keep working with high-level people, high-level teammates, high-level coaches, and just getting to learn more about this sport.”

The majority of her free time is dedicated to wrestling.

“It's basically the only thing I do,” Craft said. “When I have off time I like to play other sports like softball or field hockey, but that's not very often.

“I spent my entire summer just practicing and working and traveling to big, big tournaments and working with different coaches and just moving all over. I went to Ocean City, I went to Virginia Beach, I went to North Dakota. I've been to a lot of big tournaments this past season.”

One such tournament was the 2023 US Marine Corps 16U Nationals in Fargo, North Dakota, where she placed sixth and became an All-American.

“It was awesome,” Craft said. “It was a lot of fun. I got to make a lot of new friends, a lot of new connections and relationships. Competing in that environment and at that high level with all those amazing wrestlers that made it there, it's just a really big honor to be able to make it there and even place or even win a match.”

Craft became a two-time Section IV girls champion in February and also placed third at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Girls Wrestling Individual Tournament. She was only seeded seventh for the inaugural invitational, which served as an unofficial state championship.

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