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Tinley Park HS Alum Headed To Beach Wrestling World Stage

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Tinley Park HS Alum Headed To Beach Wrestling World Stage

TINLEY PARK, IL — Maren Anderson likely isn’t the only 18-year-old who’s been spending hot summer days on the beach. But she’s probably the only one with medals and trophies for doing it.

This summer, Anderson has taken on and practically conquered the challenge of beach wrestling, adding several big wins to her accomplishments, including a second place finish at the USA Beach Wrestling National Championships in May. With that placing, she’s qualified to head to the World Championships in Romania, August 30–Sept. 4. She’s also eligible for the Beach Wrestling World Series, which features several tournaments in Europe leading up to the championships.

A Tinley Park High School 2021 graduate, Anderson began wrestling her freshman year in high school—the only girl on a team full of boys—but only this summer began exploring beach wrestling. She’s coached by Mitchell Cook, at Natural Athlete Wrestling Club in Orland Park. It was at Cook’s nudging that Anderson gave beach wrestling a shot.

“I got started with it, because I was looking to compete over the summer in the off-season,” Anderson said. “When I figured out it wasn’t a freestyle tournament, I almost didn’t go. … But decided to because it was just an excuse to go to the beach over the summer.”

But there’s not much lounging out there for Anderson. Hot summer sun, heat, and different scoring in sparring make for an interesting challenge.

“Sand is different, when you push off it,” Anderson said. “It forces you to be careful with how you move, and how you expend your energy.”

But she seems to be getting the hang of it. Anderson recently traveled to Greece to compete, where she placed 7th. She has started a GoFundMe online campaign to raise money to continue chasing this new dream overseas in Romania.

Meanwhile, she’s working hard, practicing as often as she can, with hours on the mat several days a week, and sparring in a volleyball sand pit whenever her partner can.

“I’m very spoiled in the sense that I can have as much time on the mat and sand as I want,” she said.

Maren Anderson, with her coach Mitchell Cook. (Courtesy of Maren Anderson)

Anderson’s early success in the sand doesn’t come as a surprise to her former high school wrestling coach, John Pfeffer.

“Maren as an athlete has been one that has been always learning and never backing down from competition,” Pfeffer told Patch. “We always talk about having the ‘white belt’ mentality in our practice room, meaning that everyone has something to learn from anyone else. She has grown each year as a wrestler and is now seeing great success on the next level which is quite an accomplishment for someone who didn’t wrestle before high school.”

Anderson was not only the only girl on an all-male wrestling team, she was also the only female on the Bremen District 228 lacrosse team. She now attends North Central College in Naperville, where she continues playing lacrosse, as well.

“I am extremely proud and excited for Maren,” Pfeffer said. “To hear about all of her success has gotten me excited to see where her competition will take her next. Maren has been consistently developing as a wrestler since she started with us as a freshman. She has flown under the radar with her accomplishments and I am just as proud of her as I am of Eric Schultz(’16) who became a 2x All-American at Nebraska or Justin Morgan(’17) getting into the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. Maren placed 4th in the IWCOA(Illinois Wrestling Coaches & Officials Association) state tournament the year before the IHSA finally held a girls state tournament.”

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Maren Anderson, on the fourth stop of the European Tour in Katerini Greece. (Courtesy of Maren Anderson)

Her success across varying types of wrestling isn’t typical, Pfeffer said, and speaks to Anderson’s dedication.

“Because she is eager to learn and loves tough competition, she is having great success in the various styles of wrestling,” Pfeffer said. “For wrestlers to be successful in different styles and different levels they need the experience that only comes with training nearly year-round.”

Her start in wrestling was spontaneous—a girl in her art class had mentioned that there was a group who would stay behind after school for “open mats.”

“I had to call my mom and had to ask if I could stay for open mats, and she laughed and said, ‘why do you want to wrestle, you don’t even have any brothers?’ Anderson said, chuckling.

But on those mats, she found a community. Everyone welcomed her, even lending her a pair of shoes to wear in her first attempts those early days.

“Everything came up naturally and so fast,” Anderson said. “I never expected to compete at such a high level, it was never something that I thought I could do. To see it all happening now, is just exciting and nerve-wracking, something I hope to do again next summer.”

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