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The City Journals

Olympic dreams take former Murray female wrestler to a prestigious school outside Philadelphia

Aug 19, 2019 02:37PM ● By Carl Fauver

Former Murray High School wrestler Elleni Johnson (R) recently had her arm raised several times, at two all-girl meets in Fargo, North Dakota. (Photo Theros Johnson)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

Last winter, Elleni Johnson became only the second female wrestler in Murray High School history to complete a full season on the Spartans’ all-but-one boys wrestling team. The 14 year old wrestled for her father, MHS head wrestling coach Theros Johnson, while still not yet attending the school (she was a Hillcrest Junior High ninth grader).

Now it appears that will be her only season wrestling for the Spartan boys. As of just a couple of weeks ago, Elleni is now attending a prestigious private boarding school, Wyoming Seminary. But it’s two time zones east of the Cowboy state and 2,075 miles from home.

“Wyoming Seminary is in northeastern Pennsylvania, about two hours away from both Philadelphia and New York City,” Theros Johnson said. “The school has had a prestigious boys wrestling team for decades; and a few years ago, they created a top-flight girls wrestling team as well. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for Elleni and the school made her a scholarship offer we just could not pass up.”  

Coach Johnson said non-athlete students normally pay a high tuition rate per year to attend Wyoming Seminary. But due to her wrestling potential — and solid academic credentials — Elleni will receive a sizable scholarship to attend.

Wyoming Seminary head girls wrestling coach Erin Vandiver became acquainted with Elleni at a prestigious wrestling tournament in Texas, last April.

“We took our team to the Women’s National finals meet in Irving, Texas and I watched one of my top wrestlers really have to work hard to beat Elleni,” Vandiver said. “Reese ended up beating Elleni, but I saw so much potential in Elleni that I began talking with her about attending Wyoming Seminary and joining our team.”

Like Elleni did just a couple of weeks ago, Reese Larramendy moved all the way across the country to attend the prestigious Pennsylvania boarding school. The Reno, Nevada native — who’s also just 15 years old, like Elleni — qualified to be on Team USA at that Texas meet and went on to earn a silver medal at the Women’s World Wrestling Championship, in Hungary.

“(Elleni and Reese) will both be sophomores and should be great training partners,” Vandiver added. “I have complete faith Elleni will develop quickly. She is very focused, highly motivated and understands her goals. We’re excited to have her join our team.”

Elleni received a solid scholarship offer to attend Wyoming Seminary following the Texas meet. But another wrestling effort — more recently in North Dakota — induced the private school to pony up even more financial support.

“In mid-July, USA Wrestling hosted two separate tournaments in Fargo, and Elleni placed very high in each of them,” Johnson said of his daughter. “In the 2019 US Marine Corps Junior National Championships Women’s Freestyle, Elleni placed eighth. That tournament had wrestlers up to age 18. In the U16 class (all wrestlers under age 17), Elleni finished fourth.”

Wrestling at 132 lbs., Elleni’s combined record in the four days of competition was 12 wins, five losses. And she admits, the number of wrestlers in each tournament made it a bit intimidating.

“There were 36 girls in the U16 tournament, so I was proud to finish fourth,” Elleni said. “Then in the other tournament, I was the youngest of 50 wrestlers. So eighth place was pretty good.”

Good enough, as it turns out, for Wyoming Seminary to sweeten its scholarship offer making the decision to allow Elleni to move across the country a bit easier for her parents.

“Wyoming Seminary is a renowned boarding school and now the new home of the USA Women’s Developmental Wrestling Program,” her father added. “It will provide Elleni with an outstanding academic opportunity. She will also travel to three international wrestling tournaments in this first year, including trips to Russia and Croatia.”

Elleni hopes the experience will also help her earn a college scholarship to one of the growing number of schools across the country now fielding women’s wrestling teams. And she has other lofty goals.

“I want to be the very best wrestler I can be, which hopefully will include a spot on the 2024 or 2028 Olympic Women’s Wrestling team,” Elleni concluded. “I will miss having my dad as my primary coach. But I think it will be a good experience to get to know new coaches.”

“She’s been getting up with me to work out at 5 in the morning for a couple of years now,” Theros Johnson concluded. “I will miss that; and I will miss her. But this is an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. I am so excited to see what happens for Elleni next.”