Natasha Markoutsis’ twin passions reflect two distinct sides of her personality.
The Yorkville senior plays the flute and the piccolo in the school band, an artistic pursuit that she first tried in fifth grade. Growing up in a household with three brothers, Markoutsis also gravitated toward aggressive sports like boxing, so she took up wrestling in sixth grade.
The dichotomy, she admits, does confuse some people.
“It’s like I go from being this calm person in band class to super aggressive and loud, always joking around,” Markoutsis said. “Usually when I tell people I also play band, they’ll say ‘You can’t do that, you’re a badass wrestler.’”
Markoutsis will not allow herself to be boxed into that stereotype. She’s also now making history in a sport that in the past was reserved primarily for the opposite gender, but no more.
Markoutsis and sophomore teammate Yami Aguirre both won championships at the sectional in Naperville this past Saturday. It qualified the two Yorkville girls for the first-ever IHSA girls state wrestling tournament Feb. 25-26 in Bloomington. Yorkville Christian freshman Brooklyn Sheaffer, fourth at sectionals, also advanced to state.
Illinois is the 28th state to sanction girls wrestling as a sport, coming on the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX.
“I think it’s really awesome that A, I get to go and B, it’s the first year that they’re actually doing it,” said Markoutsis, who was third in the IWCOA state tournament as a freshman and second as a junior. “I’ve been waiting to have it be officially sanctioned my whole high school career. The IWCOA, no shade to them, but it wasn’t official, it didn’t mean anything to the school. Just being able to go, even it it’s senior year, means a ton to me.”
Markoutsis, whose lone loss this came to good friend Alexis Janiak of Plainfield South at conference, was dominant at the sectional meet. Markoutsis (30-1) won all four of her contested matches by pin. Her first two pins came in fewer than 30 seconds.
Of the 28 finalists in sectionals, 10 came from the Southwest Prairie Conference.
“There is so much talent in girls wrestling in our area alone,” Yorkville coach Kevin Roth said. “At least half of the girls in the finals you had seven All-Americans, half of them have older brothers who are defending state champions. They are fun to watch and the talent level is there. We did a girls conference tournament on the lower level this year. The next year or two they might get a whole day just to themselves.”
Markoutsis’ older brother, Nicholas, now a sophomore in college, started wrestling before her, in the seventh grade. Natasha went to his Yorkville wrestling club practices and started to mimic what the boys were doing as she watched.
Curious, she jumped into a drill with no wrestling shoes, in sweatpants and street clothes.
“After that first practice my parents were like ‘How do you feel?’ and I was like ‘Great, it’s awesome,’” Markoutsis said. “So they were like ‘OK, we’ll get you wrestling shoes tomorrow.’ They are my No. 1 fans. I love them so much.”
Markoutsis is likewise thankful that her older brother was able to serve as her practice partner the first two years of high school, making it easier for her to adjust. She’s grateful for family, and coaches at school and club for being so supportive and encouraging through her endeavors.
Markoutsis, though, admitted that breaking down barriers does come with some subtle pushback.
“I’m sure all female athletes can attest to this, you are going to have people that look at you weird and say you shouldn’t be in this sport, and it hurts a lot – but you have to overcome that,” she said. “I know that’s why I’m supposed to do, I’m here to whoop your son.”
Markoutsis and Aguirre wrestled both boys and girls this season. They’d wrestle girls if other teams had girls their weight class, and if not wrestle JV with the boys.
“Natasha holds her own,” Roth said. “A lot of guys maybe underestimated her even if they knew her credentials. She’s so technical. Sometimes you have to rely on that technique, being more methodical, and she matches that to a T. In nature, she’s a hunter, like playing chess she strikes when she strikes. It’s cool to see the success she’s had.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise for a young lady who has crisscrossed the country competing in the sport. Her first out of state tournament was freshman year, with the Midwest Mat of Dreams. She’s been to South Carolina a couple times, Oklahoma multiple times, was with the Junior National team last June and has traveled to Reno, North Dakota, South Dakota and Indiana.
Now, Markoutsis’ focus in squarely on a state title that has eluded her the last three years.
“I want to win it really bad, so bad,” she said. “I came close last year, got second. I don’t want to think about who is in front of me. I’m there to win.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle