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Mar 30, 2024

Ready to Rumble

Cheryl Ricer

Photography By

Local 14-year-old girl shines as a rising star in wrestling

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Tell Makayla Hinchey she wrestles like a girl, and she’ll show you just how right you are. This 14-year-old (who began wrestling at age 9) is not only winning matches around the country and in the largest competition in Europe, but she’s also scoring against boys and college-aged girls.

Makayla is ranked as the No. 2 Future Olympian in her 14U weight class for 2023, after a vigorous year of competing. 

Makayla Hinchey is photographed in CH2’s studio.



Nationally, girls wrestling is the fastest-growing sport, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). In September, the NFHS reported a 55% increase in participation numbers from 2021-22 to a record total of 49,127 participants. The trend is apparent as more high schools and colleges continue to add women’s wrestling programs. 

The sport has been recommended as the 91st NCAA sport, and it is hoped it will be official for 2025.

“Currently, girls wrestling is the number one emerging Division One sport,” said Jeff Estrada, Makayla’s coach and head wrestling coach for the Daughters of Zion and Sons of Thunder wrestling teams at Gideon’s Christian Academy in Hilton Head. More scholarships than ever before are being given for girls wrestling.





















Even with the stellar growth of the sport, there are many people who are still uncomfortable with the notion of girls wrestling, especially when they are wrestling against boys. While many states are sanctioned, South Carolina is not. 

“What that means is that in schools here in South Carolina, girls must compete against boys,” said Jennifer Hinchey, Makayla’s mom. “Once at a high school level, it gets harder and harder.”

But on the national level, in the bigger tournaments and in other states, Makayla strictly wrestles other girls.

Hinchey said Makayla was the first girl in Beaufort County to win a state championship and the first girl at McCracken Middle School to ever win a state championship, undefeated against boys and girls during the regular season. 

“She no longer attends Beaufort County schools, since she broke every record in wrestling that she could while in seventh grade,” Hinchey said. “That’s why she does what she currently is doing, so she can make her mark nationally and internationally.”

Makayla is homeschooled through the Gideon Christian Academy to accommodate her year-round wrestling travel schedule. She competes in Folkstyle, Freestyle, and Greco wrestling. 

Makayla Hinchey faces an opponent at the American Open in Erie, Pennsylvania.

So, what’s the difference? Folkstyle and Freestyle both allow leg attacks, but the American Folkstyle system rewards control while Freestyle rewards execution. Freestyle wrestling is just that – a free style of wrestling. Points come faster and matches often end quicker. Folkstyle won’t have as many throws, since referees will stop any potentially dangerous moves. Greco allows attacks only above the waist, which often leads to spectacular throws. This can also lead to low-scoring matches since attacks are limited to half of the body. 

Makayla’s favorite is Freestyle.

Interestingly, though, she just won the National Folkstyle tournament in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a big win for a then-13-year-old at the biggest Folkstyle tournament in the country. In November, she placed second at the Malacupen Invitational competition in Sweden, one of the largest competitions in Europe. She has also competed against 20-year-olds in a college American Open Freestyle tournament, beating one of them and scoring on all the others. 

Last year, she competed to make the World Team. Right now, she’s in training for the 2024 World Team trials to be held in Spokane, Washington, where she’ll compete in two divisions in hopes of making the team.  

How does she do it?

“Makayla is, at heart, a sweet, compassionate kid,” Estrada said. “Yet something inside of her wants to be a champion. She is so determined, doesn’t know the word ‘quit’, and she works very hard training to be the best.”

To prepare for World Team trials, Makayla is following a 12-week training cycle that includes running 5 miles a day for several days on an alternating schedule. “By the time we get to World, I’ll be running 5 miles a day, seven days a week,” she said.

Additionally, she executes daily workouts for three to four hours a day currently, increasing up to five hours a day leading into the World Team trials. These include technique sessions interspersed with weightlifting sessions. 

“The rigorous schedule necessitates Makayla’s homeschooling through the Gideon Christian Academy,” Hinchey said. “It’s a no-nonsense approach to schooling where they focus on core subjects, beginning as early as 5:30 a.m. There is no summer vacation. The kids work year-round, and the students are expected to not only excel at sports, but also academics.”

Makayla’s training is not her only secret to success. She knows that part of why she wins is that she believes in herself, a trait she attributes to her coach and teammates. 

“I never doubt myself or let a loss get to my head, because that’s just one loss out of a lot of wins,” Makayla said. “Before, if I ever lost a match, I’d get so upset and then I’d end up losing all my matches. Then my coach and teammates would rile me up and encourage me from the sidelines, so I started believing in myself. I started training harder, getting better, and I started winning. That’s my winning formula now. I believe I can win, so I win.” 

To follow Makayla and be inspired by her wrestling journey, follow her on Instagram @makaylahinchey.  

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