Behind Marlee Smith's path to becoming ASU's only female wrestler

Smith has paved her own path to success and hopes to help bring a D-I women's wrestling team to ASU in the future

Sports were always in her DNA.

Junior wrestler Marlee Smith's dad was a football coach and her brother was both a wrestler and football player. As early as second grade, she would find a home in wrestling.

After competing on the boy's team most of her life — as she was one of only a handful of girls in competitive wrestling in the entire state of New Jersey — she transferred to Wyoming Seminary College Preparatory School, a boarding school in Pennsylvania where she competed on an all-girls team for the first time during her senior year of high school.

It was obvious Smith was talented enough to compete at the collegiate level, but the route she would take is what makes her so unique.

Before coming to ASU, Smith trained at Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club, one of the top regional training centers in the country, according to ASU wrestling head coach Zeke Jones. Regional Training Centers are developmental training centers in which Division I wrestlers can train with the best coaches and athletes in the world. 

Training with the best is all Marlee wanted, and this was the opportunity of a lifetime.

In high school, she made frequent trips to Arizona when she was training alongside theJunior World Team.

"I came out here to Arizona and it just felt like home to me,” Smith said. "I was getting into nursing and a lot of the women’s wrestling schools did not have that."

Smith knew Tempe was where she wanted to be. Not only were there not very many schools which provided women's wrestling, but the ones that did were typically pretty small. At the time, there were only 23 NCAA schools that sponsor women's wrestling and ASU's Coach Jones was willing to take a chance on her potential.

"We wanted to make a difference in women's wrestling and Marlee was that girl that we wanted to bring in," Jones said.

Smith said she does not have to look far for motivation. She is training with the likes of Dominique Parrish, who placed third at the 2021 U.S Olympic team trials, and first-time Olympian Kayla Miracle

"She's training alongside the best people in the world, not just in the country," Jones said. "If there is anybody she aspires to be, it's these women."

Without the support of her teammates, ASU coaches, and coaches from her past, Smith said she would not be where she is today.

"I honestly didn't think I'd get to where I'm at if it wasn't for their help and support," Smith said.

"She's one of us, she's one of the teammates, she goes out there she does everything that the teammates do, she's the hardest worker in the room," redshirt junior Brandon Courtney said. "She's someone the whole team loves."

These last couple of years, Smith has been competing at senior-level competitions on the East Coast, where she wrestles girls much older than her, she said. But this year, Smith has other plans in mind.

"I am trying to compete more at the college level and try to push for that D-I women's team here. That's my main goal this year," Smith said. 

Coach Jones plans to enter Smith into women's college tournaments as an independent wrestler. As Smith's time at ASU nears its end, she has her eyes set on the future.

"If we get a women's team, I for sure want to help coach that team," she said. "I want to get other girls to realize that they can have the opportunity as well."

No matter what career path she chooses, Smith hopes to make a lasting impact at ASU.


Reach the reporter at agupt208@asu.edu.

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