Tricia Saunders has long been considered the country’s preeminent female wrestler.

And there is now an award named after her that’s reemphasizes the Ahwatukee Foothills resident’s place in the sport.

For the first time, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum honored female high school wrestlers with the inaugural Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award.

The Saunders Award exactly mirrors the criteria of the Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award, which has been given annually since 1996.

Originally created in honor of Schultz, an Olympic and World champion, the High School Excellence Award is based on excellence in wrestling, scholastic achievement, citizenship and community service.

State winners for both the Schultz and Saunders Awards have been selected in each of the states that sponsor high school state championships.

Saunders was the first U.S. woman to win a World championship, winning four, and the first to be inducted as a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

With 11 U.S. national titles, she never lost to an American opponent. She is considered to be the greatest women’s wrestler in American history.

“From the time she was in elementary school wrestling at a very high level against male competition, Tricia Saunders has been a role model for female wrestlers,” said Lee Roy Smith, Executive Director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. “It is more than fitting that the High School Excellence Award for girls be named in her honor.”

The initial winners are:

California - Marina Doi, Kingsburg High School

Hawaii - Shannon Pa’aaina, Mid-Pacific Institute

Oregon - Kiera Gabaldon, North Salem High School

Tennessee - Lyssa Maki, Northeast High School

Texas - Taylor Alva, Cypress Woods High School

Washington - Kiaya Van Scoyoc, Lakes High School

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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