Caley Graber understood the risk of wrestling in the boys division.

She knew she could be — would be — the top-ranked wrestler in her class if she wrestled in the girls division. A year removed from winning the girls 100-pound state title, she opted out of a likely second title to chase something greater: history.

"My goal all season long was to win boys sections and then win a match and get on the podium," Graber said.

A Northfield sophomore, she made history Feb. 29, becoming the first girl to win a match in the Minnesota boys wrestling state tournament, pinning Saitaro Kong of Apple Valley in the first round of the Class 3A, 107-pound bracket.

She built on her achievement, winning her second match 5-2 over Mounds View's Owen LaRose before losing to the state's No. 2-ranked wrestler, Dylan St. Germain of Eagan. Graber finished fifth by defeating LaRose again in the consolation bracket.

Graber's willingness to take a risk, and her eventual unparalleled success, make her the Star Tribune's All-Metro Sports Awards Courage in Competition winner for 2024.

"At the beginning of my high school season, it was something that was in the back of my mind," Graber said. "I got second at the Rumble on The Red tournament for high school in the boys division, and that's when I really decided that I was going to take the boys route for state."

Although Graber was familiar with the playing field, having competed with boys since her early childhood, she had her share of concerns. One stood out.

"I didn't want to go and not do well at all, like not place or not even win a match, and then give up a girls state title for almost nothing," she said.

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Graber said she had heard chatter from those who disapproved of her competing in the boys division but never let it cut too deep. Instead, she leaned on her support system.

She recalled what coach Geoff Staab and others told her leading up to the state championships: "They told me, 'You wrestle boys in the practice room almost every single day and you're sticking right with some of the best kids in the state. There's no reason why you can't just keep doing that at the state tournament.' "

Hindsight tells Graber the decision was correct, and now she carries confidence into her junior year. That's one payoff. Another came the day she finished at state.

"When I was done, I went into the stands where my parents were and there were so many little girls giving me high fives, saying, 'Good job' and asking for autographs," Graber said. "That was one of the coolest moments I've had in a really long time."

Girls wrestling is growing next season; the Minnesota State High School League Board of Directors approved four more girls-only events that will not count toward the school limit of 16. Graber, by crossing boundaries and claiming firsts, hopes she's fueling the aspirations of young wrestlers about to compete on that bigger stage.

"Don't let yourself get intimidated," Graber said. "Keep your confidence up and remember that you can do anything that those boys can do if you put your mind to it and work hard. You can make anything happen."