Devon Kueny had a Sunday off while moving from wrestling season into softball season. It was more than enough.
“I’m kind of one of those people that I have to busy,” said the Ewing High School senior. “I don’t know what to do when I have down time or a break.”
Thanks to making the first ever New Jersey Girls’ State Wrestling Championship, she had only one day off before breaking out her softball gear. Kueny finished her wrestling career on a high note with a third-place finish at 118 pounds on March 2 in Atlantic City. It’s the highest finish by a Ewing wrestler ever.
“I am very happy that I got third,” Kueny said. “I was shooting for top four. The initial goal was to get there, but once I got there I had to set another goal.
“Competitively, it’s probably my last hurrah for wrestling,” she said. “I initially wanted to go into club wrestling in college, but my college doesn’t have a wrestling team. If this was my last match, I’m glad I ended on a win, in that environment, and that I was able to experience that. And to not have my season end on a traumatic loss, I was very happy with that.”
Kueny will be playing softball next year at Dickinson College, but she’s thrilled that she had the opportunity to wrestle in the first girls state championship. She’s a pioneer for future Ewing girls.
“It means the world to me,” Kueny said. “I spent six years taking it from the guys. To finally be able to compete towards a state tournament against my own strength and competition level was kind of a relief to me. I could now wrestle and not lose because I was weaker than guys.”
Kueny will carry that moment with her into college. She is finishing out her scholastic softball career with Ewing, where she’s been a mainstay on varsity for four years. She also played four years of soccer, the last two on varsity, and she wrestled for four years with the last three on varsity.
“I think softball is probably my favorite, only because I’ve been in it the longest, and it’s the sport I put the most into,” Kueny said. “I think I put the next amount of time into soccer but I think wrestling is the next most enjoyable sport for me because I’m a really competitive person and it’s a great competitive sport. I love all of them, and I always have.”
Kueny is also a top-notch student who ranks in the top 1 percent of her class. She plays violin, guitar, piano, saxophone and ukulele. She’s president of the National Honor Society and mentors freshmen as part of Ewing’s Peer Leadership program. She’s president of Ewing’s Sports Medicine Club, and volunteers for Pete’s Sake, a program that supports adults with cancer.
“I try to find ways to keep myself busy,” Kueny said. “I’ll start cleaning the house. I love that the constant schedule forces me to get my work done. Obviously changing gears sometimes gets a little scrappy because it’s so quick, especially this time for wrestling into softball. Usually I have a little gap because I’m not wrestling in the state tournament.”
This year was a unique opportunity when New Jersey became the 12th state to sanction a girls state wrestling championship. Kueny had to fight back to finish third in the South Region tournament to qualify for states.
“I think I did okay at regions,” Kueny said. “I think I could have done better in a lot of situations and positions. I’m not disappointed at how I wrestled at regions at all. I ended up getting to states which was the goal. I just ended up taking the scenic route at regions to the podium. If we learned anything, I did the same thing at states so I guess it’s a habit of mine.
Kueny lost in the quarterfinals of regions and had to wrestle four matches straight to get back to the podium. “My coach kept saying, four more, four more, and I was thinking of taking it one at a time to get to A.C.”
Kueny reached her goals and was able to make her first trip to Atlantic City. The moment she qualified left her in tears.
“I think it meant more because if I had lost any of those last four matches, my entire wrestling career would have been over,” she said. “To continue it for another week was the greatest feeling in the world.”
Even if she hadn’t made the state championships, the regions gave her plenty of moments. It was her first time seeing a scene like it.
“When we were at states, obviously the environment was insane, but the difference was regions was just a gym of girls,” Kueny said. “There were 400 girls in one gym wrestling on eight mats. There was not a guy wrestler in sight that was wearing a singlet ready to wrestle.
“That’s probably why it kind of meant more. We had seen how the sport had progressed and we were able to get 400 girls out on mats and just to see the whole girls state come together was amazing. At states we were there, but to see everyone wrestling together at one time at regions was incredible.”
Kueny was joined in Atlantic City by two other members from the EHS wrestling team, and they too made their first boys state tournament. Chris Seifert advanced at 220 pounds to cap his four-year career, and Obi Ezeigbo qualified at heavyweight in his first season of wrestling.
Kueny capped her career with pin of Raritan’s Casandra Auletta in 1:23. It was her second straight pin after falling to eventual champion Christine Gavasheli in the semifinal.
“For her career to end on a win and win like she did was great,” Dalessio said. “She’s the highest place finishing wrestler in Ewing history. No one can take that away. I know there’s naysayers out there that say it doesn’t count, it counts. She wrestled guys for three and four years. In the wrestling world, she took her medicine. She went out there and got beat up sometimes by these guys. They weren’t showing any mercy. She kept on going, kept on fighting and the hard work finally paid off with an opportunity for her to wrestle in states against other girls, and she showed what type of wrestler she was.”
Kueny had played softball and soccer since her youth. In seventh grade, at the urging of a friend, Mallory Fritsch, Kueny decided to try wrestling at Fisher Middle School.
“I knew my dad wrestled in high school and it was just going to be my mom that I had to convince. It ended up that she was all for it,” Kueny said. “‘As long as you lose the weight healthily,’” she said.
Once Kueny got to high school, Fritsch transferred, and she was left as the lone female on the EHS wrestling team for her first three years. This year, freshman Meara Hayes joined the team.
“A lot of the guys on the team when I came up to the high school I had already wrestled with at Fisher,” Kueny said. “There were a couple that didn’t know me, but I knew a lot of the team. At first, they were like, ‘There’s a girl, this is kind of weird.’ But they realized that I was in the sport, and I didn’t care that I was a girl or that you were going to beat me up. ‘I’m here to wrestle, so wrestle me.’ Once they realized how serious I was, they looked at me as a teammate and not any differently because I was a girl.”
But on the mat, it was different. Kueny wrestled only five girls in the first three years of her career, and wrestling boys was difficult. It paid off however when the state started to see more girls and gave them a chance to compete in regions and states with each other.
“I credit almost all my success to being in the room with guys,” Kueny said. “I think that when you’re on the mat at regions and states, you can tell who the girls that are wrestling with girls are, and you can tell the girls that are wrestling with guys.
“When it comes to guys, you have that legacy of skill and level of competitiveness that a lot of the new teams of all girls don’t get to experience. I think wrestling with the guys made me the wrestler I am. I had to wrestle twice as hard against a guy that was going to outmuscle me every time. I had to focus on all my technique because I couldn’t rely on muscle to do the work for me.”
To her Blue Devil teammates, she was no different than them. It’s how she was treated over her career and it helped strengthen her. “She’s a wrestler through and through,” Dalessio said. “I don’t look at them at girls and guys, I look at them as wrestlers. She gets it and understands it, and has really worked her butt off to get where she was.”
Kueny works hard to excel in everything that she does, and she does a lot. Keeping wrestling it her life over her four years at EHS has meant as much as anything.
“I am going to miss the sport,” she said. “This is a sport I love. I’ve put my blood, sweat and tears into the sport. Looking back on it, I’m happy how my career went. I don’t have any regrets when it comes to wrestling.
“I think that’s going to continue as I grow older and when I look back 30 years from now and there’s a whole girls tournament and it’s super competitive and guys are freaking out that the girls are good enough to start beating some of the guys, that’s what I hope will come to this sport, and I can look back and say, ‘I was a part of that initial group.’ I don’t think I realize it now, but when I’m older I look back and say that I did that.”