Maryland’s Nebi Tsarni Named Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award National Winner

The National Wrestling Hall of Fame on Tuesday announced that Nebi Tsarni of Montgomery Village, Maryland is the 2024 national winner of the Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award (TSHSEA).

"I want to thank the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, my teachers and coaches, and my parents,” said Tsarni. “I am grateful and most honored to receive the award named after Tricia Saunders, a great wrestler, coach, and mother. She represents all that I want to be.

“This award obliges me to promote the great sport of wrestling even more for the significant impact it has had on all aspects of my life. Wrestling has helped me develop control over my fears and balance the physical, mental, and academic aspects of my life,” she added. “I learned that talent is nothing but consistent work bringing myself to the edge of my ability. Wrestling taught me to respect every opponent I competed against, regardless of the outcome, and allowed me to gain friends all over the nation."

First presented in 2014, the award is named for Tricia Saunders, a four-time World Champion and women’s wrestling pioneer. Saunders was the first woman to be inducted as a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2006 and was inducted into the United World Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2011. 

The award recognizes and celebrates the nation’s most outstanding high school senior female wrestlers for their excellence in wrestling, scholastic achievement, citizenship, and community service.

The national winner of the Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award will be announced on Wednesday. The DSHSEA recognizes and celebrates the nation’s most outstanding high school senior male wrestlers for their excellence in wrestling, scholastic achievement, citizenship, and community service.

The TSHSEA and DSHSEA national winners will be honored during the 47th Honors Weekend at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum on May 31 and June 1 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. To purchase tickets for Honors Weekend, visit

“Nebi has every reason to be immensely proud of the remarkable accomplishments she has achieved throughout her high school career. Her dedication and skill in wrestling, combined with her outstanding performance as a student and citizen, set her apart,” said Executive Director Lee Roy Smith. “As the latest recipient of our Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award, Nebi joins a group of young women whose achievements have earned them this honor. We eagerly anticipate the future successes that await Nebi, as she continues to exemplify the values and spirit of excellence that this award celebrates.”

The daughter of Ruslan and Zalina Tsarni, she will attend the United States Air Force Academy to pursue aerospace engineering and become a pilot.

Tsarni was a three-time Maryland state champion and varsity team captain for Watkins Mill High School. She received the Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent’s Award for Excellence in Interscholastic Athletics and was named Outstanding Female Wrestler by MCPS.

She won the 144-pound title and was named Outstanding Wrestler at the 2023 Junior Nationals after finishing fourth in 2022 and eighth in 2021.

Tsarni was the 16U Fargo Nationals champion in 2021 and 2022 and a seven-time All-American. Tsarni won the Who’s #1 championship at 144 pounds in 2023 and was the top-ranked wrestler at 144 pounds.

She was a Principal Leadership Council member and founder and creative director of “The Mill,” a school spirt group. Tsarni designed t-shirts, posters, banners and other items pertaining to her school and events.

Tsarni received the Principal Leadership Council Award, the Principal’s Student Engagement Award, and the Principal’s 4.0 GPA Award with a 4.84 GPA. She was also a member of the National Art Honors Society and volunteered as a coach and instructor for girls wrestling across Maryland.

Women’s wrestling is one of the fastest growing high school sports with participation growing by more than 292 percent from 16,562 in 2018 to 65,000 in 2024.

Forty-six state high school athletic associations have voted to approve girls wrestling as an official sport, and 44 held official girls high school state wrestling championships in 2023-24. Hawaii was the first state to host a girls state championship in 1998 while Texas began its girls tournament in 1999. The number grew to six states by 2015 and has exploded in recent years to 46 states.

States that hosted state-sanctioned girls' wrestling championships in 2023-24 are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

There are over 170 intercollegiate women’s wrestling teams competing at the NCAA, NAIA, junior college and community college level. Women’s wrestling is an NCAA Emerging Sport, and earlier this year the NCAA Committee on Women's Athletics voted to recommend Divisions I, II and III sponsor legislation to add a national collegiate women's wrestling championship, which could be achieved as early as the 2025-26 season. The NAIA recognizes women’s wrestling as an official varsity sport and held their first official championship in 2023.

TSHSEA winners are evaluated and selected on the basis of three criteria: success and standout performances and sportsmanship in wrestling; review of GPA and class rank, academic honors and distinctions; and participation in activities that demonstrate commitment to character and community.

The Hall of Fame accepts nominations for its high school excellence awards from state chapters and coaches. The nominations are reviewed by a committee, which selects state and regional winners. The committee then determines the national winners from the regional winners.

All-Time National Winners of Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award

Year - Name, High School, Hometown, State
2024 - Nebi Tsarni, Watkins Mill High School, Montgomery Village, Maryland
2023 - Kira Pipkins, Bloomfield High School, Bloomfield, New Jersey
2022 -
Sofia Macaluso, Minisink High School, Otisville, New York (U20 World Silver Medalist)
2021 - Olivia Brown, Broken Arrow High School, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
2020 - Nanea Estrella, Lahainaluna High School, Makawao, Hawaii
2019 - Emily Shilson, Mounds View High School, North Oaks, Minnesota (Five-Time College National Champion, Junior World Champion)
2018 - Alleida Martinez, Selma High School, Selma, California
2017 - Cierra Foster, Post Falls High School, Post Falls, Idaho
2016 - Katie Brock, Sequatchie County High School, Whitwell, Tennessee
2015 - Marizza Birrueta, Grandview High School, Grandview, Washington
2014 - Marina Doi, Kingsburg High School, Kingsburg, California

2024 Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award Regional Winners 

Region - Name, High School, Hometown, College Attending
Central Region - Persaeus Gomez, Pomona High School, Arvada, Colorado, Oklahoma State University
Midwest Region - Naomi Simon, Decorah High School, Decorah, Iowa, University of Iowa
Northeast Region - Nebi Tsarni, Watkins Mill High School, Montgomery Village, Maryland, United States Air Force Academy
Southeast Region - Genevieve An, Kennesaw Mountain High School, Marietta, Georgia, Lehigh University
West Region - Audrey Jimenez, Sunnyside High School, Sunrise, Arizona, Lehigh University 

2024 Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award State Winners 

State - Name, High School, Hometown, College Attending
Alabama - Emily Smith, Daphne High School, Daphne
Alaska - Roane Cook, Homer High School Connections, Homer
Arizona - Audrey Jimenez, Sunnyside High School, Sunrise, Lehigh University
Arkansas - Skylur Lewis, Rogers High School, Rogers, University of Saint Mary
California - Anaya Falcon, Walnut High School, Yorba Linda, Life University
Colorado - Persaeus Gomez, Pomona High School, Arvada, Oklahoma State University
Connecticut - Kelly Aspras, Joseph A. Foran High School, Milford, Sacred Heart University
Delaware - Logan Flood, Sussex Technical High School, Seaford, University of Mount Olive
Florida - Gabriele Tedesco, Lake Gibson High School, Lakeland, McKendree University
Georgia - Genevieve An, Kennesaw Mountain High School, Marietta, Lehigh University
Hawaii - Kaitlyn Fong, Moanalua High School, Honolulu, Southern Oregon University
Idaho - Clare Waite, Boise High School, Boise, North Central College
Illinois - Cadence Diduch, Freeport High School, Freeport, University of Iowa
Indiana - Rose Kaplan, West Lafayette High School, West Lafayette, Indiana Institute of Technology
Iowa - Naomi Simon, Decorah High School, Decorah, University of Iowa
Kansas - Nicole Redmond, Olathe South High School, Olathe, Lindenwood University
Kentucky - Lauren Walton, Woodford County High School, Lexington, Campbellsville University
Louisiana - Toni Jarreau, Walker High School, Walker, Missouri Valley University
Maine - Madoline Ripley, Oceanside High School, Owls Head
Maryland - Nebi Tsarni, Watkins Mill High School, Montgomery Village, United States Air Force Academy
Massachusetts - Nora Quitt, Ashland High School, Ashland
Michigan - Sabrina Nauss, Brighton High School, Brighton
Minnesota - Aspen Blasko, Forest Lake Senior High, Forest Lake, Grand Valley State University
Mississippi - Kayleigh Savage, St. Martin High School, Ocean Springs, Huntingdon College
Missouri - Isabella Renfro, Seneca High School, Seneca, Fort Hays State University
Montana - Gretchen Donally, Huntley Project High School, Worden, Colorado Mesa University
Nebraska - Sophia Shultz, Raymond Central High School, Raymond, Fort Hays State University
Nevada - Maria Aiono, Edward C. Reed High School, Reno, Presbyterian College
New Hampshire - Emily Angelo, Merrimack High School, Merrimack, Iowa Center Community College
New Jersey - Riley Lerner, Cedar Creek High School, Mays Landing
New Mexico - Lorianna Piestewa, Miyamura High School, Gallup, Colorado Mesa University
New York - Regan Retell, Tamatac High School, Troy, Elmira College
North Carolina - Caleigh Suddreth, Lake Norman High School, Mooresville
North Dakota - Jazlyn Weigel, Napoleon High School, Kintyre
Ohio - Chloe Dearwester, William Henry Harrison High School, Hooven, Presbyterian College
Oklahoma - Kali Hayden, Union High School, Tulsa, Carl Albert State College
Oregon - Ali Martinez, McNary High School, Keizer
Pennsylvania - Ana Malovich, Butler Senior High School, Butler, Grand Valley State University
Rhode Island - Daisey Hawkins, Scituate High School, West Greenwich
South Carolina - June Welch, Woodruff High School, Greer, North Central College
South Dakota - Sydney Uhrig, T.F. Riggs High School, Pierre
Tennessee - Ella Murphey, Hardin Valley Academy, Knoxville, Oklahoma City University
Texas - Erica Cobos, Americas High School, El Paso
Utah - Brooklyn Pace, Copper Hills High School, Lehi
Vermont - Jaden Coppins, Colchester High School, Colchester, Western New England University
Virginia - May Cuyler, Brentsville District High School, Bristow, Presbyterian College
Washington - Karianne Baldwin, Glacier Peak High School, Snohomish
West Virginia - Ciara Riner, Spring Valley High School, Huntington, Tiffin University
Wisconsin - Rachel Schauer, Fennimore High School, Fennimore, Wartburg College
Wyoming - Josie Houk, Lingle-Ft. Laramie High School, Torrington

Our Mission: To honor the sport of wrestling by preserving its history, recognizing extraordinary individual achievements, and inspiring future generations