Tammy Cushman and Emily Levasseur aren’t picky about their wrestling opponents. Boys, girls — it makes little difference.

In a sport dominated by males, it’s rare that they face an opponent of the same gender, though. Levasseur, who wrestles for Monmouth Middle School, has faced just one girl in 12 matches this spring while Cushman rarely wrestled girls in her four years at Monmouth Academy.

That changed recently as both wrestlers placed second in the girls New England Open in Nashua, N.H. They’ll try to build on that success at the 15th annual National Girls Wrestling championships March 31 and April 1 at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich.

Levasseur, an eighth-grader, was introduced to the sport in sixth grade class by Kyle Fox, who is the middle school coach and an assistant for the high school team.

“I really enjoyed it and I was good at it,” she said. “I like it because you have to have a lot of heart to wrestle.”

Although Cushman was the only girl on the high school team this year, there are several on the middle school team.

Fox, who wrestled at Monmouth, comes from a wrestling family that includes his sister Jessica, who twice competed at the nationals. Fox said a lot of girls are discouraged from wrestling because they feel they’re at a strength disadvantage to boys, but he doesn’t think that’s accurate.

“If you go to any girls tournament you see girls that are stronger than most boys,” he said.

Levasseur, who wrestles at 103 pounds, is 6-6 this spring. She said she rarely encounters resentment from her male counterparts , but it does happen every now and then.

“One boy was talking crap about girls wrestlers,” Fox said. “So his coach arranged for him to wrestle Emily and she crushed him.”

Cushman has not only been accepted by her peers, but was team leader for the Mustangs this season. She enjoys the camaraderie the sport fosters along with the lessons it imparts.

“My teammates pretty much treat me like one of the guys,” she said. “I’ve really learned to just push through everything.”

Cushman, who wrestles at 138 pounds, was recovering from an ACL injury for much of the season and didn’t hit her stride until the Class C regionals, where she narrowly lost to a Lisbon wrestler.

“By the end of the year she was wrestling really well,” Fox said. “Her last match was awesome. She only lost by a point or two. She just couldn’t turn the guy over.”

Girls have enjoyed success against boys in the past, none more than Marshwood’s Deanna Rix, who lost in the Class A state final to a boy in 2005. Rix won 100 matches in her career, all against boys, and three junior girls national championships.

Cushman would like to wrestle in college — she’s applied to Colorado State which has a women’s team — but realizes this spring’s nationals may be her last time on the mat.

“My goal is to at least place,” she said.

Levasseur is also aiming for a top three finish, but unlike Cushman, has many years of competition ahead of her.

“Emily’s a natural talent,” Fox said. “You could tell from day one.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638