116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Dominique Smalley said it’s “been a minute” since she stepped on a mat and competed as a wrestler.
How about somewhere around 13 million minutes?
And that’s something Smalley doesn’t quite understand as she takes on the role of Cornell College’s first women’s wrestling coach.
“It’s been a full 25 years” since she wrestled for Brad Smith at Iowa City High. Then she was on “some of the first college wrestling teams ... and I wasn’t even the first.”
She made the U.S. Senior National team in 1997, the year she graduated from City High, as well as in 1999 and 2000. She won gold at the 2000 FILA Junior Women’s World Championships at 165.25 pounds.
But in December, Cornell announced its first women’s wrestling program, a short time after the University of Iowa declared it would offer the first Power Five program. The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union announced a month later it would sponsor girls’ wrestling, starting next season.
It’s been more than a minute and Smalley wants to know, “what took so long?”
Answering her own question, she said many men’s coaches didn’t know what to do with girls wanting to wrestle, didn’t know how to coach them.
“A lot of it was nobody knows how to move the program forward,” she said.
Although there are challenges ahead, girls’ and women’s wrestling is here in Iowa and hopefully gaining steam across the country. Smalley couldn’t be more excited.
“I really want to grow the program, grow women’s wrestling,” she said. “The passion is there.
“I’m excited to build Cornell’s women’s program and do it the right way.”
The “right way” includes many lessons she learned along the way — from Smith, now back at Lisbon High School, “who pushed me to be better ... he didn’t let me slack” to the late Mike Duroe, “the most supportive person I’ll ever know.”
Duroe’s last coaching stop was at Cornell. That’s not lost on Smalley.
She said Duroe taught her coaching wrestling is about technique and aggressiveness, of course, but also about life.
“I’m a lifelong learner,” she said. “I’m a lifelong teacher.”
And that, she said, will be important at a place like Cornell, where the academic standards are high and the one-class-at-a-time program will present unique challenges when it comes to recruiting.
She doesn’t necessarily have to have the best athletes in the country, she said, but she needs the “right athletes.” Smalley taught the past 15 years in the Ranking County School District in Brandon, Miss.
“As a parent, as a teacher, as an athlete, I’ve always focused on academics,” she said.
After wrestling one season at Missouri Valley College — where she was teammates with first-year Iowa women’s coach Clarissa Chun — she decided to focus on academics, earning her bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2002 and, later, her master’s in education from Touro University International in 2008.
“I chose academics and career,” she said.
She wants the women she coaches at Cornell to have it all.
“At the college level, I don’t think an athlete has to give up on that dream,” she said. “I want wrestlers who are going to commit to everything.
“We’re opening the door for women who might not have had the opportunity” to do both.
She doesn’t think finding those athletes will be a problem, either, even with Chun about 30 miles down the road trying to build a Division I program. There’s plenty of talent in Iowa and beyond.
“I’ve had tremendous response,” Smalley said, noting she’s getting emails and questions from women and parents “all over the country.”
Cornell will start as a club team in 2022-23.
“Year 1 will be a different dynamic,” she said, noting it will be a small program, but one that will build in the near future.
She’s already at work, attending national meets, meeting with old friends and teammates and gathering as much information as she can.
“I love it,” she said about how busy she’s been in the last week. “I like to stay busy.”
And she’s back home, where one of her mentors last worked and not far from where one still works.
“I couldn’t imagine a better place,” she said.
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