116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Do rankings matter?
Maybe in some aspects of our sporting world, but not today. This is my story and I’m sticking to it.
A couple of weeks ago in this space, I looked at some of the top stories of 2021, another year filled with more COVID-19 than any of us like — especially of late — but also a year with some outstanding accomplishments and events.
I asked for your help, as well as the sports staff’s thoughts. One item I left off my original list has emerged as maybe the year’s top story.
But who’s ranking?
Name, Image and Likeness came to college athletes near and far and many at Iowa and Iowa State took advantage, selling T-shirts, doing commercials and signing autographs for money.
This will be a big story for years to come as NIL trickles (pours) into recruiting, when athletes pick a school based on their potential to make money off their name and image. It’s already happening and will only play a bigger role when high school seniors decide what’s best for their future.
Let’s make that the top story of 2021, if you’re into that kind of thing.
A close second, maybe even 1A, is women’s wrestling. This story, too, is in its infancy. Iowa became the first Power-5 program to announce a program. A coupe of weeks later Olympian and World champion Clarissa Chun was named the school’s first head coach.
There are 43 NCAA Division I, II or III women’s wrestling programs right now, according to the American Women’s Wrestling website. There are 37 in the NAIA and seven junior college programs.
It’s only a matter of time — and the shorter the better — when more Power-5 programs add the sport, the NCAA holds an official season and a season-ending championship.
That will be a great day not only in the world of wrestling, but in the bigger world of sport.
“This may seem like a small deal now, but it is huge for Iowa girls’ wrestling and beyond,” reader Rick Blackwell, the former Cedar Rapids Kennedy wrestling coach, wrote on Facebook.
Other top stories include the outstanding seasons for the teams we cover, like Iowa winning the Big Ten and NCAA wrestling titles with Spencer Lee capturing his third national title and winning his second Hodge Trophy as the nation’s most dominant wrestler.
Lee’s performance, by itself, is worthy of the top slot, wrestling — and winning — with a torn ACL. And, to tie into our other top story, Lee’s "Excuses Are For Wusses" shirts were among the first NIL sellers.
Iowa State football fans probably still are stinging from Wednesday’s 20-13 Cheez-It Bowl loss to Clemson, capping a rather frustrating and disappointing 7-6 campaign that started with sky-high expectations.
But 2021 started with the Cyclones beating Oregon, 34-17, in the Fiesta Bowl, the program’s first New Year’s Six bowl appearance. That capped a 9-3 season that saw ISU play in its first Big 12 championship game, too, and earn the No. 8 national ranking.
The Iowa football team’s 2021 story still is unfolding with a game Saturday in the Citrus Bowl. But a 10-win season, maybe an 11-win season, and a Big Ten championship game appearance needs some special mention. This season saw the Hawkeyes climb to No. 2 in the rankings before offensive shortcomings were exposed.
There also were some special awards for the athletes we cover in 2021. Iowa’s Luka Garza was the consensus national player of the year in men’s basketball last winter and Hawkeye freshman Caitlin Clark earned All-America honors, national co-freshman of the year and Big Ten freshman of the year in women’s basketball. And, of course, the aforementioned Lee won his second Hodge award.
And let’s not forget former Mount Vernon and Iowa standout Tristan Wirfs. He helped Tampa Bay win a Super Bowl title, earned a spot on the all-rookie team and, last month, made the All-Pro team.
The year also saw a bit of a rebirth with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and Kernels returning to the ice and field, respectively, after taking 2020 off. The Kernels capped their return by making the championship playoffs.
And pro hockey made its debut in the Corridor with the Iowa Heartlanders kicking off their inaugural season in the ECHL.
There were several championships won in high school sports, too — from West Delaware sweeping wrestling titles to Mid-Prairie winning in girls’ track and Marion in baseball. But the biggest news in high school sports was the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union announcing it is moving its state volleyball tournament from Cedar Rapids to Coralville.
While this ends a wonderful and successful 31-year run in Cedar Rapids, it will be exciting to see what the folks at Xtream Arena can do with this popular event.
So, if my math is correct and you’re keeping track, that’s 10 top stories for 2021. Every story means something different to each person, so rankings aren’t needed.
Plus, what about these other stories ...
- Iowa reinstated women’s swimming and resolves Title IX lawsuit, setting the table for women’s wrestling.
- High school football expanded to seven classes with a Class 5A for the state’s biggest schools.
- Former Cedar Rapids Prairie prep Jessica Heims competed in the Summer Paralympics.
- The Iowa men’s track and field team won indoor and outdoor Big Ten titles.
- Former Hawkeye Thomas Gilman earned a bronze medal in Olympic wrestling in August, then won gold at the World Championships in October.
- The U.S. women’s Paralympic volleyball team won gold at the Tokyo Olympics, with former Cedar Rapids Kennedy prep and coach Michelle Goodall on the coaching staff.
That’s a good list. That’s a good year. And, I’m sure, there are plenty more.
Happy New Year.
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