116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CORALVILLE — If you’re not with it, jump on board.
Those words were spoken by new Iowa women’s wrestling coach Clarissa Chun on the opening day of the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Official Association girls’ state tournament at Xtream Arena.
It’s a good message.
Girls’ wrestling and — in a couple of years — women’s wrestling have arrived in Iowa. It’s time to jump on board if you haven’t already.
On Saturday, wrestlers paced back and forth before their bouts, coaches — women and men — squirmed and danced in their corners, gave inspiring advice (“be a hammer on top”) and drilled with their athletes before matches.
Competitors celebrated after wins, cried after losses.
It looked and sounded a lot like every state tournament at old Veterans Auditorium in Des Moines — yes, I’m dating myself — and it looked and sounded a lot like the more than 25 NCAA wrestling tournaments I’ve worked or attended as a fan of the sport.
Wrestling is wrestling. There was an obvious gap in skill level for some of these wrestlers here, but as the field of 695 narrowed that talent evened out. Three former champs failed to make the finals Saturday.
And there was no gap in desire, no gap in effort and no gap in the want to get your armed raised at the end of a match. Whether these girls had been wrestling for five years or five weeks, they wanted to win.
“Oh man, it’s totally Iowa style in here,” Chun said Friday morning. “These young ladies are gritty and they scrap. They’re tough.
“I think they take pride in being able to wrestle hard. I love it.”
Wrestling is wrestling and this newish version of it is long overdue in this state — and it’s only going to get better. There’s been a smattering of girls’ and women’s wrestling in Iowa some time now, but this tidal wave is about to hit shore, and hit it hard.
The University of Iowa, of course, announced last year it would be the first Power Five school to sponsor women’s wrestling. Cornell College in Mount Vernon, a few weeks later, announced it, too, would have a women’s team. There are established programs in the NAIA and other NCAA Division III schools in the state joining.
The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union announced before the finals here Saturday that the sport will be sanctioned, starting next season.
“We think there’s a great foundation in place for the success of this sport and we intend to fully support these Iowa Girls as they continue their pursuit of championships,” IGHSAU Executive Director Jean Berger said in a news release.
“I think back 20 years ago or more when Hawaii first sanctioned girls’ wrestling and the excitement and buzz around that,” Chun said. “It’s energizing to see that happen here in Iowa.”
Wrestlers came from Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Decorah and Waukon, Guttenberg and Elkader. They came to wrestle, to perform — and to win.
“I don’t really have any fancy moves,” Decorah sophomore Naomi Simon said after a pin in her semifinal bout at 170 pounds. “I just stick to my basic fundamental moves. It hasn’t failed me yet.”
Simon, a state champion at 145, is one of the veterans here. She started wrestling four years ago and attended, as a fan, the first girls’ “state tournament,” held along with a “boys” tournament in Waverly.
“We’ve multiplied by 10 in four years,” she said. “That’s really awesome.”
These girls wanted a chance to wrestle and a chance to compete, to showcase their talent — just like their literal and figurative brothers.
“I love wrestling in front of people,” Simon said. “I love performing.”
That, too, is something these girls have in common with their male counterparts. Just down the road, the Hawkeyes built their program on an entertaining, dominating style.
It’s only going to get bigger and better. So, as Chun said, jump on board and enjoy the ride.
“These young girls are excited for the opportunities that they’re getting,” Chun said. “It doesn’t stop there.
“Now, they have hundreds of college women’s wrestling programs that give them an opportunity to continue their education and wrestle.”
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