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Iowa Wrestling Weekend That Was: Wrestlers and organizers reflect on first IGHSAU state tournament
IGHSAU and Xtream Arena can build on successful, historic event
Xtream Arena hosted an energetic three days of championship events, the Iowa women dominated and Northern Iowa and Iowa State each went 2-0 leading into their showdown Friday. This is the Wrestling Weekend That Was.
Xtream Arena’s festival of wrestling championships
The inaugural Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union state tournament was held Thursday and Friday, completing the first sanctioned season. The two-day, four-session event kicked off the wrestling festival of high school championships at Xtream Arena in Coralville that concluded with the boys’ state duals tournament Saturday.
The historic first day was completely sold out. A swell of ticket seekers bought more than 2,700 tickets in the 12 hours that led to the opening whistle of the tournament. More than 5,000 fans produced an electric and frenzied atmosphere with rolling eruptions of cheers and screams from different sections.
“It’s really cool that it was sold out,” Union Community’s Jillian Worthen said. “There is a lot more pink than I expected, but I think it’s really cool that people from everywhere, like I know people from Illinois watching online, too. It’s cool the wrestling community has grown so much.”
The tournament had plenty of pomp and circumstance to help create the celebration it deserved to be, including a Grand March with younger girls leading each weight of medalists behind Marshall Nadine Johnston, a female pioneer in officiating. Special extras included match winners signing their name on the official tournament bracket when they advanced. Titlists penned their autograph on the champion line in front of the crowd immediately after the championship bout.
“I think it shows what organizations are capable of when they have a great team of people,” IGHSAU Associate Director Erin Kirtley said, “and so devoted to the Iowa girl and committed to providing the best opportunities.”
The competition and skill level entertained and impressed the casual fan as well as the family, friends and classmates in the venue. The field engaged in thrilling big moves, dominant performances and edge-of-your-seat finishes. Girls’ wrestling has evolved and the wrestlers are the catalysts of the growth.
“There are girls coming in that have been wrestling since they were 4 years old. You know, how we see boys wrestling, currently,” said Decorah 170-pound state champion Naomi Simon, who finished 37-0 with an 82-0 career mark. “(Iowa Valley 145 state champion) Emma Peach has been wrestling since she could walk. Skylar Slade (of Southeast Polk) has been wrestling for a super long time. Both 100-pounders have wrestled for a long time. That and sanctioning, giving more girls opportunities. It’s just boosting the competition and I love it because I get to wrestle more.”
Don’t forget wrestlers had to qualify for the 448-participant field, which is different than the preceding Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association tournaments. Those open fields served a vital purpose but the 32-person brackets Thursday and Friday was the next step.
“There was a lot less matches this year because I didn’t have 124-person bracket,” Peach said. “It was still hard. I had some really good matches after the first couple. It’s always fun competing with all the girls.”
Xtream Arena provided an intimate and energetic environment. Questions around the size of the venue will need to be addressed as a tidal wave of fans looked for walk-up tickets. Some were turned away after tickets sold up. More than half of the tickets were sold in the 12 hours leading up to the first whistle, forcing wrestlers and cheerleaders to move from their reserved section in the arena to the connected GreenState Fieldhouse, which doubled as a warmup area.
The venue is more than capable of hosting the tournament.
“For me, I think probably 90 to 95 percent of the things that we heard were good things,” Kirtley said. “Thursday morning was a little chaotic … I think I want people to understand now a little bit more about who we are and how we run our tournaments. I don’t think our office has to represent the end-all, be-all knowledge of wrestling when it comes to tournament time to put on a really great tournament.
Some other changes could help with the opening-day attendance. Some things are already being kicked around, including the possibility of adding a class to spread out athletes and teams.
Changes were made during the season, adapting to situations. Audibles were made during the season. Organizers are already considering numerous factors for the future.
“It’s about having a plan,” Kirtley said. “This past year I think we’ve been pretty good about even if we were building the plane as we were flying it I think we were being thoughtful how we were doing that and consequences, putting so much thought into the moves we were making.
“As we transition into year two, we really want to dissect the information we have in front of us. Not just have a knee-jerk reaction to an arena being full.”
Overall, the IGHSAU state tournament and the IHSAA state duals were exciting and well-run.
“I liked how the fans were close to the mats,” West Delaware Coach Jeff Voss said about the state duals meet. “Great warmup area for the kids to get ready in. More room on the floor for the kids to be part of the meet.”
Iowa women compete
Iowa women’s wrestling won’t begin official competition until next season but it hasn’t kept the Hawkeyes from taking the wrestling mat.
Sterling Dias (101), Ava Bayless at 109 and 143-pounder Ella Schmit won titles Sunday at the Bearcat Open in Lebanon, Ill. Iowa finished with five medalists. It outscored foes, 162-26, posting five pins and 11 technical falls.
UNI goes 2-0
Northern Iowa had a perfect weekend, winning both duals. The Panthers blanked Cal Baptist, 44-0, Friday at McLeod Center in Cedar Falls. They traveled to Morgantown, W. Va., and recorded a 20-12 win over the Mountaineers.
UNI is 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the Big 12 Conference. The Panthers host No. 3 Iowa State Friday.
Iowa State sweeps on the road
Iowa State also went 2-0 last weekend. The Cyclones hit the road to beat West Virginia, 20-13, on Friday. They closed with a 16-15 win on criteria against No. 18 Pittsburgh.
Heavyweight Sam Schuyler edged Dayton Pitzer, 4-3, in the final match. The decision tied the team score. Iowa State received the decisive point, owning a 51-44 advantage in match points.
Paniro Johnson (149), Jason Kraisser (157), NCAA champion David Carr at 165 and 184-pounder Marcus Coleman added decisions for Iowa State (14-2, 6-0).