South Winn's Felicity Taylor wins collegiate national wrestling title, Grand View's NAIA streak ends

Cody Goodwin
Des Moines Register

The third time was the charm for Felicity Taylor.

Taylor, a South Winneshiek graduate who now wrestles at McKendree in Illinois, won the National College Women's Wrestling Championships on Saturday in Ohio. She went 4-0 to win gold at 116 pounds, rallying to beat Tiffin's Sugey Ceja, 16-6, in the finals.

It marks Taylor's first collegiate national title. She had reached the finals each of the last two seasons — at last year's NCWWC tournament, and at the Women's Collegiate Wrestling Association's 2019 national tournament. Both times, she took second.

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On Saturday, the junior finally brought home gold, and did so with flair.

After storming to the finals, Taylor fell behind to Ceja, 6-2, midway through the match. But with 68 seconds remaining, she scored a takedown to come within 6-4, then locked up a leg lace and scored six straight exposures (women's college wrestlers wrestle freestyle) to ultimately turn a 4-point deficit into a technical fall victory.

Taylor ultimately finished the day 4-0, with two technical falls and a first-round pin, as well as a 41-8 overall scoring advantage. Her performance helped McKendree to a second-straight NCWWC team title, with 209 total points. King University took second, with 171.5, followed by Emmanuel (130.5), Colorado Mesa (97) and Augsburg (88.5).

For so long, Taylor was one of the torch-bearers for Iowa's girls' wrestling movement. She won 100 career matches while at South Winneshiek, and capped her prep career with a Junior women's freestyle national title in 2018. Her influence helped fuel the state's increase in participation numbers and and growth in overall talent.

Taylor has continued her wrestling success while at McKendree. She's been in the national collegiate finals each of the last three years. She's earned many more age-level domestic freestyle accolades. In 2019, she made the U23 women's freestyle world team, and her win Saturday also qualified her for the U.S. Olympic Trials next month.

History tends to reward those who go all-in, and Felicity Taylor has done that throughout her wrestling career. Saturday's accomplishment, earned in dominant fashion, was just the latest example.


Iowa Wesleyan women make history

Behind Taylor's stellar accomplishment, the Iowa Wesleyan women's wrestling program achieved some history at the same national tournament.

The Lady Tigers crowned their first two women's wrestling All-Americans at the NCWWC tournament. Alaina Sunlin, a Monticello graduate, finished fifth at 109 pounds, and Daisy Scholz took sixth at 136. They helped Iowa Wesleyan to 11th-place in the team race with 23 points.

Both Sunlin and Scholz, who are just freshmen, battled back to the podium after first-round losses. Sunlin rolled up three-straight wins, then topped Adrian's Emily Mendez, 5-3, to finish 4-2 overall. Scholz received a bye and a forfeit to reach the top eight, then defeated Adrian's Elisa Cox before finishing sixth.

Not bad for a program that started just this year and has only nine girls on the roster.

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Life shuts door on Grand View's attempt at wrestling history

Not even Dan Gable's mighty Hawkeye wrestling dynasty could win 10 straight national team titles.

Turns out, neither could Grand View.

Yes, the top-ranked Vikings were dethroned Saturday night at the 2021 NAIA national championships, finishing in second place behind Life University. It ends Grand View's streak of nine-straight NAIA team titles, a run that matched Iowa's nine-straight NCAA Division I team titles from 1978-86.

Grand View totaled 153 points, while Life scored 158. The Running Eagles are coached by Omi Acosta, a 2012 NAIA national champ for Grand View. He helped the Vikings win their first team title that year, and was the coach of the team that ended the streak this weekend.

Life won thanks to 10 All-Americans, led by Brandon Orum's national title at 125 pounds. Grand View also had 10 All-Americans, but finished without a champ. All 12 Viking qualifiers were seeded fourth or better at their respective weights before the tournament began, but only seven finished fourth or better come Saturday night.

Grand View and Life traded blows throughout the two-day tournament. The Vikings managed a 2.5-point lead after Friday's action. Life led 128-127.5 after Saturday's semifinals. Grand View retook the lead, 149-140, before the medal matches, then Life carried a 154-153 lead into the finals.

Orum's 3-2 win over Brewton-Parker's Lucas Nelson pushed Life's advantage to five points. Both of Life's other finalists, Denver Stonecheck (149) and Asher Eichert (174) lost. But so, too, did Grand View's two finalists, Giovianni Bonilla (157) and Greg Hagan (285).

That secured Life's first NAIA team title in program history and ended Grand View's incredibly successful run at the top.

Grand View heavyweight Greg Hagan raises his hand in victory after reaching the finals at the NAIA National Championships.

More Iowa ties at NAIA nationals

Graceland's Brennan Swafford won his second-straight NAIA national title on Saturday, but bumped up a weight for title No. 2.

Swafford, a Mediapolis graduate, won at 174 pounds, defeating Life's Asher Eichert, 10-7, in the final. He finished 15-0 overall this year, and went 4-0 this weekend with a pin and two major decisions. The junior won at 165 last year, and took seventh the year before. (His win over Eichert actually gave Grand View a chance.)

Swafford was one of three Graceland wrestlers to finish on the podium. He was joined by Drew Sams, an Oskaloosa graduate who finished fourth at 184, and Israel Casarez, who took eighth at 157. Those three fueled Graceland's ninth-place team finish. Morningside's John Deiner also finished eighth at 149 pounds.

Mason City graduate Isaac Bartel finally won his first individual NAIA title. The senior from Montana State-Northern made his third trip to the NAIA national finals, and defeated Lindsey Wilson's Trevor Lawson, 6-0, to win a 197 pounds. 

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.