Let's get to know the potential recruiting targets for Iowa women's wrestling

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — Now that Iowa has added a women's wrestling program, it is time to get to know the best high school women's wrestlers in the country.

The first coach of the Iowa women's wrestling team is going to target many of the top up-and-coming women's wrestlers in the U.S., which makes sense. Swing big. Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands said as much during last Thursday's press conference.

"The stakes are high for the new coach," Brands said. "We're going to recruit unbelievable young talent that is already winning age-group international championships and medals at the Cadet and Junior level. That's going to be our recruiting pool.

"Being the first is huge. Being the first is impactful. That's where we're at."

MORE:Here are 7 potential coaching candidates for Iowa women's wrestling

There are plenty of talented women's wrestlers around the country right now. The U.S. won both the Cadet and Junior women's freestyle world team titles this past summer, with teams made up of many of the nation's top female wrestlers. In July, many more gathered for the Junior women's freestyle national championships.

A handful took to social media Thursday to express their interest in perhaps continuing their athletic careers in Iowa City.

"Ever since I was little this has been a dream for me," wrote Alexis Janiak, a Junior national champ from Illinois. "Any powerhouse Division 1 school, let alone the University of Iowa, adding women’s wrestling. Just wow. Dreams really do come true."

"Let's talk," wrote Destiny Rodriguez, another Junior national champ from Oregon. She tagged both the Iowa men's and women's wrestling accounts.

"Best news ever!" wrote Riley Dempewolf, a Junior national finalist from Indiana. "This means so much for every girl wrestler in the world. Go Hawks."

And, of course, there's the obvious statewide interest that came with Iowa's announcement — including one right down Interstate-80.

"I remember telling my parents while looking at schools that I am considering, 'I wish I could just drop everything and go to Iowa,'" Bettendorf's Ella Schmit, a two-time Iowa girls' state champ and Junior All-American, told the Des Moines Register last week.

"And that was before I knew anything about them adding a women’s program."

Bettendorf's Ella Schmit warms up before her class 3A 106 pound match at the Iowa high school state wrestling tournament on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Des Moines, IA.

MORE: Leistikow: Five thoughts on Hawkeyes adding women's wrestling program

The next step in the construction process of the Iowa women's wrestling program, of course, is to hire a coach. But one of the next steps after that will be getting to work on the recruiting trail.

Iowa isn't slated to start competing until the 2023-24 season, but it's not unreasonable to think that a combination of this year's senior class (2022) and next year's (2023) could make up the majority of the Hawkeyes' roster from day one. There will be a maximum of 10 scholarships and the full roster will consist of 30 women's wrestlers.

On top of that, it's important to note that women's college weights are different from the men's. The 10 weights are: 101, 109, 116, 123, 130, 136, 143, 155, 170 and 191 pounds. Also, women wrestle freestyle collegiately rather than folkstyle.

With all of that in mind, here is a quick breakdown of the best women's high school wrestling prospects to become familiar with — many of whom Iowa will likely target in recruiting.

2021 Junior world team members

  • Korina Blades, 62 kilograms
  • Amit Elor, 68 kilograms
  • Kennedy Blades, 72 kilograms
  • Kylie Welker, 76 kilograms

These were the only four on the U.S. 10-woman Junior world team that are still in high school. They're all seniors, too. The Blades sisters, Korina and Kennedy, are from Illinois. Elor is from California. Welker is from Wisconsin.

Even more, all four contributed to the U.S. team championship in Russia back in August.

Korina went 3-1 and won bronze, while Kennedy, Elor and Welker all won gold medals — in dominant fashion, too. Kennedy Blades, Elor and Welker went a combined 11-0, all pins or technical falls, and outscored their opponents 101-0.

Elor and Korina Blades also made the U.S. Cadet women's freestyle world team (keep reading for more). Kennedy Blades and Welker both made the finals at the U.S. Olympic Trials in April.

Welker followed up with a Junior national title in July and, earlier this month, made the U.S. Senior women's freestyle world team, too. She is considered the No. 1 pound-for-pound high school women's wrestler in America, according to USA Wrestling.

Tamyra Mensah-Stock, right, celebrates after her match against Kennedy Blades at 68 kg during the fourth session of the USA Wrestling Olympic Team Trials, Saturday, April 3, 2021, at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

2021 Cadet world team members

  • Erica Pastoriza, 40 kilograms
  • Angelina Marie Dill, 43 kilograms
  • Ava Ward, 46 kilograms
  • Audrey Jimenez, 49 kilograms
  • Katie Gomez, 53 kilograms
  • Savannah Cosme, 57 kilograms
  • Korina Blades, 61 kilograms
  • Grace Stem, 65 kilograms
  • Amit Elor, 69 kilograms
  • Lillian Freitas, 73 kilograms

Again, there's Korina Blades and Elor. Blades finished eighth at the Cadet world championships while Elor won gold again, one of three Cadet world champs for the U.S. She went 3-0 and outscored her opponents 32-0.

For those keeping track, Elor went 6-0 combined between the Cadet and Junior world championships and outscored her opponents 63-0. She is considered the No. 2 pound-for-pound high school women's wrestler in America by USA Wrestling. (Behind Welker and Elor, Kennedy Blades and Korina Blades are Nos. 3 and 4, respectively.)

The U.S. Cadet women's freestyle world team featured a wider range of ages.

  • Six seniors: Elor, Blades, Katie Gomez, Savannah Cosme, Grace Stem, Lillian Freitas
  • Two juniors: Erica Pastoriza, Angie Dill
  • One sophomore: Audrey Jimenez
  • One freshman: Ava Ward

Gomez, from California, and Pastoriza, from Arizona, were the other two Cadet world champs for the U.S. Gomez went 4-0 to win gold. She is considered the No. 5 pound-for-pound high school women's wrestler in America by USA Wrestling. Pastoriza went 3-0 en route to first place. She is currently ranked No. 10 nationally at 100 pounds.

Four other girls on the Cadet women's freestyle world team finished on the podium: Dill, Jimenez, Ward and Freitas, all bronze-medal winners. Freitas, Jimenez and Ward are all ranked Nos. 6, 7 and 9, respectively, in USA Wrestling women's high school pound-for-pound rankings, while Dill is ranked No. 8 nationally at 100 pounds.

2021 Junior national champions

  • Brianna Gonzalez, 100 pounds
  • Emilie Gonzalez, 100 pounds
  • Paige Morales, 106 pounds
  • Shelby Moore, 122 pounds
  • Alexis Janiak, 127 pounds
  • Savannah Gomez, 138 pounds
  • Destiny Rodriguez, 144 pounds
  • Jasmine Robinson, 152 pounds
  • Kylie Welker, 164 pounds
  • Sam Calkins, 200 pounds
  • Eliana Bommarito, 225 pounds

We included only the returning high-school wrestlers in this list. There were four Junior national champs from this past summer that are now on college rosters.

We've mentioned Welker, but most of the rest are spread between the 2022 and 2023 classes. The seniors are: both Gonzalezes, Janiak, Calkins and Bommarito. The juniors: Morales, Moore, Gomez and Rodriguez. (Robinson, from Texas, is just a sophomore.)

Brianna and Emilie Gonzalez both made the Junior national finals at 100 pounds, and opted to share the individual title. They're sisters from California. That's why they're both listed. Brianna went 5-0 with four pins to reach the finals, while Emilie went 5-0 with two pins and two technical falls.

Moore, Janiak, Gomez and Robinson all went 6-0 to win, while Morales, Rodriguez and Calkins all won five matches for first place. Bommarito went 4-0. Each of these wrestlers is also considered among the top-25 pound-for-pound women's wrestlers in the country, per USA Wrestling.

Charles City's Lilly Luft reacts after winning her match at 126 pounds during the finals of the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association (IWCOA) girls' state wrestling tournament, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021, at the Xtream Arena in Coralville, Iowa.

What about Iowa high-schoolers?

There are currently eight Iowa high school girls' wrestlers that are included in USA Wrestling's latest national rankings:

  • Waverly-Shell Rock's Eva Diaz, No. 12 at 112
  • Bettendorf's Ella Schmit, No. 3 at 117
  • Lewis Central's Sophie Barnes, No. 15 at 127
  • Charles City's Lilly Luft, No. 13 at 132
  • Clayton Ridge's Samantha Spielbauer, No. 18 at 152
  • Southeast Polk's Bella Porcelli, No. 15 at 164
  • Independence's Rachel Eddy, No. 12 at 200
  • Ankeny Centennial's Grace Gray, No. 25 at 200

Diaz, Schmit, Luft, Spielbauer and Eddy are all returning girls' state champions. Barnes took second, and Gray and Porcelli both took third. This season, Diaz, Schmit, Eddy and Gray are all seniors; Barnes, Luft, Spielbauer are all juniors; Porcelli is a sophomore.

Nationally, Schmit finished fifth at the Junior women's freestyle national championships in July. Barnes, Luft and Porcelli all earned All-American honors at the 16U women's freestyle national championships that same week.

Even more, Spielbauer took first at the 16U women's folkstyle national championships in March, while both Luft and Ridge View's Izzy Deeds took second. Luft also has some international experience on her résumé, as she took fourth at the Cadet Beach Wrestling World Championships last week in Romania.

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