Bettendorf state champion Ella Schmit commits to the Iowa women’s wrestling program

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

Last month, Clarissa Chun stood inside Xtream Arena in Coralville for the 2022 Iowa girls state wrestling championships, and she quickly noticed and appreciated the rising talent level from girls all over the state.

“It’s totally Iowa style in here,” said Chun, the head coach of the Iowa women's wrestling program. “These ladies are gritty and they scrap and they’re tough. I think they take pride in wrestling hard. It’s ingrained in the fabric of Iowa, and it shows here. I love it.”

Chun spent part of that weekend recruiting, and on Saturday, those efforts were rewarded with a massive in-state commitment.

Ella Schmit, a senior from Bettendorf, has committed to the Iowa women’s wrestling team. She is the first in-state wrestler to commit to the program, and joins Kylie Welker, a Junior world champion, as part of the Hawkeyes' 2022 recruiting class.

"I am beyond excited to announce that I will be continuing my academic and athletic career at the University Of Iowa," Schmit wrote in an Instagram post, announcing her decision. "I want to give a shout-out to my amazing coaches, family and supporters that have helped make this possible.

"It is hard to believe my biggest dream as a little girl is coming true. I am pumped to reach my full potential at Iowa and can’t wait to start the journey."

Bettendorf's Ella Schmit reacts after scoring a fall at 125 pounds in the finals during of the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association (IWCOA) girls' state wrestling tournament, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at the Xtream Arena in Coralville, Iowa.

Schmit took her official visit to Iowa last weekend, when the Hawkeyes’ men’s program hosted top-ranked Penn State before a sold-out crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. She had also previously visited McKendree and North Central College.

But the Hawkeyes were always the front-runner. Schmit said she’s been an Iowa wrestling fan ever since she started walking. Her family has had season tickets for years, and while sitting inside Carver, she often dreamed of wrestling for Iowa herself.

“I remember sitting there thinking about how cool it would be if Iowa had a women’s wrestling team,” Schmit said back in September, “but it never occurred to me that it could become a reality.”

That dream became a reality in September when Iowa became the first Division I Power Five athletic program to add women’s wrestling. Two months later, Chun was hired as the program’s first head coach.

Another two months later, and Chun has landed commitments from both the nation's top-rated women's wrestling prospect and now Iowa's premier women's high school wrestler in the span of three days.

Schmit is a three-time girls state wrestling champion. She reached the finals at each of the first four girls state championships, hosted by the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association. She won twice at 106 pounds, then won at 125 this past season, capping a senior season wherein she went 16-0 with 13 pins.

In 2021, Schmit also qualified for the boys state wrestling tournament, at 106 pounds in Class 3A. She is one of just four girls ever to qualify for the Iowa boys state tournament (the others: Megan Black, twice; Cassy Herkelman; and Jasmine Luedtke). She compiled a career record of 70-18 over the past four years, against both boys and girls.

Schmit has also excelled in national competitions — she was a Cadet women’s freestyle All-American in 2019 and Junior women’s freestyle All-American in 2021, and she reached the semifinals at the Cadet world team trials last year, too. She is currently ranked No. 3 nationally at 117 pounds in USA Wrestling’s latest high school girls national rankings.

But even more, by bringing Schmit on board, Chun is getting a bona fide leader to help build the foundation of her program.

Schmit entered her senior year with a few options. She could chase another girls state title while also attempting to qualify for the boys state tournament again, but she instead turned her focus to building her school's girls wrestling program.

Iowa’s statewide girls wrestling participation numbers have erupted over the past six years, from just 67 total girls during the 2015-16 season to 1,023 in 2021-22. That explosive growth led the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union to formally sanction the sport and begin offering it in the 2022-23 season.

But Bettendorf, a program that’s been among the state’s best — with four traditional team state championships, and another four state runner-up finishes — struggled with recruiting girls. Schmit was the only girl on the roster in 2018-19, one of just two in 2019-20 and one of just five in 2020-21.

Instead of hoping more girls would come out on their own, Schmit stepped in and helped build the Bulldogs' girls program. The results: 24 girls wrestled for Bettendorf this year, and 17 went to the 2022 girls state tournament at Xtream Arena in Coralville. Schmit was one of four medalists that led Bettendorf to a fourth-place team finish.

“Bettendorf’s been known for wrestling for a while, and I thought it was pretty lame that we didn’t have a girls team,” Schmit said at the state tournament. “I’m pretty excited to leave a full team. We have a lot of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and I’m really excited for them.

“The biggest thing I learned from this whole experience is to be a leader for those who need one.”

Indeed, Bettendorf will have 18 girls return next year for the first IGHSAU-organized girls wrestling season. Schmit deserves a lot of credit for that growth and the success that will soon follow.

Now she’ll take her talents and leadership capabilities to Iowa City to try to do the same thing with Chun and the Hawkeyes.

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