Lilly Luft, a two-time state champion from Charles City, commits to Iowa women’s wrestling

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

CHARLES CITY — Four years ago, Lilly Luft decided to try wrestling as a way to honor her late brother, Logan. This week, the Charles City senior announced that she’ll not only continue wrestling in college, but will do so at the highest level.

On Thursday, Luft committed to the University of Iowa women’s wrestling team. She is the third in-state wrestler to join the Hawkeyes, along with Bettendorf grad Ella Schmit and South Winneshiek alum Felicity Taylor, and is the program’s first-known 2023 recruit.

“I'm proud to be born, raised and trained in Iowa, the mecca of wrestling,” Luft told the Des Moines Register. “I can't wait to be a Hawkeye and a member of the inaugural women’s wrestling team.”

More:Charles City's Lilly Luft honors her late brother by winning a state wrestling title

In four short years, Luft has evolved from a wrestling novice into one of the top talents not only in Iowa but across the country.

The 17-year-old is a two-time girls wrestling state champion and three-time state medalist. She boasts an 85-6 overall record entering her senior season at Charles City, according to stats kept by Trackwrestling.

In 2021, Luft earned All-America honors at the 16U freestyle national championships and took fourth at the 2021 Cadet beach wrestling world championships in Romania. Last summer, she took seventh at the Cadet world team trials. She is ranked No. 17 at 132 pounds in USA Wrestling’s most recent national girls high school rankings.

As such, Luft was a highly sought-after women’s wrestling prospect. She was recruited by a lengthy list of top-tier college programs, including Life University, Grand View and McKendree, among many others.

Ultimately, head coach Clarissa Chun and the Hawkeyes won out. Iowa was always Luft’s favorite school, but an official visit in early September, during which Luft spent a weekend with the coaches and wrestlers, sealed the deal.

“Honestly, the level of intensity and commitment the girls had in the room was my deciding factor,” Luft said. “They set the bar extremely high and I live for that kind of challenge. As soon as I started training with the team, I immediately felt connected to them.

“Even though the team is new, they are already a family and welcomed me with open arms. I couldn't believe how nice they all were. There's just something to be said about surrounding yourself with like-minded people. It's comfortable, it feels like home. How lucky am I to find that in my home state?”

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

The first official season for Iowa, still the only Division I Power 5 women’s wrestling program, won’t be until 2023-24. There are 15 women on the roster who can wrestle unattached at open tournaments while essentially redshirting this season.

It is a star-studded group, featuring Schmitt, a three-time state champ; Taylor, a U.S. Open champ and two-time U23 world team member; Kylie Welker, a Junior world champ and Senior world team member; Reese Larramendy, a Junior world team member; as well as multiple other national champs and credentialed wrestlers.

Luft initially viewed the makeup of the roster as a potential hurdle to her joining the team, but conversations with Chun and her coaching staff helped turn those feelings into motivation to embrace the challenge.

“I was afraid that (being newer to the sport) would work against me,” Luft said. “I just don't share some of the accolades or achievements many of the other girls have.

“But coach Chun and (associate head coach Gary Mayabb) have both assured me that I have exactly what Iowa is looking for: work ethic, commitment, and most importantly, character.”

Luft’s decision to become a Hawkeye is also a sentimental one — a continuation, of sorts, for why she started wrestling in the first place.

Charles City's Lilly Luft beat Waverly-Shell Rock's Macy Smith to win a state title at 130 pounds last January at the 2022 girls state wrestling championships, sponsored by the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association.

More:Tonya Verbeek, a 3-time Olympic medalist, joins Iowa women’s wrestling coaching staff

In July 2017, her older brother, Logan, died in an ATV accident at just 15 years old. He was a talented youth wrestler, a Greco-Roman state champion who represented Iowa at the Cadet national duals just a few weeks before the accident.

His death shook the Charles City community and sent ripples throughout the state. Five people received organ donations from him and many more received tissue donations, which led to Logan’s Law. His story has been mentioned by announcers during high-profile collegiate wrestling duals on Big Ten Network.

“After Logan's accident, the Iowa wrestling program sent us an entire memorial perennial garden along with personal notes from (Iowa coaches) Tom and Terry Brands,” Luft said. “We planted the garden in our front yard along with an Iowa flag. I pass that garden several times a day.”

Logan Luft had big dreams for his own wrestling career — to be a state champion, to become an All-American, to someday compete for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Those dreams quickly became Lilly’s, and over the past four years, she’s chased them relentlessly. The latest one came true Thursday.

“I believe that things in life just happen for a reason,” Luft said. “I truly believe that I have been blessed with this opportunity to not only continue my athletic and academic dreams, but to fulfill the dream my brother had to wrestle for the University of Iowa.”

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