After school closes, Iowa Wesleyan's star wrestler Adaugo Nwachukwu shines even brighter

Cody Goodwin
Des Moines Register

Last month, Iowa Wesleyan announced it was closing — like, the entire school is shutting down — after 181 years, citing mostly financial challenges. In the 30-plus days since, the Tigers’ star women’s wrestler has, somehow, shined even brighter.

Her name is Adaugo Nwachukwu, a California native by way of Nigeria. She is a two-time NAIA national champion, a Junior world bronze medalist, and this month, she added not one, not two, but three more national titles to her résumé.

The latest came Saturday night, at USA Wrestling’s U.S. Open competition in Las Vegas. Nwachukwu won the Senior women’s freestyle national title at 62 kilograms (136). In the finals, she rallied from an 8-4 deficit to win 10-8 over Jennifer Page of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club.

Adaugo Nwachukwu, a two-time NAIA national champ for Iowa Wesleyan, won the Senior women's freestyle national title at USA Wrestling's U.S. Open on Saturday in Las Vegas.

“After the first period, I was trying to get over my nerves,” Nwachukwu told USA Wrestling afterward. “But after that first period, my coaches told me to get my head and to keep shooting, because I’ll keep scoring.”

As a result, Nwachukwu advances to Final X, the final step of USA Wrestling’s Senior world team trials process. She’ll face Kayla Miracle, a two-time world silver medalist and 2020 Olympian, on June 10 in New Jersey for a spot on the Senior women’s freestyle world team. Miracle beat Nwachukwu 10-0 at last year’s U.S. Open.

If Nwachukwu’s recent results are any indication, that Final X matchup should be much, much different than last year’s U.S. Open meeting.

In March, Nwachukwu won her second NAIA national title, capping a 30-0 sophomore season. She collectively outscored her 30 opponents by a staggering 273-17. In two years at Iowa Wesleyan, she went 52-1, with 26 wins by technical fall and 20 pins. She was the Tigers' first, and possibly last, national champion.

Two weeks ago, she wept both the U23 and Junior crowns at USA Wrestling’s women’s national championships in Washington. She went a combined 10-0 between both competitions, with 6 pins, 4 technical falls, and outscored all 10 opponents 93-7.

Add in her U.S. Open results, and Nwachukwu is now 14-0 with 5 technical falls, 8 pins, and a 135-16 scoring advantage this month — and 44-0 with 23 technical falls, 17 pins, and a 408-33 scoring advantage since the 2022-23 college season began.

She will rep the U.S. at the Junior world championships in Poland in August and the U23 world championships in Finland in October. She is also eligible for an Olympic redshirt during the upcoming 2023-24 season if she chooses to make a run at the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team, which will be decided April 19-20, 2024, at Penn State.

But who will she rep in her next collegiate season?

Nwachukwu quickly decided to follow her Iowa Wesleyan coaches. Jake Kadel and Cash Wilcke, both former Iowa wrestlers, were hired at William Penn after Iowa Wesleyan closed. Many Tiger wrestlers plan to follow them — including Nwachukwu.

“More than 50 colleges contacted me, but I didn’t reply to any of them,” Nwachukwu told USA Wrestling. “I’ve been improving with my coaches. I can see it in my wrestling, how much I’ve improved over the past two years.

“I already knew wherever my coaches were going, I was going.”

Adaugo Nwachukwu, a two-time NAIA national champ for Iowa Wesleyan, won the Senior women's freestyle national title at USA Wrestling's U.S. Open on Saturday in Las Vegas. Here, she's hugging her coaches after winning her finals match.

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Six Iowa women's wrestlers earn All-American honors at U.S. Open

The Iowa women's wrestling program had been on an expected-yet-impressive run of success through over the last few months. Between the Missouri Valley Open, Soldier Salute, Bearcat Open, and women's national championships earlier this month, the Hawkeyes look every bit like an NCAA power.

So consider this weekend’s Senior women’s national championships to be something of a heat check.

This is not to say the Iowa women had a rough weekend. Between current members and incoming recruits, the Hawkeyes finished with six All-Americans at the U.S. Open. It just wasn’t the same dominance they had displayed in previous competitions.

There were great moments:

  • Rose Cassioppi, an incoming recruit, made the finals at 72 kilos (158), and notched a thrilling 8-7 quarterfinal win over her future teammate, Haley Ward, who rallied for seventh;
  • Felicity Taylor, a recent U23 national champ, went 4-1 and took third at 53 kilos (116);
  • Kylie Welker, still working her way back from injuries, took fifth at 76 kilos (167), the deepest weight in the tournament.
Rose Cassioppi, an incoming recruit for the Iowa women's wrestling program, reached the finals of the Senior women's freestyle national championships at USA Wrestling's U.S. Open in Las Vegas.

But the Senior-level is the highest level of wrestling in the country — and, in the case of U.S. women’s freestyle wrestling, which has found a ton of international success in recent years, that means it’s some of the best wrestling in the world.

And the Iowa women struggled here in ways they hadn’t in previous tournaments, against mostly college-aged competition:

  • Ella Schmit, a Junior women’s national finalist earlier this month, went 1-2, losing in the quarters and the bloodround;
  • Nyla Valencia and Reese Larramendy, both past age-level world-teamers, went down with injuries;
  • Taylor, a returning U.S. Open champ, lost a tough 7-2 match in the quarters to eventual champ Katie Gomez;
  • Bella Mir, a Junior world team member this year, dropped a 3-2 quarterfinal match to Augsburg’s Katie Lange — who she beat two weeks ago to make the Junior world team;
  • Marlynne Deede, an NCAA champ who’s transferring to Iowa, drew two All-Americans in her three matches, finishing 1-2;
  • Welker, a past Senior world-teamer, was up 8-2 in her quarterfinal match but was pinned late in the first period.

Through that lens, the Senior women’s national championship was full of lessons for the Iowa women’s wrestling program. With Clarissa Chun, a past USA Wrestling women’s coach, at the helm, the Hawkeyes will certainly grow from this experience — and perhaps be even better for it.

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Skylar Slade reaches finals of USA Wrestling's HS Girls Showcase event

USA Wrestling added a Girls High School Showcase competition to this year's U.S. Open schedule, featuring many of the nation's top high school wrestlers — and two girls from Iowa finished on the podium at their respective weights.

Skylar Slade, Southeast Polk's freshman state champ, took second at 152 pounds, finishing 4-1 overall. She won her first three matches by a combined 26-0, won a thrilling semifinal — she led 13-12 when she pinned Arizona wrestler Trinity Bouchal, all in the first period — but lost in the finals to California native Eduarda Rodrigues.

Reese Baxter, a sophomore from Perry, finished fifth at 225 pounds. She rebounded from a first-round loss and finished with a first-period fall in the fifth-place match.

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