Girls' state wrestling: Not only are Iowa's numbers growing, the depth and talent are, too

Cody Goodwin
Des Moines Register

CORALVILLE, Ia. — Every year, the girls' wrestling conversation in Iowa centers on overall participation. The numbers have popped, from 67 five years ago, per the National Federation of State High School Associations, to 683 this year.

That's important. Growth is good, and Iowa's growth has been very good.

But it's time for the conversation to include the state's growing talent and depth — because that's just as important, if not more so. And if you'll allow me a minute here, we can discuss how Iowa has made incredible progress in overall on-the-mat development.

That talent was on display here at Xtream Arena this weekend at the 2021 girls' state wrestling championships, hosted for the third time by the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association. There were 457 girls from more than 100 different schools that competed this weekend. Only 87 came in 2019, then 350 competed last year.

Again, the numbers are growing, and that's good.

But consider this, too:

The 24 wrestlers that reached Saturday afternoon's finals were from 17 different schools. Waverly-Shell Rock led the way with six. Spencer and Charles City both had two. The other 14 schools had one finalist. Even more, nine of the finalists were seniors, five were juniors, seven were sophomores and three were freshmen.

There's also this: the 48 wrestlers that reached the semifinals — meaning a top-6 finish individually — represented 32 different schools, and included 15 seniors, 14 juniors, 12 sophomores and seven freshmen. The Go-Hawks again had six, Spencer had three, and nine other schools had at least two wrestlers come within a win of the finals.

That is some insane depth and incredible talent — across the state, and at every age.

The state has shown its uptick in talent in other ways, too. In 2019, three Iowa girls earned All-American honors at the 16U freestyle national championships, the most since 2011. In USA Wrestling's latest national high school girls' rankings, which were released this week, seven Iowa girls were included:

  • Bettendorf's Ella Schmit, 21st at 106 pounds;
  • Assumption's Sydney Park, 15th at 132;
  • Glenwood's Abby McIntyre, 18th at 132;
  • Waverly-Shell Rock's Madison Diaz, 20th at 152;
  • Southeast Polk's Bella Porcelli, 11th at 164;
  • Iowa Valley's Millie Peach, 4th at 200;
  • and Indee's Rachel Eddy, 10th at 200.

Five won titles this weekend: Schmit (106), McIntyre (138), Diaz (152), Eddy (195) and Peach (285). Both Park and Porcelli lost in the semifinals — Park in an overtime thriller to Waverly-Shell Rock's Annika Behrends, a 2019 state champ; Porcelli in a decisive loss to Diaz in a matchup of nationally-ranked competitors.

Again, Iowa's overall growth in both depth and talent is impressive.

Iowa still has a ways to go to catch California, Texas and Washington in participation, and it's not quite on the same level as the likes of those three, Illinois and Missouri when it comes to being competitive on a national stage. Those states tend to dominate the 16U and Junior women's freestyle national tournaments every summer.

But Iowa is trending in the right direction, and this weekend's state tournament was more proof of that. Eight of the 12 state champs this week were first-time title-winners. Seven of the 12 will be back next season, and so will 71 of the 96 total medalists.

The numbers are growing, and that's good, but the overall talent and depth are both improving, too, and that's even better.

Waverly-Shell Rock's Behrends wins two thrillers to reclaim state title

Behrends was one of the original state champs in 2019, at the first IWCOA girls' state championships. She reached the finals again last year, but lost to Glenwood's Abby McIntyre by fall in the third period.

The junior returned this weekend and reclaimed her spot atop the podium — and did so in exhilarating fashion.

In the semifinals, Behrends upended Assumption's Park, a two-time defending state champ who's considered one of the nation's best. Tied 3-3 in sudden victory, Behrends took Park feet-to-back for five points and an 8-3 win to advance to the finals.

There, Behrends again used a late flurry of points to beat Fort Dodge's Alexis Ross, 7-5, to win her second state title. Ross scored an escape, a takedown and two back points to lead 5-2, then Behrends reversed Ross to her back in the final six seconds to score five points and the win.

A year ago, Behrends lost late in matches. This weekend, she thrived in those situations and is a state champion again because of it.

Decorah's Naomi Simon, right, celebrates after pinning Waverly-Shell Rock's Marley Hagarty in their match at 145 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.

Decorah freshman pins her way to first

Only three freshmen reached Saturday's finals, but one of them ended up winning a title — and did so in dominant fashion, too.

Decorah's Naomi Simon recorded five pins this weekend en route to a state title at 145 pounds. Her first four pins all came in the first two periods. In Saturday's final, Simon led Waverly-Shell Rock's Marley Hagarty 5-0 before locking up the fall out of a front-headlock position early in the third period.

There's a good chance she could become the next big-time girls' wrestler from Iowa — and perhaps even the first four-time IWCOA girls' state champion if she can repeat this performance over the next three years.

Waverly-Shell Rock's Madison Diaz, right, reacts after beating East Buchanan's Keeley Kehrli in their match at 152 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.

Diaz sisters lead Waverly-Shell Rock

Waverly-Shell Rock won the team title for the third-straight year, scoring 256 points to lap the field. Humboldt finished second with 124, followed by Colfax-Mingo (119), Spencer (115) and Osage (114).

The Go-Hawks finished with three champs: Behrends at 132, then the Diaz sisters, Eva (113) and Madison (152). Three other Go-Hawk wrestlers, Avery Meier (126), Macy Smith (138) and Hagarty (145) all made the finals.

Eva Diaz, a junior, recorded four pins and then beat North Cedar's Adison Musser by 15-0 technical fall in the finals. Madison Diaz, a senior and Grand View recruit, also recorded four pins and a technical fall en route to first place. She pinned East Buchanan's Keeley Kehrli in the second period of her finals match.

Waverly-Shell Rock is now the three-time defending girls' state wrestling champions. The boys hope to do the same next month at Wells Fargo Arena.

Bettendorf's Ella Schmit, top, wrestles Southwest Valley's Adyson Lundquist in their match at 106 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.

Schmit, McIntyre, Peach all repeat

Three wrestlers repeated as state champs this weekend at Xtream Arena — and they all pinned their way through their respective brackets.

Bettendorf's Ella Schmit won her second-straight title at 106 pounds. The junior recorded five first-period pins en route to first, including a 1-minute, 49-second fall over Southwest Valley's Adyson Lundquist in the finals.

Glenwood's Abby McIntyre won her second-straight title as well. After winning at 132 last year, she won at 138 this weekend. Four of her five pins all came in the first period, including the 1-minute, 58-second fall over Waverly-Shell Rock's Smith in the finals.

Iowa Valley's Millie Peach capped her prep career with a second-period pin over Spencer's Olivia Huckfelt in the finals at 285 pounds. The senior will graduate as the first three-time IWCOA girls' state champion.

Charles City's Kiki Connell has her hand raised after her win at 120 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.

Chucktown wins two titles

Waverly-Shell Rock led all teams with three individual champs, but Charles City was the only other school to have multiple state title-winners. They came back-to-back, too — Kiki Connell won at 120 pounds, then Lilly Luft won at 126.

Connell, a senior, pinned her way to the finals, then knocked off Lewis Central's Sophie Barnes, 8-2, to win the title. She scored a takedown in the second period for a 3-1 lead, then took Barnes to her back for five more points in the third.

Luft, a sophomore, finished fourth a year ago, then stormed to first place this weekend, outscoring her five opponents by a combined 43-9. She recorded three pins and a major decision to reach the finals, where she beat Waverly-Shell Rock's Avery Meier, 6-2.

Clayton Ridge's Samantha Spielbauer, left, celebrates after pinning Spencer's Morgan Griffin in their match at 160 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.

Pins galore in finals matches

There were eight pins in the 12 finals matches on Saturday, and seven of them came in a row from 138 through heavyweight.

Clayton Ridge's Samantha Spielbauer had the fastest pin, in 1:16 over Spencer's Morgan Griffin to win at 160. Her finals pin was one of four that came in the first period, along with Schmit, McIntyre and Denver's Morgan Smith, who pinned Humboldt's Kendal Clark in 1:48 to win at 170.

In all, six of the 12 champs pinned their way to first: Schmit, McIntyre, Simon, Spielbauer, Smith and Peach. In fact, all nine of Peach's wins at the last three state tournaments were by fall, a perfect 9-for-9 — three this year, four last year, and two more in 2019.

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

2021 IWCOA Girls’ State Wrestling Championships

Final Results

  • 106: Ella Schmit (Bettendorf) pinned Adyson Lundquist (Southwest Valley), 1:49
  • 113: Eva Diaz (Waverly-Shell Rock) tech. fall Adison Musser (North Cedar), 15-0
  • 120: Kiki Connell (Charles City) dec. Sophie Barnes (Lewis Central), 8-2
  • 126: Lilly Luft (Charles City) dec. Avery Meier (Waverly-Shell Rock), 6-2
  • 132: Annika Behrends (Waverly-Shell Rock) dec. Alexis Ross (Fort Dodge), 7-5
  • 138: Abby McIntyre (Glenwood) pinned Macy Smith (Waverly-Shell Rock), 1:58
  • 145: Naomi Simon (Decorah) pinned Marley Hagarty (Waverly-Shell Rock), 4:35
  • 152: Madison Diaz (Waverly-Shell Rock) pinned Keeley Kehrli (East Buchanan), 2:26
  • 160: Samantha Spielbauer (Clayton Ridge) pinned Morgan Griffin (Spencer), 1:16
  • 170: Morgan Smith (Denver) pinned Kendal Clark (Humboldt), 1:48
  • 195: Rachel Eddy (Independence) pinned Abby Boehm (North Fayette Valley), 3:47
  • 285: Millie Peach (Iowa Valley) pinned Olivia Huckfelt (Spencer), 2:52

FINAL TEAM SCORES

  1. Waverly-Shell Rock, 256
  2. Humboldt, 124
  3. Colfax-Mingo, 119
  4. Spencer, 115
  5. Osage, 114