Across Iowa, high school girls are starting to struggle with their own agendas

Members of the Linn-Mar women’s wrestling squad listen to instructions during the first day of practice, Monday, Oct. 31, 2022. (KJ Pilcher/The Gazette)

Iowa’s long wrestling tradition has opened a whole new chapter.

The girls dropped into wrestling venues across the state on Monday for the start of the college season. They’ve been doing this for decades, however, this was the start of their own season. This is uncharted territory for the famous “Iowa Girl”.

“I’m glad the girls are more comfortable going out (for wrestling),” Cedar Rapids Kennedy sophomore Ella Brown said. “I never really thought, in my high school career, that we would have had our own girl team.”

Dreams have come true for many past, present and future wrestlers and their parents. Monday marked the first official day of practice for the inaugural Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union-sanctioned college wrestling season. It’s been a long time coming.

“I’m glad it’s here,” IGHSAU executive director Jean Berger told The Gazette while attending the state volleyball tournament in Coralville. “After two years of planning and mulling over the details, it’s time to get out there and get started.”

Ally Jelinek is in her fourth wrestling season. She has seen the number of female wrestlers increase. Now they have their own program with more than triple the number of competitors.

“This is a huge milestone for women’s wrestling, especially Linn-Mar,” Jelinek said. “The last three years it’s just me and three or four other girls with guys. We haven’t known anything but wrestling with guys. This year seeing all the girls, last year we had six and now we have 20. It’s just a huge improvement.

“I just can’t wait to see how these girls improve over the years. We have girls from grade seven through seniors here. It’s great to see all these girls here who want to try to improve.

Brown echoed Jelinek’s reaction to the start of the season. She was one of the few girls in the Kennedy wrestling program before. Brown also saw the wave of interest from his peers, giving Kennedy 17 wrestlers, including Jacey Bedell, who helped trainer Craig Mallicoat demonstrate snap downs in practice Monday.

“I remember when I started wrestling and the girls program wasn’t that big,” said Brown, who placed second at the Brian Keck Memorial Preseason High School Nationals. “A lot of girls were afraid to wrestle. I know the number of girls has increased.

“It means so much that the girls can go out and enjoy the sport. I think they’re going to really like the sport of wrestling.

Jelinek spent time training and helping coaches instruct her teammates during afternoon practice. She takes her role seriously, serving as a role model for young wrestlers. Jelinek has high hopes, wanting the girls’ program to be as deep with as many levels as its male counterparts.

“I hope to be even more excited to come out next year,” Jelinek said. “The guys have a very big team. They have JV, varsity, hopefully we will have even more than this year. I hope the girls learn and are so much better from start to finish of the season. Hope I want to come back next year and loved it.

The boys’ season begins on November 14. Facilities will be shared. The Cedar Rapids Prairie girls practiced Monday at Prairie Point Middle School. Linn-Mar will hold practices concurrently, with the boys on their own when the girls face off on Monday and the girls will have it to themselves in the men’s duels on Thursday. Kennedy will alternate evening and morning practices with the boys’ team.

Mike Geers coached middle and high school wrestling in Linn-Mar for 23 years. He leads the program after working with women’s wrestlers last season. The Lions have nine wrestlers who are in their first year of wrestling. They also have five freshman wrestlers, who competed in college. Jelinek is one of five returning to the men’s team last year.

Competitions will vary. Kennedy set up duels with Iowa City West, Dubuque Senior and Marion. Some will take place concurrently with the men’s teams, while others will be stand-alone events. Kennedy is hosting his first tournament on Dec. 12, one of two Monday night competitions.

According to Geers, Linn-Mar will compete on Mondays and Saturdays. They open the Independence tournament on Nov. 19 and host their own 10-team doubles tournament scheduled for Nov. 26, which includes Waverly-Shell Rock, Iowa City High, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Waukee and Dubuque Hempstead.

The girls’ season will feature four super regionals with the top eight qualifying for the inaugural IGHSAU State Tournament Feb. 2-3 at Xtream Arena in Coralville.

“I’m very optimistic about the numbers and how they’re going to grow,” Berger said. “Schools will put up a sign and say, ‘Are you interested?’ and they will have eight to 10 daughters.

“I am satisfied with the number of schools. We needed 51 programs to be sanctioned, and we have over 100. And those 100 include sharing programs.

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