CORALVILLE — Three wrestlers from Nodaway Valley competed at the state wrestling tournament last weekend, however this one was for the girls.
As their male teammates were wrestling at the John J. Harris Tournament at Southwest Valley, NV senior Erin Rhoads, junior Rose Lonsdale and freshman Grace Britten made history in being the first girls from their school to compete at the state level of the sport of wrestling. They did that at the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association’s (IWCOA) Girls State Wrestling Tournament held in Coralville Friday and Saturday.
“There were so many nice girls,” Lonsdale said. “They were all so sweet, even if I was wrestling them. The whole thing was really nice. It was fun to be a part of something that hopefully is going to be a really huge deal in the future.”
A new sport
Girls wrestling in Iowa has grown in the last handful of years as this was the third state tournament held for girls. The first edition brought in about 80 wrestlers and was held at Waverly-Shell Rock High School. This year, the event included 486 girls and moved to a new, larger venue that is also home to the University of Iowa volleyball team. Wrestling legend Dan Gable was in attendance and took the microphone to address the crowd and competitors during the event.
While girls wrestling has taken off here, it is not yet sanctioned by the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union. Instead, several schools have picked up on the sport’s popularity and have offered girls divisions to their own tournament or have started up girls tournaments. Ogden is one such example and Nodaway Valley’s wrestlers were among those featured in a recent television piece about the sport showing Ogden’s tournament.
None of Nodaway Valley’s three girls wrestlers had wrestled competitively before this year. In fact, all three are the first wrestlers of their households.
Lonsdale’s grandfather is former wrestling coach Larry Riley. She was the first girl to have an interest in wrestling and recruited Rhoads, one of her closest friends, to join the team with her. Britten followed shortly thereafter in response to a school survey sent out by head wrestling coach Jesse McCann to gauge interest of other girls.
“Rose was like ‘Can we just do this please?’ and I was like ‘it’s my senior year, so let’s just try something new.’ I knew girls wrestling would be a big thing,” Rhoads said. “Being one of the first from Nodaway Valley and to be that example for everybody, I thought I should just do it.”
Takeaways from the mat
All three wrestlers said they’ve picked up traits in the wrestling room that they will be able to take into the other sports they compete in. They also stated that while they had a lot of support from their team and the community, they felt like they were their own little team as they pushed each other to learn how to do the moves correctly and what else it takes to be successful on the mat.
“Wrestling is vastly different from other sports, contact-wise and how individually driven it is. It’s definitely taught me to rely on myself more. Even though people are screaming at you with everything you do, you have to pay attention, follow the other person and switch gears with whatever moves you’re doing very quickly,” Britten said. “It’s probably enhanced my reflexes to some extent and definitely helped me persevere or consider what I’m willing to work for a sport.”
“The mental toughness that you have to have I’ve never had for any other sport. I’ve never had a situation [in another sport like] ‘with 30 seconds left, I have to get this takedown. I have to get this.’ Believing you have to do it in order to win your match is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Lonsdale added. “It definitely teaches you how to be a lot tougher and stronger mentally.”
Lonsdale finished the season with eight wins, Britten seven and Rhoads one. At state, Lonsdale scored two takedowns and an escape on her way to a first round 9-5 decision over Perry’s Martha Turrado before she bowed out of the tournament with consecutive losses.
A big future
Both of the other wrestlers also said competing at state is an experience they’ll never forget.
“I am really hoping girls wrestling will continue to grow in our community and getting other schools in our area to have more girls at tournaments. There weren’t many at some of the smaller tournaments unless it was specifically a girls tournament,” Rhoads said. “Getting more girls out there to see what wrestling is and to actually wrestle, it’s actually pretty fun.”
Britten said on behalf of the others how grateful she is for the opportunity to try girls wrestling this year and is excited for the future of the sport.
“I’m definitely grateful for the opportunity and am grateful I decided to come out my freshman so I can hopefully be Nodaway Valley’s first four-year girl wrestler and get some [medals] by my senior year,” Britten said.