On Friday, Jan. 22, five West Liberty High School Comet wrestlers competed in the third annual IWCOA Girls State Wrestling Tournament held at the Xtream Arena in Coralville.
A total of 457 wrestlers from across the state came to compete for one of 12 individual championships. The tournament has grown considerably since its inception two years ago when just 87 girls competed. Last season saw a sizeable jump with a field of 250 contestants.
Newcomers Rylee Goodale, Laney Esmoil and Pita Garcia joined veterans Mylei Henderson and Isabel Morrison and wrestled among arguably some of the state’s best female athletes.
“Overall, I am proud of our girls’ tournament. I know that some of them didn’t get the results that they wanted, but they fought through every position and we love to see that from them, said head girls coach Caleb Studebaker “This group of girls has been a joy to work with from the very beginning. They all came to practice every day wanting to learn and get better.”
He said the group of girls returning will continue to work and get better. “Hopefully, we will add some more girls to our program next year. As a coach, you can’t ask for anything else. Having a group of athletes that do that makes it really enjoyable to coach.”
Studebaker praised the “great leadership” of Isabel Morrison, a senior who is a second year wrestler. “In our wrestling room we hand out blue practice shirts to athletes who exemplify what it means to be a Comet wrestler.” She is one of two individuals that wears the blue shirt alongside a male wrestler. “It is a big deal to possess a blue shirt and the boys and girls all respect her because of the qualities she carries as a person and a Comet wrestler,” the coach continued.
“We will miss having her in the room, but I believe we have a couple of girls who can step into her shoes as leaders next year.”
He said girls wrestling in Iowa has seen a great increase in skills from top to bottom. “As a coach, I get really excited to see that. It will only get better from here on out. I think that the sport will continue to grow. There are more and more opportunities for the younger girls to get involved in wrestling across the state,” Studebaker said.
How they did
Getting back to the meet, Goodale, a sophomore, competed in the 120 pound weight class, wrestling Maddie Plotz of Mount Vernon in round one. Goodale trailed just 2-1 during the first period before losing by fall in 1:42.
In her second match against Savannah Williams of Ames, Goodale jumped out to a 5-2 lead and had Williams on her back. Goodale lost her momentum and eventually lost the match by fall to end her day and finish out her inaugural season with a 1-7 record.
Wrestling in the 132 pound bracket, freshman Esmoil seemed to be in control of her first round match against Autumn Stonecypher of West Fork Sheffield as she built a 5-0 lead in the first period. Stonecypher worked her way off of her back and came back to pin Esmoil in the second period.
Esmoil came out on top of a wild 13-11 scramble and pinned Mia Kunnert of Dubuque Wahlert in the third period in her second match. Esmoil once again led Ava McDermott of Dubuque Wahlert with a 4-0 score in her third match before dropping out of the double elimination tournament with a loss by fall. Esmoil finished her first season with a 11-9 record.
Henderson, a junior, started her day off with a first round bye in the 138 pound weight bracket. She dominated in her next match against Nevaeh Briggs of EVTC, winning by a convincing 11-5 score.
Henderson wrestled Lexi Byrne of Cedar Rapids Kennedy in the next round and was defeated by fall in the second period to drop to the consolation bracket. In her next bout, Henderson lost by fall to Naomi Gaede of Oelwein to end her tournament run and finish the season with a hard fought 9-11 record.
Garcia, another scrappy freshman Comet wrestling in the 145 pound weight division, also received a first round bye. Garcia dropped a heartbreaking 8-6 match to Mia Garvey of Mid Prairie in her first action of the day.
Garcia got another bye in the next round. In her final match of the tournament, Garcia fought hard but lost by fall to Geordyn Webster of Vinton-Shellsburg to bow out of the tournament and complete her fun season with a 5-5 mark.
Lone Comet senior, Morrison, also received an opening round bye. She came out aggressively in her first match by smothering Dana Swedensky of Lewis Central with a 12-1 major decision victory. Morrison then lost her second match by fall to Claire Quick of NHTV in 4:22.
In the consolations, Morrison was all tied up with Webster of Vinton-Shellsburg, the same opponent that eliminated Garcia the round prior, before also succumbing by fall to complete her tournament and fine senior season with a 11-10 record.
Veteran speaks out
When asked about what she has learned since joining wrestling, Henderson, the top returner from this year’s team stated, “I feel like I have learned so much about myself and what my mind can do for my body. I also learned what it feels like to be an empowering female in an atmosphere and area where females aren’t necessarily ‘supposed to be.’”
Henderson said ther biggest influence in her wrestling career has been her brother. “He is the person that inspired me to go out for wrestling and give it a try. I would also give credit to all of the boys in the room for pushing me to want to be better and to make it seem like there are no differences between guys and girls in wrestling.”
“I would tell any girl to at least give wrestling a try because it might be the best thing that has ever happened to you,” she continued.
“It teaches you so many different things that you can take into life that will help you tremendously. You will also make bonds with people on the team that you might’ve never had if you didn’t give it a try.”
New Girls Night
Coach Studebaker is starting a Girls Night on Tuesday, which started Feb. 2, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. or shortly after in the middle school wrestling room.
The practice is free and open to all second grade through eighth grade West Liberty School District girls wanting to give wrestling a try.
The intent is to try to stir more interest in the program.
Questions can be directed to Coach Studebaker at 319-327-2216 or at email@example.com.