ELDRIDGE — Alexys Petersen remembers not too long ago attending wrestling tournaments and being either the only girl or one of a select few competing.
When Petersen walked into The Pit at North Scott High School on Tuesday evening and posed for a photograph with 110 other female participants, she and many others were blown away.
“Wow,” she said. “This is very exciting and amazing.”
Bettendorf captured the first Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union sanctioned wrestling event in the Quad Cities at the North Scott Invitational with 198.5 points. Mid-Prairie (147), Western Dubuque (102), Clinton (101) and North Scott (98) rounded out the top five.
Wins and losses were almost secondary on this dreary November night. It was more about ushering in a new opportunity for girls’ athletics.
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“If in seventh grade you would have told me I’d be a state champion and I would be leading seven girls from my tiny school in Iowa to compete and chase their goals, I would have told you that you’re crazy,” Wilton junior Hannah Rogers said.
According to the IGHSAU, there are more than 2,000 girls across the state registered into Track Wrestling to compete this season. Just four years ago, there were 87 girls across 10 weight classes at the initial Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association state tournament in Waverly.
“To see it multiplying every year is amazing,” Bettendorf coach Drew Sass said.
There were 12 schools involved in the season opener at North Scott. Bettendorf had 23 competitors followed by North Scott (18), Central DeWitt (14), Clinton (11) and Mid-Prairie (10).
Central DeWitt had three girls wrestling at this time last year. Coach Adam Grell has 19 in the program now.
“Our numbers throughout (kindergarten through 12th grade) are just going up,” Grell said. “People in our town have really started to buy into wrestling.
“For me, it is something special for the girls in our community to have this opportunity, the same opportunity that we had growing up. I have two daughters, our boys coach (Matt) Ohnemus has two daughters, and this is going to make them better people and more competitive once they are done with high school.”
Bettendorf junior Taylor Strief is wrestling for the first time this season. She won the 110-pound bracket Tuesday, including a 16-1 technical fall over Davenport’s Jacey Mason in the final round.
“Wrestling is the most fun sport I’ve ever done,” she said. “There are so many things that go into it, small things that make the difference.”
As the sport continues to ascend, the competitiveness will improve.
Of the 14 finals matches in the main brackets, 13 ended by pin and the other by technical fall.
There are top-tier competitors like Rogers and Petersen to many on Grell’s squad who were wrestling their first competitive match.
“I gave them the analogy today it is like giving a book to someone and telling them to read,” Grell said. “They look at you and say, ‘Well, I don’t even know what a letter is.’
“We have athletic girls, we have tough girls and we know they’re going to get a lot better by just wrestling. We needed tonight because a lot of them have never wrestled a match before.”
Petersen and Strief were among 10 champions for the Bulldogs, who have 26 girls in their program. A full roster has helped maximize workouts in the practice room, Sass said.
“We don’t have any gaps where girls are wrestling bigger girls or putting themselves in danger to get hurt,” he said. “These girls come in every single day, and you can feel they want to learn and grow.
“Our goal as a team isn’t necessarily winning a state title or doing this and that, but it is to come in and get better and better every day.”
Rogers was among three girls in the 125-pound bracket who placed at last year’s IWCOA state tournament. The Wilton junior had little difficulty navigating her way through two opponents, including a 54-second pin over North Scott’s Khylie Wainwright.
That wasn’t what put a smile on Rogers’ face afterward. It was watching some of her best friends win their first competitive wrestling bouts.
When she wasn’t on the mat or getting ready to compete, Rogers was in the corner lending encouragement and cheering on her teammates.
“I’m so happy my best friends are getting to feel the same way that I do with wrestling,” Rogers said.
Rogers often looked to Brody Brisker and others to lead the Wilton practice room. She is now in a leadership position for the Wilton girls squad.
“It is awesome the girls look up to me, something I love and cherish,” Rogers said.
North Scott boys wrestling coach Drew Kelly encouraged Jorie Hanenburg to come out for wrestling as a freshman. Hanenburg, a senior, cruised through the 170-pound main bracket with two pins.
“(Wrestling) brings a different type of adrenaline to your body,” Hanenburg said. “It is addicting to keep going and keep doing it.
“When coach Kelly recruited me my freshman year, I wasn’t really sure. I stuck with it and I’ve fallen in love with the sport.”