Loras Wrestling

Building Women’s Wrestling From the Ground Up

Photo by Dave Kettering

By Mark A. Mederson, PhD, assistant professor of media studies and faculty adviser of the student newspaper, The Lorian.

When a living legend says it’s good, then you know it probably is.

Iowa wrestling legend Dan Gable says that he’s a big fan of women’s wrestling. In fact, Gable said before a recent appearance at Loras College, his two granddaughters are wrestlers.

This year, Loras hired a coach and began a first-ever women’s wrestling team.

“This was an opportunity to get back into coaching full-time and I just couldn’t pass it up,” Loras women’s head wrestling coach, Wil Kelly, 47, said.

Kelly, who began wrestling in the third grade and became a state champion at Dubuque Wahlert and a national champion at Wartburg College, has competed and coached nationally and internationally. He says that while most boy’s and men’s school wrestling in Iowa follows folkstyle wrestling rules, women’s college wrestling is competing under international freestyle wrestling regulations.

One of the things Kelly is battling against at Loras is being able to put a full team of wrestlers on the mat for meets. Like the men, there are 10 weight classes in women’s college wrestling. The lowest weight in women’s wrestling is 101 pounds, the men start at 125.

While the Loras athletics website lists four members on the team’s roster, Kelly said they have seven wrestlers practicing.

“There’s some potential to add more as some other sports finish up,” Kelly said.

Starting a brand-new team, Kelly says, means there are going to be some growing pains. But, Kelly said, there are some truly enjoyable moments as well. He’s particularly enjoyed the fun he sees his team having during practices. Kelly says he’s seeing a tremendous amount of effort and energy from his team.

While some team members have quite a bit of wrestling experience, there are others, like Daniela Bernal, a 21-year-old junior from Bogota, Colombia, who have never wrestled.

Bernal showed up at the first team meeting to support a friend who was considering joining. When the meeting ended, Bernal said, Coach Kelly unexpectedly handed her a Loras College Wrestling hoodie and welcomed her to the team.

Once Bernal began practicing with the team and learning the sport, she said, she was hooked.

“I have always liked doing the opposite of what I have to do,” Bernal said as she laughed. “I just like trying things that get me out of my comfort zone.”

Most of the women on the team agree that wrestling is definitely taking them out of their comfort zone, both physically and mentally. One of them repeated Dan Gable’s famous quote.

“Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy,” Gable once said.

Isabelle Kipp, 19, a freshman, says in the wrestling room she feels as though she is breaking herself. Kipp is one of the most experienced wrestlers on the team. She wrestled three years in high school.

“Mentally you are pushing yourself to the point where you want to give up, yet you can’t,” Kipp said. “You’re telling yourself you gotta keep going but your body is telling you, no.”

Kipp is an elementary education major. Her goal after graduation is to get a job teaching at a school where she can also coach girls wrestling.

Maria Fernandez de Carranza, 21, who hails from Madrid, Spain, says that she has absolutely no wrestling experience. The sophomore said her friends keep asking her why she is wrestling.

The biomedical engineering major laughed and said, “I tell them, I want to become the first Spanish all-American.”

De Carranza describes herself as “addicted to sugar.” Like all wrestlers, she’s trying to cut weight. Because of this, she said, wrestling is helping her break that sugar addiction.

As for the team’s future, Kelly says his main goal is to have a full team. He says he hopes his recruiting efforts will help him to fulfill that goal.

Bernal says that being part of this first-ever Loras team makes it even more special for her.

“(The coaches) are trying to build something from the ground, and you’re a part of it,” she said. “And you’re a part of the future so it makes it something really special.”

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