2023-2024 Early NCAA Lineup Looks

How Will Iowa Make Line-up Decisions During Inaugural Wrestling Season?

How Will Iowa Make Line-up Decisions During Inaugural Wrestling Season?

Iowa has a loaded team, but the Hawkeyes will have tough decisions to make during its inaugural wrestling campaign.

Jul 13, 2023 by Kyle Klingman
How Will Iowa Make Line-up Decisions During Inaugural Wrestling Season?

The University of Iowa women’s wrestling team kicks off its inaugural season later this year. Head coach Clarissa Chun has already built a championship-caliber team with multiple high-level options at most weights. 

Every wrestling team must navigate injuries, academics, extracurriculars, and weight — but, on paper, the Hawkeyes are spectacular. 

Iowa is in a unique position since up to 15 wrestlers can qualify for the 2024 National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championships in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on March 8-9. 

Only one wrestler per weight can score at nationals and only 10 compete during duals; however, Iowa could have 15 All-Americans during its inaugural season. Don’t be surprised if there’s an Iowa vs Iowa match in the national finals or at various points during tournaments.  

There are currently four Division I women’s wrestling programs and Iowa is the only Power Five school. The National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championships include colleges from Division I, II, and III. 

Women’s collegiate wrestling uses freestyle rules. 

North Central (a D3 program in Naperville, Illinois) outpaced King University (a D2 program in Bristol, Tennessee) and McKendree (a D2 program in Lebanon, Illinois) for the 2023 NCWWC crown. All three have solid teams, but Iowa’s is cut above. 

The starting line-up is still unknown, and there is no indication of what wrestlers will compete where. Below are options at each of the 10 weights with possible moves Iowa could make during the season. The toughest decision for Chun and her staff is which 15 wrestlers will compete at regionals.

Click here for other early line-up looks.

101 Pounds 

Sterling Dias is the favorite to start and the favorite to win a national championship. The 2019 Cadet World silver medalist has a dynamic personality and a dynamic style on the mat. She has a unique ability to stay calm during stressful situations, which will serve her well during a long college season. 

Dias was forced to compete at 50 kilograms (110 pounds) during the off-season since it’s the lightest international weight. The 101-pound class is a better fit for the Las Vegas native as she navigates her freshman campaign. Teammate Emilie Gonzalez is another solid option who might see varsity action. 

Don’t be surprised if these two reach the podium at the NCWWCs and don’t be surprised if they face off in the finals. Dias defeated Gozalez, 3-1, during the finals of the prestigious Missouri Valley Open last year. 

109 Pounds

Iowa has three options here, but Nyla Valencia is the favorite. Valencia reached the finals of the U20 World Team Trials in April and earned a win over McKendree’s five-time national collegiate champion (one WCWA and four NCWWC) Emily Shilson at last year’s U23 Nationals. 

Shilson has the most recent win, though — and returning national finalist Sage Mortimer of King will be tough to beat. Hawkeyes Ava Bayless and Brianna Gonzalez are also in contention. And there’s always the possibility that the Gonzalez twins flip-flop weight classes. 

116 Pounds

Felicity Taylor appears to be the only option. The Spillville, Iowa, native transferred from McKendree after reaching the national collegiate finals four times and winning an NCWWC title in 2021. Taylor has been a consistent force on the domestic scene for the past two seasons, so expect her to own this spot. Don’t be surprised if someone moves up from 109 periodically. 

This weight is tough but winnable for the Hawkeyes. North Central’s 2023 national champion Jaslynn Gallegos returns as does King’s Samara Chavez, who pinned Taylor to make this year’s national team at 53 kg. 

123 Pounds

Of the 10 weights, this is the most difficult to predict. Bella Ngo appears to be the frontrunner based on pinning North Central’s returning national finalist Amani Jones at the US Open (55 kg/121 pounds). Jones wrestled back for fifth, while Ngo didn’t place after taking a gap year. 

Emily Frost might be an option but she competed at 59 kg (130 pounds) at the U20 World Team Trials so dropping an additional seven pounds will take work. Figuring out this weight will be a fun storyline to follow. 

130 Pounds

Incoming freshmen Emily Frost and Lilly Luft could battle for the spot the varsity spot. Both are entered in the 132-pound class in Fargo so keep an eye on Junior Nationals as a de facto Iowa wrestle-off. 

Nanea Estrella won the 2022 US Open at 59 kg (130 pounds) and was an NAIA tournament runner-up for Menlo at 130 pounds, but her last competition was in late December at 136 pounds. She could move up a weight class or two based on a seven-month layoff.

136 Pounds

This weight has little clarity — especially since Luft and Frost aren’t technically on the team yet. Estrella could slide in here depending on availability and need, but it could also be Luft, Frost, Ester Han, or someone else.

143 Pounds

Ella Schmit is listed at 130 pounds on Iowa’s roster page but that seems unlikely after competing at 65 kg (143 pounds) this summer. She recently won the U20 Pan-American Championships and reached the finals of the U20 World Team Trials. She made big strides during the off-season and will be in contention for this spot or — maybe — 136 pounds. 

Reese Larremendy finished third behind Schmit at the U20 World Team Trials but they didn’t face each other. Larremendy fell to Grace Stem, 10-9, in the quarterfinals and Schmit pinned Stem in the semis. That doesn’t mean much when it comes to making the team, other than Iowa has two quality wrestlers.

There’s also a chance that Bella Mir — a U20 World teamer at 68 kg/149.5 pounds — attempts to make the team at this weight. 

155 Pounds

Mir seems better served at this weight but a returning national champion might be in her way. Marlynne Deede transferred from Augsburg and will complete her eligibility as a Hawkeye after winning the 155-pound National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championships. Deede competed at 76 kg (167 pounds) during the U23 World Team Trials and at the US Open, so there’s no telling if she will stay at 155 or move up to 170. 

Mir won the U20 Pan-Am Championships at 68 kg and has improved the most of any current Iowa wrestler. Her run to make the U20 World team included a 6-4 victory over 143-pound NCWWC champion Katie Lange in the quarterfinals. 

Incoming freshman Haley Ward is an option after winning the U20 Pan-Am Championships at 72 kg (158.5 pounds) but it’s more likely she redshirts. 

170 Pounds

This is Kylie Welker's weight.

North Central’s Yelena Makoyed is the only college wrestler in the country who could challenge her but, as of right now, she isn’t using her final year of eligibility after winning three national collegiate titles. Welker recently made the national team at 76 kg (167 pounds) in the deepest weight class in the United States — and she’s still a teenager. 

Marlynne Deede could move up, which isn’t a problem since Iowa can send 15 wrestlers to nationals. Welker and Deede can settle it in Cedar Rapids and split time during the season. 

191 Pounds

Iowa can have some fun here.  

Kylie Welker could move up and win nationals. She will be the favorite at either weight. That leaves Mir at 155, Deede at 170, and two Hawkeyes vying for a title at 191: Welker and Jaycee Foeller. This maximizes the line-up since Deede will only be with the program for one season. 

Foeller transferred from McKendree to Central Methodist and from Central Methodist to Iowa. She reached the 191-pound NCWWC finals in 2022 and the NAIA Championship finals in 2023. Deede could also move up to 191 and win, which means Deede and Welker wouldn’t have to face off at 170. Foeller would battle Deede for the starting spot instead of Welker.

Redshirt freshman Sam Calkins is another option and so is incoming freshman Alyvia White, who will likely redshirt. Foeller, Welker, Deede, Calkins, and White could all make a run at this weight if they want.