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Michael earns podium spot at Inaugural IWCOA Girls State

January 24, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Dysart Reporter

Union senior Hannah Michael eagerly stepped on the wrestling mat to face a different opponent than her usual teammates in the wrestling room, or any male for that matter. On the other side was Katy Unger of Sioux City East, ready as ever to be among the first wrestlers in a tournament unique to Iowa. Striking quickly and decisively, Michael needed all but 46 seconds to pin Unger. An excited, packed crowd cheered as the victor's arm was raised, celebrating Michael as the first win of the day and more significantly the inaugural win of Iowa's first girls state wrestling tournament.

For the first time in Iowa athletics history, 87 girls from across the state made their way through the snow to Waverly for the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association (IWCOA) Girls State Championship on Saturday, Jan. 19, including Union's own Michael. The first of its kind in the state, the tournament gave female wrestlers their first real chance to compete against each other and crown champions in 10 weight classes.

But long before Michael was ever preparing for the biggest tournament of her career coming in at the fourth ranked wrestler at 106 lbs, she was on the mat for a very different reason: cheerleading.

Article Photos

Union senior Hannah Michael makes swift work of Katy Unger of Sioux City East in her first match of the day, pinning her opponent in 46 seconds and notably becoming the first-ever win at the IWCOA Girls State Championship on Saturday, Jan. 19.

"My sophomore year, I was at the edge of the mat cheering for all the wrestling boys and something clicked in my head," Michael said. "I wanted a new challenge in life and so I decided that summer to go to practices where I can, like the Dan Gable museum. I really enjoyed the sport and did everything I could to get on that mat."

Michael joined the Union wrestling team her junior year, competing against boys with far more size and experience than herself. She focused on the fundamentals from day one, working on her positioning and quickness to transform herself into a formidable wrestler.

"It's a hard thing to do as a female because the wrestling room is so male dominate," coach Bart Mehlert said. "But Hannah came in and worked her tail off, and she still does today. Technique-wise, she doesn't know a whole lot, but she puts her foot down and works."

Like with any sport, there were ups and downs along the way, but Michael never felt unwelcomed in the wrestling room by her teammates or her supportive coaches.

"My main difficulty was my size, but I'm strong, have the drive and I've learned moves I could only do because of my size," Michael said. "I loved the camaraderie between the whole wrestling team. Even if I am female in a male-dominated sport, Union has been nothing but supportive. They've always treated me like one of the guys."

While opportunities to wrestle at the varsity level didn't come outside of several forfeits at 106 lbs, Michael competed in JV events for the Knights and continued to put in the time during her senior year. She made goals to break her skills down to the little things, like staying in good position throughout the match and giving her all in every single match. Though her record was only 3-0 in varsity, she was ready for the biggest tournament of her career at girls state.

"A lot with preparing for this tournament was mental," Michael said. "I'd reassure myself I got here because I worked hard, I earned the moment to step onto the mat and give it my all. Not going to lie, I had to eat up too because 106 lbs is the lowest weight possible. I just wanted to go out knowing I could win. I love wrestling because there's the potential for anyone to be beat, and I had high expectations."

After winning her first match with relative ease, Michael faced off against Alexis Partida of West Liberty, the sixth ranked wrestler in her weight class. Michael overcame a near-pin by Partida to hold on to the third period and get another pin on the day. However, her biggest challenge was when she clashed against top-ranked Ali Gerbracht of AGWSR. The eventual champ would turn the tables on Michael as she pinned her in the first period.

"She came out and had the first pin ever at the first Girls State tournament, which is really cool to see," Mehlert said. "After pinning her second opponent, we knew her semi-final opponent was good. Hannah gave up size to her, but I just told her just keep working hard at the sport."

The loss placed Union's lone wrestler in the third place match against Chloe Krebsbach of Osage, a school that competed in nine of the ten weight classes. Despite a valiant effort to keep alive in the first period, Michael was pinned in the second period to take fourth place during the very first awards ceremony of the tournament. A smile firmly occupied the senior's face afterwards as Michael thinks back on the fact she and her competitors have set a standard for future female wrestlers, including her sister Sarah, who'll be competing on the mats next year.

"Even though I lost today, the fact is we are a growing sport and we're getting as many girls out as possible," Michael said. "I just smile anytime I think about it. Wrestling may seem a bit intimidating, it's what you make of it. My eyes have been opened to the amount of females out for the sport in other states. I went to a national tournament and there were thousands of girls there. I realized that female wrestling does have potential in Iowa and hope one day there's a community based around our sport."

With the first year of the IWCOA Girls State Championship and a state placewinner in the rearview after a well-attended inaugural year, Mehlert hopes that other girls across the state will consider wrestling to help promote the need for it to be an official sport in Iowa.

"There's chatter now about how huge female wrestling is at Waverly and now we have this tournament put on by the IWCOA," Mehlert said. "I have a daughter in middle school talking about going out. We have to get girls out to become an official sport."

More photos of Hannah Michael wrestling at the IWCOA Girls State Championship are available at /



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