Central girls wrestling team looks to build on last season’s success

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Central’s girls wrestling team includes Brynn Meyer (left), Taylor Moser, Reese Berns, Savannah Orr, Macie Keppler, Tori Sylvester, Kimberly Suhr, Alyssa Schmitt and Mayleigh Medberry. Not pictured are Audrey Palas, Madison Schmidt and Elizabeth Steele. (Photo by Alison Patenaude)

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


It’s season number two for girls wrestling as a sanctioned Iowa high school sport, and the Central Warriors aren’t looking to rest on last year’s inaugural success. Especially not when the Warriors return three state qualifiers, bring in a surplus of new wrestlers and even combine with Clayton Ridge, making the team bigger and more competitive and more capable of filling weight classes.


The expectations for coach Colten Ledbeter, are simple and straightforward, but also lofty. They start with everyone on the team, whether they competed last year or not, building off last season’s success or building off everything they learned over summer workouts and camps to get them to this point. He emphasized continuing to master the moves of wrestling, training hard and “embracing the grind.”


Joining the Warriors this season will be two wrestlers from Clayton Ridge, Brynn Meyer and Elizabeth Steele, both relatively new to the sport. The additions will benefit the overall program, either by filling weight classes or simply adding more practice partners. 


The decision to combine programs, according to Central Activities Director Aaron Reinhart, was initiated by Clayton Ridge, a school without a wrestling program. After some discussion, this was determined to be a good fit for the program.


“Any time we can increase the competition level in the practice room, or at a specific weight, we automatically increase the intensity and overall performance. For us, that’s the big benefit,” Reinhart said.


With the program growing in size and stature, Ledbeter has aligned his goals with his expectations, starting with short-term goals such as each wrestler learning all the moves so they can drill hard in practice. Wrestlers are also tasked with learning to properly warm up and find a consistent pre-match routine that works best for them. 


One of those short-term goals has long-term implications: to win a team trophy at a tournament.


“I think that, if we can accomplish their first two goals, then the third will come as a result,” Ledbeter said.


The main long-term goal remains to fill more weight classes in general, but more specifically to qualify more wrestlers for state. In order to do that and embrace the grind, as Ledbeter likes to say, it requires practice and attending camps, which the Warriors did over the offseason. They attended one at Luther College and one hosted at Central.


The focus at Luther was getting a lot of matches and learning to compete. Central was combined with Sumner-Fredericksburg and Starmont, and the team won the tournament with the most team points. 


The Central camp, meanwhile, focused on technique, with college wrestlers Ben Kueter (Iowa), Felicity Taylor (Iowa) and Austin O’Connor (North Carolina) coming in to show the team moves. 


The Warriors also had open mat opportunities every Sunday from May through present to help prepare for the upcoming season. Multiple girls competed in offseason tournaments throughout the spring and summer.


That level of dedication will make overcoming some of this year’s challenges, like replacing the senior leadership of Rebecca Suhr, a little bit easier. It will also lend itself well to maximizing one of last year’s vital lessons: even when the level of competition increases, small mistakes can—and oftentimes do—make the difference.


“Carrying that over from last year, we will work on cutting out the small mistakes and learning how to capitalize on the small mistakes of our opponents,” Ledbeter said.


Central’s strength starts with its returning state qualifiers in Taylor Moser, Reese Berns and Tori Sylvester, although Sylvester will be sidelined early in the season due to an injury suffered playing volleyball. They are all expected to fill the leadership role, which will go a long way toward getting the eight new wrestlers—who will need to learn the basics—ready for the grind.


“We will look to our seven returning wrestlers from last year to help lead our team in both skill and energy, especially our three state qualifiers from last year. Each has expressed their excitement about this year, and knows that we need lots of practice partners with good work ethic in order for everyone to improve. Our leaders need to lead by example and keep the rest of the team’s effort levels high,” Ledbeter said.


Also returning are Maci Keppler, Kimberly Suhr and Mayleigh Medberry, who are all coming off solid seasons and have put in work this offseason to improve their records from last year and punch a ticket to the state tournament. Additionally, freshman Audrey Palas will be back after completing a good junior high season last year. 


Newcomers include Savannah Orr, Brynn Meyer and Alyssa Schmitt, who have a little past experience and “have been looking very strong in practice and will be fun to watch compete as they keep improving,” Ledbeter said. 


The team is rounded out with Elizabeth Steele, Paige Dettman and Madison Schmidt, who are all new to the sport this year.


“In the small amount of practice time they’ve had, they improved exponentially. I am excited to watch them learn the sport and find success as the season progresses,” Ledbeter said. “With the amount of girls currently on the team, it looks like we will be able to fill out a lot more weights than we were able to last season. That, combined with the increased experience from last year, should set us up to be a more competitive team in duals.”


Part of getting the wrestlers to embrace the grind starts with promoting a culture the athletes can buy into. If the turnout of new wrestlers is any indication, Ledbeter is having some success. 


It starts with teaching moves and good form, but it’s also about teaching a love for the sport and building on that, instilling the necessity of hard work and a steady work ethic. This is critical in wrestling. It’s about pushing your teammates in practice to prepare them for the increase in competition during the season, and outworking your opponent.


The first wrestling meet was scheduled for Nov. 14, at home. With nine meets total before Christmas break, it won’t take long before Ledbeter is able to gauge where the team is at competitively, to make adjustments for the second half of the season and get the wrestlers to their goals of winning as a team and getting to state.


“We have a lot of home meets and tournaments this year, and I hope we can pack the gyms and have a loud, positive home crowd to keep the energy buzzing,” Ledbeter said.

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