Iowa women’s wrestling lands two-time state champion Lilly Luft

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CHARLES CITY — Four years ago, Lilly Luft decided to try wrestling to honor her late brother, Logan. This week, the Charles City senior announced that she will not only continue to wrestle in college, but will do so at the highest level.

On Thursday, Luft signed up for the University of Iowa women’s wrestling team. She is the third wrestler from the state to join the Hawkeyes, along with Bettendorf graduate Ella Schmit and South Winneshiek alum Felicity Taylor, and is the program’s first known recruit in 2023.

“I’m proud to be born, raised and trained in Iowa, the mecca of wrestling,” Luft told the Des Moines Register. “I can’t wait to be a Hawkeye and make the first women’s wrestling team.”

After:Charles City’s Lilly Luft pays tribute to her late brother by winning a state wrestling title

In four short years, Luft went from a wrestling novice to one of the top talents not only in Iowa but in the entire country.

The 17-year-old is a two-time state women’s wrestling champion and a three-time state medalist. She is 85-6 overall at the start of her senior season in Charles City, according to stats kept by Trackwrestling.

In 2021, Luft earned All-America honors at the 16U Freestyle Nationals and finished fourth at the 2021 Cadet World Beach Wrestling Championships in Romania. Last summer, she placed seventh at the World Cadet Team Trials. She is ranked No. 17 at 132 pounds in USA Wrestling’s latest National Women’s High School Rankings.

As such, Luft was a highly sought after female wrestling prospect. She was recruited by a long list of top college programs, including Life University, Grand View, and McKendree, among many others.

In the end, head coach Clarissa Chun and the Hawkeyes won. Iowa has always been Luft’s favorite school, but an official visit in early September, during which Luft spent a weekend with the coaches and wrestlers, sealed the deal.

“Honestly, the level of intensity and engagement of the girls in the room was my deciding factor,” Luft said. “They set the bar extremely high and I live for this kind of challenge. As soon as I started training with the team, I immediately felt connected to them.

“Even though the team is new, they are already a family and have welcomed me with open arms. I couldn’t believe how nice they all were. There’s just something to be said for surrounding yourself with like-minded people. It’s comfortable, it feels like home. How lucky am I to find this in my home country? »

Previously:Bettendorf State Champion Ella Schmit Commits to Iowa Women’s Wrestling Program

Iowa’s first official season, still the only Division I Power 5 women’s wrestling program, won’t be until 2023-24. There are 15 women on the roster who can wrestle alone in open tournaments while essentially wearing red shirts this season.

It’s a star-studded group, with Schmitt, a three-time state champion; Taylor, US Open champion and two-time World U23 team member; Kylie Welker, World Junior Champion and World Senior Team Member; Reese Larramendy, member of the World Junior Team; as well as several other national champions and credentialed wrestlers.

Luft initially viewed the composition of the roster as a potential barrier to joining the team, but conversations with Chun and his coaching staff helped turn those feelings into motivation to take on the challenge.

“I was afraid that (being newer to the sport) would play against me,” Luft said. “I just don’t share some of the accolades or accomplishments that a lot of other girls have.

“But Coach Chun and (associate head coach Gary Mayabb) both assured me that I had exactly what Iowa was looking for: work ethic, commitment and, most importantly, character.”

Luft’s decision to become a Hawkeye is also sentimental – a continuation, of sorts, of why she started wrestling in the first place.

Charles City's Lilly Luft defeated Waverly-Shell Rock's Macy Smith to win a state title at 130 pounds last January at the 2022 Girls State Wrestling Championships, sponsored by the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association. .

After:Three-time Olympic medalist Tonya Verbeek joins Iowa women’s wrestling coaching staff

In July 2017, her older brother, Logan, died in an ATV accident at just 15 years old. He was a talented young wrestler, a Greco-Roman state champion who represented Iowa in the National Cadet Duel just weeks before the accident.

His death shook the Charles City community and sent ripples across the state. Five people received organ donations from him and many more received tissue donations, leading to Logan’s Law. His story was mentioned by announcers during high-profile collegiate wrestling duels on the Big Ten Network.

“After Logan’s accident, the Iowa wrestling program sent us an entire memorial perennial garden along with personal notes from (Iowa coaches) Tom and Terry Brands,” Luft said. “We planted the garden in our front yard with an Iowa flag. I walk past this garden several times a day.

Logan Luft had big dreams for his own wrestling career — to be a state champion, to become an All-American, to one day compete for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

These dreams quickly became Lilly’s, and for the past four years she has pursued them relentlessly. The latest was on Thursday.

“I believe things in life happen for a reason,” Luft said. “I truly believe I have been blessed with this opportunity to not only pursue my athletic and academic dreams, but also fulfill my brother’s dream of wrestling for the University of Iowa.”

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.


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