Team Iowa Daughters of the Corn after being awarded their medals following the event. (Photo courtesy of Jason Loyd).
The wrestling mats were out in full force over Easter weekend in Des Moines, Iowa, from April 2-3. Iowa AAU wrestling hosted the AAU National Duals and Twin Rivers Duals. The weekend consisted of three separate events: the AAU Freshmen/Sophomore National Duals, the Twin River Junior/Senior National Duals, and the AAU Lee Pamulak Middle School Duals.
Despite COVID-19 rules and restrictions, AAU Iowa could safely accommodate a larger participant pool than it has at previous iterations of the Twin River Duals. In total, thousands of boys and girls from nearly 20 different states, plus another few thousand spectators, gathered (using safe social distancing) for some exceptional youth and high school competitions.
AAU Wrestling National Chair Wes Creason and AAU Women’s Wrestling Director Jason Loyd spearheaded this Easter Extravaganza’s planning, and both were delighted with the result.
“Frankly, it’s all almost overwhelming,” Loyd said. “It’s a realization of a goal not only for myself but for the wrestling community as a whole. To look out and see 42 all-girl teams filling 21 mats was amazing. Every coach lit up at the sight and acknowledgment of the opportunity.”
Creason echoed Loyd’s sentiments about the larger-scale event this year. Creason, too, received a lot of positive feedback from attendees.
“Everybody loved it and It ran very well,” Creason said. “We had over 90 total teams, and everybody wrestled eight times in two days. The event was organized, nobody was standing around, and the mats were constantly in use.”
“We had good officiating. The venue is a very nice place. The atmosphere as a whole was just fantastic,” Creason continued.”
There were some minimal minor obstacles to overcome throughout the event, including some streaming-related delays and some rule book clarifications. The events operated under a modified set of rules that not all athletes and referees were familiar with.
“With so many athletes and officials introduced to our modified rules for the first time, there were clarifications needed throughout the day,” Loyd said. “For the past five years, we had a smaller pool of officials that were familiar with the modified rules. This year, we supported the girls with 30 or 40 officials. There was a learning curve for them, but most coaches were patient.”
“It was excellent for those officials to be introduced to the modification, as we need to build up a body of freestyle officials and infrastructure,” Loyd continued. “We now have a large body of officials exposed to two aspects of freestyle with the step-out and neutral restart modifications. These modifications should aid in the growth and facilitation of freestyle opportunities down the road.”
Loyd was particularly pleased that the student-athlete awards were such a big hit among the girls in attendance. The awards received an upgrade since the last iteration of these events.
“The athletes went nuts over the OW Gold Chains,” Loyd said. “It was the main piece of hardware everyone wanted to see on the awards table, and the recipients were beyond excited to receive them.”
Loyd even recalled hearing Ella Gahl, the Girls Youth OW Award recipient say, “This thing is awesome. I want to come back and win it again.”
Abby Mcintyre took home the Girls High School OW Award and was equally pleased with her oversized chain as well.
Ali Andersen, who has been part of Team Iowa since the beginning, was awarded the inaugural Empower Me AAU Women’s Wrestling Scholarship.
She was selected by a six-judge panel (three men and three women). All six are part of the wrestling community, and none of them have a current female high school athlete.
She was chosen due to her written account of what AAU and wrestling has done for her. Plus, her GPA and positive reviews from her coaches also played a role.
“We felt that her essay expressed what we at AAU Girls Wrestling strive to achieve, and that is that AAU is here to enrich and provide opportunities for everyone,” Loyd said. “Our goal is to develop both champions on the mat and skills that help individuals become successful off the mat.”
Of note, one significant addition to the scholarship offer was MidWest Wash Pro stepped up and matched AAU’s donations, increasing the scholarship to $1000 after submission of first semester grades.
Concerning the girls’ divisions, both the high school and the youth divisions were highly competitive.
The previous national champions barely bumped off a stacked Iowa Daughters of the Corn team in the semi-finals, which featured Abby McIntyre, a tournament OW, and a standout performance from Emma Grimm.
That nail-biter was followed by Team Oklahoma taking down the champs in a thrilling finals match.
On the youth division side, the Black Mambas left no doubt they were the dominant squad. Teams fought hard, but none came close to topping the champs.
That said, one exciting match to watch was in the fifth-place placement round. Colorado Premier and Missouri Black traded blows in a dual that saw numerous bonus-point decisions.
Other standout teams were Nebraska, Montana, Charlie’s Angels, and Chasing Titles.
The men’s side of the action mirrored that of their female counterparts. As predicted, many marquee matchups featured a pairing of former state qualifiers. In many instances, the competitor hailed from opposing states. These events did not award Outstand Wrestler honorees, but that will change next year in 2022.
The men’s events used a whopping 28 mats, an increase from the 26 mats in 2019.
“Our criteria is we have every team wrestling every round and no empty mats when possible,” Creason said. “So, if we were to add 60 teams, we want to find a way to get 30 mats in there. With the boys, we had 57 teams, so we went to 28 mats to get all those guys wrestling at once.”
“The criteria we always use is that the guys’ teams and girls’ teams have one that for every two teams in attendance,” Creason continued.
Full results can be found via Trackwrestling here.
In 2022, fans can expect another quality event, just as they saw this year.
“The tournament runs well because of the people that we have here that are working it,” Creason said of his support staff. “In Iowa, we are fortunate for the great volunteers and people that understand what we want to do.”
Creason went on to say it’s the work of volunteers that ultimately makes or breaks an event. According to Creason, the Easter weekend events probably saw upwards of 40 volunteers. Other events AAU Iowa wrestling hosts can exceed 100. A successful event is truly a team effort.
In the more immediate future, Loyd wanted the AAU Iowa wrestling faithful to know that the AAU Scholastic Duals should be “rolling and a full go” later this summer, June 21-24.
Following the Scholastic Duals, the organization looks to host the first-ever Freestyle Girls High School Duals for Junior Olympics.
There is also interest in some in Greco action, which will be discussed at a later date.
“It’s exciting to see the growth and continued support from AAU for the girls and boys everywhere,” Loyd said.