“I’m out of words, I’m so excited.” For the Kennedy girls wrestling team, the state tournament will culminate a special season

Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 6:57 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Junior Gwen Canney can’t wait to wrestle in a state tournament for the first time.

“This will be my first time going to state ever, literally I’m out of words I’m so excited for it,” the Kennedy junior said.

It’s been a long journey for Canney to get to the mat, she said she wanted to wrestle in 8th grade, but her father wouldn’t let her.

“I kind of gave up on my dreams of being a wrestler,” Canney said. “I kind of just assumed maybe I can just be a manager at least.”

But Canney finally convinced her dad to let her go out for wrestling last summer. She’s part of a new breed of first-time high school wrestlers at Kennedy.

So many girls have joined the sport that girls wrestlers can practice and compete against just girls if they wish. There is still an option to wrestle boys.

“Wrestling’s for everyone. It can be any weight, any body, it doesn’t matter,” said Kennedy wrestling assistant coach Craig Mallicoat.

Mallicoat, who is also a science teacher at Kennedy, became the defacto lead recruiter.

“I started talking to my classes trying to see who I can get involved,” he said. “I was able to get a couple of girls to come out, and then our other girls recruited, and now we went from two to ten.”

Kira Frederik is a freshman who had never wrestled before.

“I’ve always had an interest in some sort of combat sport, like I do kickboxing,” Frederik said. “I decided it’d be super cool, and then I got here, I met the team, and I couldn’t quit.”

Many Kennedy girls will be wrestling in their first state tournament this weekend, but one Cougar will be competing in her last: Kennedy’s leader, senior Lexi Byrne.

“I started wrestling when I was seven or eight years old with my brother,” Byrne said. “It’s crazy. I started wrestling when I was younger when there was not that many girls out.”

Byrne now has company. 87 girls participated in the first state tournament in 2019. More than 700 are expected at Xtream Arena on Friday.

“I have grown up with the sport,” Byrne said.

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