Comet girls back on mat after historic wrestling season
By John Burbridge
CHARLES CITY — Boots may be made for walking, but when feet are wrapped in wrestling shoes, they can do much more than that.
“We’re going to use our feet to kick our opponents’ butts!” Charles City girls wrestling coach Rob Pittman exclaimed while joining his team in a footwork speed drill during a Comet practice this week in the wrestling room of the old middle school.
“And after they get their butts kicked, they’re going to say ‘Charles City sure has some tough women’.”
Some have already gotten that message, especially after last season’s inaugural IGHSAU Girls Wrestling State Championships that saw 2023 Charles City graduate Lilly Luft cap an undefeated season (40-0) and prep wrestling career with a third-straight state title.
“I don’t get a chance to talk to her much, but I heard she’s doing really well … adjusting to college life,” Pittman said of Luft, who has continued her wrestling career at the University of Iowa, one of the first Power Five Conference schools to offer an NCAA female wrestling program.
Luft and fellow Comet graduates and state qualifiers Morgan Maloy and Liz Oleson have moved on. But two Charles City state qualifiers are back — senior 235-pounder Ava Thompson, a multiple state medalist who will be vying to compete in her fourth-straight state meet at the end of this season; and junior 190-pounder Leah Stewart, who is coming in fresh from the past football season where she made herself a factor while playing at the varsity level.
“And we have another girl coming back (sophomore 113-pounder Tegan Cavanaugh) who just missed going to state after being stopped in the blood round [consolation semifinals] at the super regional,” said Pittman, who also cited junior 157-pounder Destiny Kolheim as another key returner.
Kolheim and Luft were formerly honored with several fellow Lions Park Pool lifeguards for their life-saving efforts during an incident at the pool this past summer.
“We have a young team … we have a diverse and talented group of freshmen,” Pittman said. “This is our biggest group since we started a girls wrestling team.”
Pittman not only envisions the Comets building a bigger and better team from here on out, but sees female wrestling itself getting much bigger and better in the near future.
“Before you didn’t have too many club wrestlers among high school girls,” he said, “but now more girls are wrestling year-round. The competition is only going to get tougher.”
Charles City will start the season Nov. 18 with a tournament at Decorah.
The high school girls wrestling season in regards to organized practices started a day before Halloween last week. Official start of practice for the boys wrestling season starts next week.
Pittman said the staggered start accommodates smaller and financially challenged schools which may not be able to fill two separate paid coaching staffs for wrestling.
“It allows (Comet boys coach) Dave Williams and myself to give attention to all our wrestlers, especially for their regional and state tournaments,” he said.
Assisting Pittman and Williams this season is former Clear Lake and Upper Iowa University wrestler Ryan Schmalen, who was recently hired by the Charles City Community School District as a physical education teacher.
“We also have a group of volunteer coaches whom we are grateful for,” Pittman said.