The Hawkeye women’s wrestling program added a big-time transfer this week — one who is originally from the state of Iowa.
Felicity Taylor, a South Winneshiek graduate and one of the nation’s top women’s freestyle wrestlers, announced on social media and told the Des Moines Register that she plans to transfer to Iowa for her final college wrestling season.
“I am coming home,” Taylor said in a phone call with the Register, “and I am so pumped to be back.”
Taylor has spent the last four years at McKendree University, a women’s college wrestling powerhouse in southern Illinois. Competing at 116 pounds, she was a four-time national finalist and 2021 national champion. She helped the Bearcats win three national team titles. She plans to wrestle at the same weight and have a similar impact for the Hawkeyes.
The 21-year-old has also become one of America’s fastest-rising women’s freestylers.
This past spring, competing at 53 kilograms (116.6 pounds), Taylor won both the US Open and the Under-23 national tournament; qualified for Final X, the last leg of USA Wrestling’s Senior world team trials process; and earned a spot on the U23 world team. She will represent the United States at the U23 world championships in October.
All of this has been a spectacular second act after her stellar high school career at South Winneshiek.
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Taylor won 109 matches for the Warriors, the first Iowa girl ever to reach 100 career wins. She was a four-time women’s freestyle All-American, and in 2018, she became the fourth Iowa girl ever to win a Junior national title. She was the face of Iowa’s statewide girls and women’s wrestling movement throughout her high school career.
But the Iowa she is returning to is much different from the one she left after graduating in 2018.
During her senior season, Taylor was one of just 96 Iowa girls who wrestled, according to Trackwrestling. Last season, 1,023 Iowa girls wrestled, including 695 at the girls state championships, hosted for the fourth year by the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association.
When Taylor won her Junior title in 2018, only 13 states offered girls wrestling as an official high school sport. Now, there are 36, including Iowa, after the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union’s decision to sponsor girls wrestling starting in 2022-23.
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When Taylor left for McKendree, Waldorf was the only Iowa college that offered women’s wrestling. Now, 13 Iowa colleges have either launched women’s wrestling programs or plan to by 2023-24—headlined by the University of Iowa, the nation’s first Division I Power 5 women’s wrestling program.
“It’s amazing how far it’s come,” Taylor said. “When I started my freshman year (of high school), I didn’t even know other girls wrestled until I started competing nationally.
“Now that I’m coming back, I’ll have an opportunity to give back to all the girls in Iowa. I want to see it continue to grow, at every level — high school, youth, college.”
Taylor’s decision to transfer was spurred by the sudden departure of Sam Schmitz, McKendree’s first and only women’s wrestling coach. Schmitz built McKendree into a national power after the school added the sport in 2013.
But in April, Schmitz left to become the men’s wrestling coach at Central Methodist. In response, many McKendree wrestlers entered the transfer portal, and Taylor weighed her options.
She considered staying at McKendree. She considered following Schmitz to Central Methodist. She considered forgoing her final college season and joining a regional training center to start her Senior-level career. She considered ending her competitive career and becoming a coach (she recently graduated with a degree in education).
Ultimately, a conversation with Iowa women’s coach Clarissa Chun swayed Taylor to Iowa City. Chun’s wide-ranging impact on girls and women’s wrestling—first as an athlete, now as a coach—was intriguing Taylor. So, too, was the hire of Gary Mayabb as Chun’s associate head coach, as well as Chun’s inaugural recruiting class for her.
“I’ve always heard amazing things about Clarissa,” Taylor said. “She’s a huge asset to not only women’s wrestling but also to Iowa, and I’m excited about that.
“I recently worked a camp in Missouri and another in Grinnell. I talked to two different coaches, and they both talked about how amazing coach Mayabb is. Those camps were a week or two apart. That was a sign for me, that this is where I needed to be.”
Taylor will redshirt in 2022-23, along with the rest of the Iowa women’s team, but she could also opt for an Olympic Redshirt during the 2023-24 season by virtue of being on the US women’s freestyle national team this year. That could push her from her final college season to 2024-25. Taylor said she and Chun will make that decision at a later date.
The first official season for the Iowa women’s team will be 2023-24, and Taylor will arguably be the most experienced member on the team, which now includes 12 wrestlers. Taylor is the second transfer, joining Nanea Estrella, another US Open champ who joined the program from NAIA’s Menlo College.
The other 10, all highly-regarded and credentialed recruits, just graduated high school:
- Kylie Welker, a Junior world champion and the No. 1 overall pound-for-pound women’s wrestler in America;
- Ella Schmit, a three-time state champion for Bettendorf and Junior All-American;
- Reese Larramendy, a U20 world team member;
- Nyla Valencia, a U23 world team member;
- Brianna Gonzalez, a Junior national champion;
- Emilie Gonzalez, a Junior national champion;
- Ava Bayless, a two-time national prep champion;
- Sam Calkins, Junior National Champion;
- Bella Mir, a Junior folkstyle national champion;
- and Sterling Dias, a two-time Cadet world bronze medalist.
Taylor is excited to both lead and learn from this group of young stars. She once dreamed of wrestling for the Hawkeyes. This week, that dream became a reality.
“It doesn’t get much better than that,” Taylor said. “I’m excited to be home. I’m very excited.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.