Hessenius set to blaze a trail by signing with Iowa Lakes for women’s wrestling
LE MARS — Wrestling is nothing new for Kylie Hessenius. She grew up around the sport with a family of successful wrestlers and wrestling coaches. But now she is able to blaze her own trail within the sport as girls and women’s wrestling continues its rapid growth.
Hessenius said growing up she wasn’t sure wrestling would be something she wanted or would be even able to pursue at a higher level.
“So when I was little I did wrestling and it just wasn’t something I wanted to do (later on). Even freshman and sophomore year I was like ‘No. I don’t think this is what I want to do after high school.’ But, junior and senior year it became real. I was getting older. I was deciding what I wanted to do after that and I wanted college wrestling to be a part of that,” Hessenius said.
More opportunities available to wrestle was one factor which likely helped sway her decision.
“So when I started, there were few girls and we wrestled with the boys,” Hessenius said. “Sophomore year then numbers kind of dropped. Junior year was about the same and then this year lots of girls have joined. We have about 20 girls now. It’s growing. We have more tournaments, more girls, more opportunities. It’s wonderful.”
Le Mars had girls compete on their wrestling team for a few years, but like Hessenius mentioned, the competition was most often against boys or at a limited number of girls tournaments.
The IWCOA began sponsoring a girls state tournament at Waverly-Shell Rock High School in 2019, an event which featured fewer than 100 competitors. The 2022 event, held at Xtream Arena in Coralville, featured nearly 700 girls and its success led to the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union announcing at that event that they had sanctioned girls wrestling as the organization’s 11th official sport with Iowa becoming the 34th state to sanction girls wrestling.
Greer Milledge, the first-year head coach of the Le Mars girls team, said the growth of the sport is impressive.
“Across the state of Iowa, it’s just boomed,” Milledge said as Le Mars was among some of the earliest schools to support the sport. “We’ve done a really good job over the last five, six years of getting girls to at least try it. That’s definitely helped us quite a bit here in building our program. As well as building it in the youth and middle school programs. Having 12 freshmen out for wrestling this year is really awesome and I can only see it building, going up from there.”
A senior leader
Milledge credits Hessenius with being a leader for the younger girls, some who may be trying out the sport for the first time.
“Kylie has been very supportive of her teammates and is willing to move around the room and help girls out as they have learned throughout this year and grown throughout this year and I think it’s just been a great experience to have her on as a senior,” Milledge said.
Kylie has had some successful outings this season, taking first place at the Missouri River Activities Conference tournament and also winning all of her matches at the Western Iowa Tournament.
“Kylie’s had a pretty good year this year starting at 115 this year. She’s won some big time matches for us. She’s won a couple of tournaments,” Milledge said. “She’s not somebody who is going to give up. Having that kind of work ethic, to never give up, to keep fighting and now to see her hopefully be able to get to the state tournament is going to be really awesome.”
Hessenius said it is a goal of hers to finish her senior season strong.
“The goal is to qualify at the regional tournament, hopefully win the regional tournament and then definitely place at state and put my name out there,” Hessenius said.
Taking the next step
With more and more colleges adding women’s wrestling to their competitive offerings, Hessenius said it’s great for the sport.
“The opportunities are almost endless in college. It’s amazing how many opportunities girls get. There’s so many colleges that have women’s wrestling. You grow as a person from wrestling so it’s just wonderful,” she said.
So what led to her decision to choose Iowa Lakes?
“Coach (Corey) Muniz is a great guy. The campus is very beautiful next to lakes. I love being on the water and it’s at a good spot,” Hessenius said. “We’re making history right now. First sanctioned high school and then part of the very first team at Iowa Lakes. It’s going to be super fun.”
Kylie said she wouldn’t be where she is now without the help of her dad Brian, who had a distinguished wrestling career himself at Le Mars, winning a state title and holding the record for the fastest fall at the state tournament of five seconds. Grandpa Rich and uncle Shane, coaches for Le Mars, have also helped along the way.
“He’s helped me through everything in wrestling, the ups and downs, he was there through it all. I definitely would not be where I am without my dad. He’s definitely my favorite person,” Kylie said. “And of course my grandpa, he’s there for everything. Ups and downs, tears, happiness, everything. They’re both there for me all the time.”
Milledge is happy to see Kylie commit to take her talents to the next level and hopes she might be an inspiration to younger girls.
“I’m hoping by seeing somebody sign to go wrestle to be able to go on to college and do something like this, I’m hoping it will help build our program in terms of getting girls to at least try something,” Milledge said. “As well as seeing some of the younger girls who are maybe in middle school or maybe in elementary seeing a girl go on and not just be all about basketball or volleyball, that there’s more than just your typical girls sports that you can be successful and you can do whatever you want if you keep your mind to it.”