JUCO wrestling: IHCC women win fourth straight national title

Mar. 4—COUNCIL BLUFFS — The tears immediately started to flow once Karla Padilla Zepeda stepped off the mat.

They weren't tears of sorrow. They were 'happy tears' being shed by the Indian Hills sophomore wrestler.

"That's all I've got right now," Padilla Zepeda said. "There are no sad tears. This is all about my team and my family. I'm going to miss this team so much. We've put in so much hard work together."

That hard work once again led to the Indian Hills women's wrestling team once again establishing itself as the best junior college program in the country. The top-ranked Warriors met the challenge of Iowa Community Athletic Conference rival Iowa Central head on, pulling away from the Tritons on Saturday at the NJCAA Women's National Invitational Tournament.

Indian Hills finished with 16 All-Americans and 307.5 total points. Individual championship wins by Genesis Gilmore at 155 pounds and Elaina Bommarito at 235 closed out another impressive performance by the Warriors, claiming the program's fourth consecutive national title ultimately winning by 60.5 points.

"They answer the challenge every time," said IHCC head wrestling coach Cole Spree, who was named the tournament's outstanding coach. "Every time there's a challenge put in front of them, they answer the call. We put seven wrestlers in the national finals. We had 14 wrestlers in the semifinals. We just keep putting up silly numbers.

"It all comes down to the leadership. We have an amazing team. That's hard to find. When you have an amazing team, amazing things are going to happen."

Although the team scoring was later recalculated, heading into Saturday the women's national wrestling tournament scoreboard read that Iowa Central had a slim lead over Indian Hills as the Tritons. Even with the recalculation that put IHCC back on top, Iowa Central was in range heading into Saturday to potentially end the reign of the Warrior women as the best team in the country.

By the time the day session on Saturday was over, the Warriors had met the challenge of the Tritons. Semifinal round wins by Dutchess King (101), Javanica Mickens (109), Shammilka Miranda Diaz (116) and Angelica Vincente Gonzalez (123) set the tone for the Warriors with 14 of the team's 22 wrestlers clinching top-five finishes in their respective weight classes by securing wins in both the championship and consolation rounds.

"Hard work and dedication is what it all comes down to for us. We want it so bad and we know we're going to have to work to get it," Padilla Zepada said. "Your dreams aren't guaranteed. You've got to work to for it. People want to beat us, but we have to be ahead of the game. We put the blood, sweat and tears every day from the practices to the meets. We knew what we wanted. We wrestled our hardest and came to show it."

Padilla Zepada and Bommarito closed out another championship-winning season for the IHCC women by meeting up for the second straight year in the 235-pound final. In the fourth all-Indian Hills meeting of the day at the national tournament, Bommarito closed out a dominant run to a second straight individual championship for the Warriors scoring the fall over her teammate in 1:29 as Padilla Zepeda was the only wrestler in the tournament to extend Bommarito beyond a full minute in any match.

"I definitely feel like I've gotten a little faster since last year. I'm more technical now. I've worked with a lot of different people that have helped my skills grow," Bommarito said. "I've proud of what I've been able to do. I definitely feel like I've grown since I got to Indian Hills.

"Karla's been kind of like my partner over these past two years. We're always watching each other and pulling for each other. We've grown together and we help each other grow. This is how we've gotten this far."

Gilmore, meanwhile, became the most recent IHCC women's wrestler to claim a national title finishing the 155-pound final against top-seeded Iowa Western grappler Ferny Hernandez with a flourish. After giving up the first four points of the match, Gilmore began to turn the tide by scoring a takedown of her own in the final minute of the opening period before dominating the final period, scoring 12 unanswered points to clinch a 14-4 tech fall with 45 seconds left.

"I knew I had a lot more left to give and I knew I had to respond to the energy that (Hernandez) came out with at the start of the match," Gilmore said. "I could tell she was getting tired late in the first period. I knew it was my time to attack. I had to keep moving and putting on the pressure.

"I know how hard I've worked for this. It was my time. I had to go out and get that national championship."

Of the 22 wrestlers that came to Council Bluffs to compete in the national invitational tournament for the Indian Hills women, 10 finished among the top three in their respective weight classes. Madison Leverknight took third at 109, bouncing back from a semifinal-round loss to Mickens on Saturday to finish with a pair of consolation-round wins, while Jazmine Garcia (155) and Norma Alejandro (191) also scored wins and points that helped the entire IHCC women's wrestling team again celebrate in the middle of the Mid-America Center with a national championship trophy in their hands.

"The team championship is something I'm almost more proud of than the individual title," Bommarito said. "All day long, we were all out there fighting together to get the wins we needed to put this away.

"I watched every match when I wasn't wrestling. My heart was beating for every person. It's so exciting to see this team keep going and keep growing."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.