Nov. 3—CENTERVILLE — Dutchess King kept trying on her ring trying to figure out which finger it fits the best on.
"If I put it on this one, it'll be too big," King said pointing to her ring finger.
More difficult than figuring out which finger to put her national championship ring on will be the task of collecting another ring this season. That mission began on Thursday for the top-ranked Indian Hills women's wrestling team as the Warriors pulled away over the final four matches, scoring three falls while also receiving a medical forfeit to clinch a 36-16 win over fifth-ranked Carl Albert State in the first of two exciting duals on Thursday night at the Multipurpose Center on IHCC's Centerville campus.
"I can tell the competition is going to be harder. That just means I have to get better," King said. "The one thing that kept me going was my mindset."
King, the defending national champion at 101 pounds, was the first IHCC wrestler to take the mat minutes after the Warriors were awarded their national championship rings after claiming the team title at the inaugural NJCAA National Invitational Tournament last March. King claimed a 12-4 win over Calli Connally, overcoming a pair of nearfall attempts by the Viking freshman in the second period to secure the first three points for Indian Hills.
"I just need to work on my cardio some more," King said. "I just didn't give up. I almost gave up a couple times, but it's all about that not giving up that helps you succeed."
It was a night of mixed results for both teams. The 19th-ranked Indian Hills men overcame a 14-5 deficit against No. 14 Carl Albert State, winning 24-17 with six wins over the final seven matches to clinch the dual.
"There were some individuals that had some really good performances and some individuals that are doing some reflecting right now," Indian Hills head wrestling coach Cole Spree said. "Wins aren't easy to come by, especially when you're wrestling two ranked teams. We'll have to do some moving around and placing people in different weights. Overall, anytime you can get a win, it feels pretty good."
For the Indian Hills women, the emergence of freshmen Madison Leverknight and seventh-ranked Genesis Gilmore each of whom scored impressive opening-period falls for the Warriors including a pin by Gilmore in just eight seconds against fifth-ranked sophomore Kylie Hulse that snapped a 16-16 tie in the dual.
"I knew Madison was good, but watching her go out there and kick some tail was exciting," Spree said. "I knew Genesis was special. That girl (Hulse) that she wrestled was fourth in the country last year. When you go out there pin someone like that in eight seconds? Wow."
Gilmore's pin ignited the last run by the Warrior women. Yaracely Saenz, ranked No. 1 at 170 pounds, pinned fourth-ranked Grace Thompson in 1:56 to double IHCC's five-point lead before an injury default by Margaret Jordan at 191 pounds gave IHCC's second-ranked sophomore Tiffany White a win that clinched the dual for Indian Hills.
Karla Padilla Zepeda wrapped up the winning night for the Warrior women. The national runner-up to IHCC teammate Eliana Bommarito pinned Carl Albert State freshman Angeline Wetselline in just 50 seconds at 235 pounds.
"One thing that our coach told us before we went out there was to never go back. Always push forward," Zepeda said. "We kept trying to go forward and hold our positions. It's something we're going to continue to work on as the season goes along. We were all very nervous, but seeing how excited everyone is really helps me get amped up. It's the motivation that everyone gets from our teammates and our community when we start wrestling as well as we're capable of."
Defending 116-pound national champion Shammilka Miranda Diaz earned a pair of wins on Thursday, earning a 14-4 tech fall at 123 pounds over Rachel Dismuke helping the Warriors open a 12-7 lead over Carl Albert State. Diaz also picked up an impressive 4-1 win over Lexi Miller in a special extra match pitting a pair of returning national champions against each other.
"It was a unique opportunity to do a 'super match' for the fans," Spree said. "Kudos for Lexi Miller to stepping up to the plate. It was exactly what I anticipated. When you have two people at that level, it's going to be a tight low-scoring match. It's exactly the type of gutsy match you have to win at a national tournament."
Next up for Indian Hills will be a trip to Indianola on Saturday to wrestle at the Luther Hill Invitational hosted by Simpson College. While the focus now shifts to working towards the ultimate goals of this season, the Warrior women now have something they'll always be able to look back on for the incredible accomplishment achieved last year in bringing home together the program's third straight national title.
"It hasn't hit me yet. It'll probably hit me more tomorrow," King said of the significance of earning her first national championship ring. "Last year taught me a lot about wrestling. It's a reminder of what I did last year, now I get to take it with me everywhere."
— Scott Jackson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.