Feb. 3—CORALVILLE — Just over two years ago, Pella's Emmalee Spurgeon and Elaine Babcock walked into the wrestling room knowing nothing about the sport they were about to join. Little did they know, they would go on to be two-time state qualifiers and finish their senior seasons with Spurgeon taking fourth and Babcock taking seventh at state while also leaving a lasting impression on the young program.
"They've just both been such big pieces in paving new paths for Pella girls wrestling," Pella head coach Adam Hale said. "Between the two of them, there's only one path that we haven't hit yet. Hopefully we'll get somebody to get that one someday. But right now where we are, it's just awesome to see it and the grit that it takes just to wrestle back and place. After you miss out on what maybe your other dream was, for Emmalee to come back three times and then Elaine to come back and beat a girl that is really tough, big props to them."
Both girls were coming off tough quarterfinal losses the night before and would need to reset before Friday's matches where they would have to wrestle three times in an hour and a half to have a chance at medaling.
"It's crazy to me," Spurgeon laughed. "I needed some rest. I was a little bit scowly during supper last night. I was a little bit mad and I was pouting in the corner, but I think I just needed to reset, get a shower, get some good rest and get some food in my body. I came in here today and I knew what I wanted."
After the loss the night before, No. 4 Spurgeon (46-2) was in trouble of leaving state without a medal on Friday as she took on No. 17 Nancy Bowman (Logan-Magnolia, 32-9) with the winner guaranteeing a medal finish at 155 pounds and the loser going home.
Bowman fended off the first double leg shot by Spurgeon and caught her with a takedown of her own that she was able to convert into a three-point nearfall. Spurgeon survived the period but found herself trailing 5-0 going to the second. Spurgeon tried to take another shot that didn't land and ended up being another Bowman takedown. Spurgeon was able to get the quick escape and add a takedown of her own to cut it to 7-3 heading to the third period. Spurgeon had her choice in the final period and would select top. That decision proved to be huge as she went to work on Bowman and eventually got the turn she was looking for before earning the pin and Pella's first ever state medal in program history.
"I think that a lot of the work in the offseason that I put in really helped me gain a lot of that confidence and I knew what I needed to do in order to win each of those matches," Spurgeon said. "I was losing in the first match but I knew I just had to keep on fighting and get through it. I think that having the blood time for my lip kind of helped me out and help me catch my breath. I ended up on top and my coaches knew I was a hammer on top. That's one of my goals from this season was just to become really heavy on top and it worked out for me."
Spurgeon advanced to the next round where she would face another then one-loss wrestler in No. 8 Tatum Wolford (Wappelo, 41-2). Despite that, Spurgeon controlled the matchup from the start. She got a double-leg takedown in the first, added another takedown in the second and one more in the third that she eventually tightened up into a pin.
Spurgeon had one last consolation match in the morning session and she would have to take on No. 14 Ajaah Cox (Cardinal, 35-7). She would trail 2-1 after allowing a takedown in the first period before escaping. Cox elected to start the second period down and took advantage of it with an escape. With Spurgeon trailing by two, she went to a move she didn't have a lot of experience with and it payed off in a huge way as she used a chin whip to perfection, lashing Cox to the floor before jumping on top to finish off her third pin of the session and sending her to the third place match at 155.
"I learned to chin whip pretty recently in my club practices," Spurgeon said. "I was just waiting for the right moment and I got in the position a few times and just wasn't really confident in it. But this time, it worked out."
Later that night, Spurgeon would take center stage as the floor was reduced to three mats to decide the top six finishers. Spurgeon would get matched up with top-ranked Skylar Slade (SE Polk, 48-1) who was upset in the semifinals.
Slade scored the first takedown in the first period and rode it out to have a 2-0 lead going to the second. Spurgeon got first choice and chose top hoping to use that hammer and take advantage of it. Instead, Slade would come up with a reversal to make it 4-0. Slade chose bottom to start the third and scored an escape and a takedown before riding it out for the 7-0 decision to give Spurgeon fourth place.
Meanwhile, No. 10 Babcock (41-6) looked locked in from the start of her first match on Friday morning coming off a loss in the quarterfinals. She would face No. 11 Kaylee Nachtigal (Spencer, 34-10) in her first consolation match was in control for most of it. A wild first period saw Babcock get the first takedown only for Nachtigal to get a reversal. Babcock then came back with a reversal of her own and got a three-point nearfall at the end of the period. She led 7-2 at that point and got one more takedown in the third period before Nachtigal had to end the match early with a medal forfeit.
Babcock also locked up a medal with the win and moved on to the next round of the consolation bracket where she would battle No. 3 Kamryn Steines (Decorah, 39-5). Steines was able to wrestle Babcock down for a takedown in the first period and turn her for a pin to send her to the seventh place match.
Babcock would wrestle her final match of her high school career against No. 13 Sheridan Engelken (Western Dubuque, 31-8) for seventh. Engelken, who had beaten Babcock at state last year, went back in forth with the Pella senior in the first period leading to a 0-0 tie. Engelken got the first selection and went with top to allow her to go to work in an advantageous position. Like Spurgeon in her consolation match, Babcock went to a move she has been working on a lot in the wrestling room as she was able to use a stand up and shift the weight of Engelken into a reversal. Babcock jumped on the opportunity and synched in for the pin to cap off her career in style with a seventh place finish.
"It's something we've been working on inside of the practice room," Babcock said. "We've been working on it for weeks really hard on getting me to do stand ups. Being able to do a big girl stand up in an actual match was a perfect pretty little bow on the present of the match. Especially considering that last year that that girl had pinned me. Being able to get to wrap up my senior season that way was really nice."
Spurgeon and Babcock showcased how quickly the sport of women's wrestling is growing around the state. They also showed tremendous improvement from going from two unknowns trying out a new sport, to two-time state qualifiers, state medalists and both finishing with over 40 wins in their senior season.
"It's really special because last year when we went into October, me and Emily knew nothing," Babcock said. "Now we're at state medaling and it's really fun to watch not only ourselves, but it's really fun to watch her do it because she is incredible. I want to be just like [Emmalee] when I grow up. She is really special and she has qualities like grit and perseverance that I can only dream of having. She is going to wrestle in college and I'm really excited to watch her."
Spurgeon had a little bit more of a combat background coming into wrestling. She had been doing Taekwondo and was able to translate similar skills onto the mat. But if you went back and asked Spurgeon back in October of 2022 if she'd think she be finishing fourth at state and going on to wrestle in college at Grand View, she's not sure she would've believed you.
"She would be surprised that I wasn't doing Taekwondo because that was the original sport," Spurgeon said about her younger self. "I would tell her to keep working through it. It's going to be tough at some points but take every opportunity you can. Don't back down from those practices you don't want to go to and you've just got to work hard."
Work hard she did and it paid off in a big way. After both getting eliminated on the first day of the tournament last year, Spurgeon and Babcock both put in a lot of work over the summer going to tournaments and improving on their wrestling. This season they've added that work ethic to the Pella wrestling room where they have been key leaders and role models for the young girls that are following in their foot steps.
"I love the girls so much," Spurgeon said. "I love all of my coaches and it's feels good to be a leader because it's nice having somebody to look up to. It feels good that people are looking at me and they're aspiring to have goals like mine. They're gaining confidence because I have confidence. I can't wait to see what they have to come."
"It's really special but it's also kind of a dream," Babcock added. "I keep expecting to wake up but it just hasn't happened yet. I'm thrilled with not only my progress but all of the girls in our room. They have made loads and loads of progress and I'm really sad because I'm graduating and I don't get to see them do it next year. But I'm really excited for them and all the progress they will continue to make."
Just two years into girls wrestling officially being sanctioned in Iowa, Pella has joined many schools across the state in turning newcomers into really good wrestlers in short time. Spurgeon and Babcock are two examples of what that hard work and opportunity can lead to.
Coach Hale has been around wrestling for a long time, but days like this are ones he can't help but get a little emotional with what this means to the girls in Pella's wrestling room.
"The process is what we love and then the wins are the reward," Hale said. "We continued to emphasize wrestling hard and our girls showed up and did that. To come away with everybody down here getting some wins is a nice reward. One of the biggest things that gets to me is seeing all of their teammates that came to cheer them on coming down from the stands and they're all teared up and everything and giving hugs. Just to see them all rallying around each other has been great. I think for me that's the most rewarding part. We love the wins, we'll take all the wins and our goal is to win, but our focus to get to those wins is to wrestle hard and I'm just really proud of all of them."
105: Serenity Turner (38-7) place is unknown and scored 7.0 team points.
Champ. Round 1 — Serenity Turner (Pella) 38-7 won by fall over Lakin Evans (Saint Ansgar) 34-20 (Fall 0:42)
Champ. Round 2 — Lainey Shelangoski (Durant) 40-2 won by fall over Serenity Turner (Pella) 38-7 (Fall 3:26)
Cons. Round 2 — Serenity Turner (Pella) 38-7 won by fall over Chloe Utsler (Cedar Falls) 45-11 (Fall 1:10)
Cons. Round 3 — Erica Irvine (Don Bosco) 29-2 won by fall over Serenity Turner (Pella) 38-7 (Fall 2:44)
155: Emmalee Spurgeon (46-2) placed 4th and scored 22.0 team points.
Champ. Round 1 — Emmalee Spurgeon (Pella) 46-2 won by fall over Tamson Budden (Sheldon/Sibley-Ocheyedan) 22-13 (Fall 1:18)
Champ. Round 2 — Emmalee Spurgeon (Pella) 46-2 won by decision over Madilyn Rowson (Pleasantville) 36-9 (Dec 3-2)
Quarterfinal — Haylee McGrew (Ankeny) 33-3 won by decision over Emmalee Spurgeon (Pella) 46-2 (Dec 4-2)
Cons. Round 4 — Emmalee Spurgeon (Pella) 46-2 won by fall over Nancy Bowman (Logan-Magnolia) 32-9 (Fall 4:21)
Cons. Round 5 — Emmalee Spurgeon (Pella) 46-2 won by fall over Tatum Wolford (Wapello) 41-2 (Fall 5:32)
Cons. Semi — Emmalee Spurgeon (Pella) 46-2 won by fall over Ajaah Cox (Cardinal Community) 35-7 (Fall 3:12)
3rd Place Match — Skylar Slade (Southeast Polk) 48-1 won by decision over Emmalee Spurgeon (Pella) 46-2 (Dec 7-0)
190: Elaine Babcock (41-6) placed 7th and scored 15.0 team points.
Champ. Round 1 — Elaine Babcock (Pella) 41-6 won by fall over Gabby Rasmussen (Central Lyon/George-Little Rock) 16-12 (Fall 1:11)
Champ. Round 2 — Elaine Babcock (Pella) 41-6 won by fall over Gretchen Gorham (Algona) 36-7 (Fall 2:19)
Quarterfinal — Jana Terwee (West Lyon) 26-1 won by fall over Elaine Babcock (Pella) 41-6 (Fall 1:01)
Cons. Round 4 — Elaine Babcock (Pella) 41-6 won by medical forfeit over Kaylee Nachtigal (Spencer) 34-9 (M. For.)
Cons. Round 5 — Kamryn Steines (Decorah) 39-5 won by fall over Elaine Babcock (Pella) 41-6 (Fall 1:30)
7th Place Match — Elaine Babcock (Pella) 41-6 won by fall over Sharidan Engelken (Epworth, Western Dubuque) 31-8 (Fall 2:58)
1. Decorah (141), T2. East Buchanan (96), T2. Raccoon River-Northwest (96), 4. Waverly-Shell Rock (93), 5. Lewis Central (89), 20. Pella (44)
Colin Peters can be reached at 641-672-2581, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ColinPetersOH.