Women's wrestling: Statesmen finish second in Heart Tournament

Mar. 5—OSKALOOSA — What a ride it's been this season for the William Penn women's wrestling program.

Last season, the Statesmen finished seventh in the Heart of America Athletic Conference tournament scoring 50.5 total points. William Penn finished 141 points behind Grand View, claiming the program's third consecutive conference tournament title.

This season, William Penn has risen to the role of top challenger against one of the top NAIA women's college wrestling programs in the country. The Statesmen finished second in this season's Heart tournament, more than tripling their total number of points finishing with 171 battling the Vikings to the bitter end with Grand View ultimately claiming their fourth consecutive Heart of America title by just 14 points over a vastly-improved William Penn squad.

"We wrestled really well as a team. You always shoot for perfection, but that's pretty impossible to get," William Penn head coach Jake Kadel said. "We had a couple individuals that were pretty close to perfection. I'm pretty proud of all of them."

The Statesmen claimed four individual tournament titles and several Heart of American Athletic Conference postseason honors. Adaugo Nwachukwu was named the conference's Wrestler of the Year and shared in the tournament's Most Outstanding Wrestler after securing three tech falls on the way to winning the 136-pound title, improving to 20-0 on the season.

"I've been working hard all season and I'm been showing up each meet to show off my talents," Nwachukwu said. "I take a lot of pride in being named the Wrestler of the Year. It takes a lot of work to cut weight, make weight, wrestle, wait hours and hours to compete. I'm proud of what I've been able to do this season."

Mia Palumbo also improved to 20-0 for William Penn, claiming the 109-pound Heart of America tournament championship. Palumbo joined Nwachukwu in claiming an automatic berth in the NAIA National Tournament, scoring a pair of opening-minute falls to reach the conference final before claiming a 10-0 tech fall in 90 seconds over Grand View freshman Tristan Nitta to secure William Penn's first individual conference title.

"I felt like I wrestled pretty good getting to my offense," Palumbo said. "Trying to get off the mat as quick as possible has kind of been the goal for me. Our coaches have kind of preached to us going in that we're the best team. We practice hard every day. We're definitely right there. Our goal was to win the conference team title. We came up a little short of that, but I know this momentum will keep going into nationals."

William Penn and Grand View went head-to-head in four conference championship matches. The Statesmen, proving they came compete with the Vikings, won three of the title matches including the wins by Palumbo and Nwachukwu as well as a 10-8 decision earned by Joanna Vanderwood in the 123-pound title match over Maya Davis.

"Other coaches and individuals are starting to recognize the success that we've had," Kadel said. "It usually takes awhile to get to that point.

William Penn sophomore Devin Patton secured the 130-pound title, picking up a 12-1 tech fall in 2:38 over Central Methodist junior Nonnie Justice while being named the league's Newcomer of the Year. The postseason honors also extended to William Penn's coaching staff with Kadel being named the conference's top head coach while Cash Wilcke was named the league's top assistant coach.

"We have one of the hardest-working coaching staff in the country," Kadel said. "We also have Megan (Black) as well. She's been a huge help for the program."

Joining William Penn's four Heart of America individual champions in securing automatic berths in the NAIA National Tournament includes Teya Garner (101), Catherine Steinkamp (116) and Ashley Lekas (170). Lekas closed out the tournament scoring a 10-0 tech fall in 1:58 over Baker freshman Jaclyn Daley in a true second-place match to secure her trip to North Dakota.

We've still got more work to do," Kadel said. "We'll get back to work this week and continue to work at getting better."

Kadel has guided the William Penn women to an impressive turnaround this season as the Statesmen have been ranked among the NAIA's top-10 teams throughout the year after finishing last in the Heart of America one year earlier. The former New London all-state grappler came over to coach the Statesmen after guiding Iowa Wesleyan's men and women's wrestling programs last season, guiding the Tigers to a runner-up finish in the conference with five individual earning All-American honors.

When Iowa Wesleyan closed its doors as a school at the end of the past academic year, both Kadel and several of his Tiger wrestlers made the move to William Penn. Both Palumbo and Nwachukwu were among the wrestlers to find success in Oskaloosa after helping Iowa Wesleyan secure a seventh-place national finish last season.

"There are a lot of talents that have combined from two programs to make each other better," Nwachukwu said. "It was a little new at the beginning, but coming over here with my coaches helped me adapt. I've made a lot of new friends since coming over here. Our coaches are definitely like parents to us. They're always there for us and they've given us the extra time we need to come in, work out and work with us on what we need to do to improve ourselves individually.

"We've got a lot of high-level athletes on the team that I think have helped keep each other focused on pushing forward to competing to the best of our abilities," Palumbo added. "Being around people who want to accomplish the same things you want to accomplish is helpful. We just fire off each other and motivate each other to accomplish big goals.

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