Megan Black and Rachel Watters are two of the most well-known female wrestlers in Iowa history.
In fact, the two helped put female wrestling on the map in a state which is known by many as the wrestling capital of the world.
Black became the first female to win a competed match at the state wrestling tournament and later became the first female state place winner.
Watters never qualified for the state tournament during her four years at Ballard High School, but she gained acclaim on the national and world stage at the junior level.
Now, Black and Watters, who have become good friends through the years, will represent the United States in the U23 World Championships next month in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
Black won the 58-kilogram weight class at Saturday’s U23 World Team Trials at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, Minn., while Watters was the champion at 75 kg.
It is another step in the maturation process of both and another step on the road each hopes will lead them to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
“I’m really excited about this,” said Watters, a sophomore at Oklahoma City University, who is ranked fifth at 170 pounds in the Women’s College Wrestling Association preseason rankings. “This is my first win at the Senior level, so I ma super excited about that. I’ve been on top in high school and in some national and world tournaments, but never at the Senior level. It was such a great f feeling standing on the top of the podium at a Senior level event. I finally broke through and proved I could win with the older girls.”
“It really feels like it’s been a long process and a long time coming to get to this point,” said Black, a senior at McKendree University who is ranked No. 1 at 130 pounds. “I feel like I made a little headway, a little bit of a breakthrough. I’ve been climbing this hill for a long time and now I get to see what I can do. I feel like a large weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”
Watters decided to take her wrestling to a new level this year. She started living the clean lifestyle that it takes to get to the top of the sport. Already she is reaping the benefits.
“I decided to get more serious about it,” Watters said. “Last semester and in high school, weight cutting was brutal. Absolutely brutal. It made me not like wrestling. But I love wrestling. No more pizza and I make sure I get at least eight hours of sleep every night. It got to the point where I had to change what I was doing and do things the right way. Now I can enjoy it again.”
Watters rolled to an 8-1 decision over Kacie Moorehouse of Choker Wrestling Club in the semifinals. Watters wrestled Moorehouse twice at last year’s national tournament.
In the finals, Watters faced Mariah Harris of Campbellsville University, whom she had faced in the NWCA National Duals last January. Watters won the first match, 8-0, then came back with a hard-fought 3-1 win.
Even in victory, Watters learned a valuable lesson moving forward.
“In the first match I was more conservative. It was hard to get in on my shots there,” Watters said. “I’ve always struggled in my first match. Once I get out there and feel them out and after about the first minute or so of the match, I felt more confident. It was just another wrestling match then.”
Black tried some new approaches in her training to prepare her not only for this tournament, but for the season ahead.
“I used to feel going into matches that I had to dominate. When a match would go into the second period, I would freak out. ‘Why haven’t I pinned her or tech called her yet?’ I would go crazy. I wanted to dominate every match. The maturity part comes in now because I realize that I don’t have to dominate a match. One point can win a match. Don’t get me wrong. I still want to dominate matches, but I have learned to take points when I can get them, not necessarily force everything. I’m wrestling smarter matches now. It’s OK not to get a pin or a tech fall. I can still win matches.”
Black said she tries to put herself in uncomfortable positions in practice to force her to expand her wrestling, to help her learn more about the sport.
That extra work paid off as she pinned Abigail Mainz of Aries Wrestling Club in 35 seconds in the quarterfinals, then held on for a 6-4 win over Allison Petix of King University in the semifinals. Black then swept a pair of matches from Areana Villaescusa of Army, 8-6 and 11-1, to secure a place on the World Team.
“I made myself get in uncomfortable positions in practice every day and it paid off. I trust my offense and my shots,” Black said. “Once I got to the finals I told myself, ‘I’m not going home with a broken heart this time. Not again.’ And I stuck with it and it worked.”
Black and Watters now get to test their skills and expand their knowledge on the World stage at the Senior level for the first time. Each is looking forward to the experience.
“I’m super excited,” Watters said. “I told my Mom to mail me some mashed potatoes because I will miss Thanksgiving since we will be in Poland. I’m excited to go see a different culture and a different style of wrestling.”
“I’m going over there to get on the top of the podium. I’m going to get prepared by making myself uncomfortable in practice. I want to make my worst positions my best positions,” Black said. “This will improve my wrestling. It’s another opportunity to get better.”