Years of hard work and dedication to a sport she enjoys have paid off, earning her a national champion title and Female Wrestler of the Year award.

Rachel Watters, a sophomore at Ballard High School and daughter of Matt and Holly Watters of Ankeny, has been wrestling since she was in fifth grade. It was her guidance counselor, Mike Macke, who suggested she go out for the sport since she was already involved in jiu jitsu. Since then, she has compiled a list of accomplishments during her wrestling career as both a Ballard wrestler and member of Team Iowa, a loose-knit group of female wrestlers who compete at national tournaments.

One of two recent awards came while competing in the USA Wrestling Freestyle National Championships July 13-16 in Fargo, ND. It was there that she was crowned the Cadet National Champion at 143 pounds - the second female wrestler from Iowa to earn this title.

"It feels pretty good," Rachel said of the title.

During the national tournament, wrestlers were competing in matches all morning, trying to work their way up the brackets toward the championship round. First and second place matches took place in the afternoon. For the championship match, the lights were turned down and a spotlight was directed toward Rachel and her competitor, Alexis Bleau of New York. Commentators gave play-by-play action during the match, as well.

Rachel said the wrestling camp she attended at Jamestown College in Jamestown, ND, the week before the championship helped prepare her for the intense competition.

The second award Rachel recently received was being named the 2012-2013 Female Wrestler of the Year by Iowa/USA Wrestling. She said this award came as a surprise to her and she feels very honored to be

During competitions, Rachel competes in both folkstyle and freestyle wrestling. Folkstyle is the type of wrestling junior high and high school teams compete in, where wrestling matches have three periods. Freestyle wrestling is used in the Olympics and matches typically generate higher scoring because competitors are scored on how well they execute moves. The tournaments Rachel competes in with her girls’ team involve freestyle wrestling.

Being a female in a predominately male sport, Watters has worked hard to prove she is taking the sport seriously and is not just doing it to gain attention because she is a female. Rachel said she gets along well with the male Ballard wrestlers and has been accepted as a fellow wrestler on the team, rather than being known as the "girl wrestler." Whenever Rachel is with the Ballard team and another team makes negative comments about her, the Ballard boys are quick to defend her.

"She’s got a room full of brothers," Matt said.

He is proud of how well the Ballard wrestling program and Ballard community has treated Rachel throughout her wrestling career.

"From the club level to junior high and now high school, they have treated Rachel as a member of the team and allowed her to prove herself and earn their respect. That is definitely not always the case with female wrestlers in men’s programs, and it speaks to the level of leadership at Ballard from the top down," Matt said.

Through wrestling, Rachel has grown stronger both mentally and physically. She said it has helped her stay focused on doing well in school, because if her grades falter, she will not be able to participate in the sport. Matt said he has watched Rachel’s work ethic solidify as a result of wrestling.

"I never would have dreamed she would love to get beat up every day and go back," Matt said.

Rachel’s younger sisters have also given wrestling a try, with her younger sister, Nicole, showing promises of following in Rachel’s footsteps. Rachel likes being able to help coach her sister and give her pointers during matches.

In addition to wrestling, Watters participates in cross country, track and soccer. She said out of all the sports she’s involved in, wrestling is her favorite.

"Wrestling is the one sport where I actually want to go to practice," Rachel said. For all the other sports, she would rather just compete than practice.

Rachel already has goals set that she would like to accomplish as a wrestler. Those include competing in and winning more varsity matches, making it to districts and eventually competing at the state wrestling tournament. Her ultimate goal is to become a college-level wrestler after graduating high school.

"Do it for the right reasons and not because you’re trying to make a statement," Rachel said. "Prove to people you’re serious (about wrestling) by how hard you’re working at it."