With girls wrestling on the rise in Iowa, Gracie Leslie wants to leave mark at Collins-Maxwell

Joe Randleman
Ames Tribune

MAXWELL — Before the 2021-22 wrestling season is over, Gracie Leslie wants to get over the hump again. Years ago, back in kindergarten, the current Collins-Maxwell sophomore won a wrestling tournament by defeating guys.

She hasn't beat one since. 

“That was quite a while ago,” Leslie told the Ames Tribune.

After a break from the sport, Leslie returned to the wrestling mat in eighth grade, and she's still seeking her next victory against a male opponent. Even though girls wrestling is starting to explode in Iowa and she has her own postseason goals, notching another win against a guy remains a top priority. 

“That’s lit a fire,” said Leslie's father and Collins-Maxwell's head coach Mike Leslie.

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Gracie Leslie grew up around wrestling.

Mike took over the Collins-Maxwell-Baxter program in 2015 and became Collins-Maxwell's first head coach when Collins-Maxwell and Baxter ended their sports-sharing agreement after the 2016-2017 season. Gracie's older brother, Clayton, wrestles for Collins-Maxwell and her mom, Tawnia, is a volunteer coach.

Collins-Maxwell's Gracie Leslie (right) was brought up in a wrestling family. Leslie, who wrestles at 126 pounds for the Spartans, is the daughter of Collins-Maxwell head coach Mike Leslie. Her brother Clayton also wrestles for the Spartans and her mom Tawnia is a volunteer coach. Gracie will be attempting to earn a spot on the podium at the 2022 Iowa High School Girls Wrestling Championships hosted by Iowa Wrestlers Coaches and Officials Association Jan. 21-22 at Coralville.

“At times it can be a little hectic,” Mike said. “Trying to be that split personality as a coach and a dad. Sometimes you talk about yourself in the third person. At home it can be difficult at times and they struggle a little bit more with that than I do. But in the room, I try to be a coach all the time.” 

Clayton has wrestled at 145 pounds most of the season. He went up to 152 for Thursday's home quadrangular dual meet with Baxter, Belle Plaine and English Valleys/Tri-County, but might try and get down to 138 for the postseason.

Gracie is competing at 126. Though she is smaller, her brother said she holds her own against her competition.

“I thought wrestling was going to be a little too much for her,” Clayton said. “But then she proved herself that she can handle it. I’m pretty proud of her.”

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Through Thursday's quad meet, Gracie has seven wins on the season, including forfeits, Mike Leslie said. Against girls, she's 4-5.

Though her dad is a big help in the wrestling room, he can't give her the unique perspective provided by female wrestling coaches. So she's spent time learning from other female coaches in Grimes and at Grand View University.

“Girls wrestle a little different than boys do,” Mike said. “As male coaches, we coach them like they’re boys and show them moves that work for boys, but they don’t necessarily always work for girls. I’ve been around girl coaches and they do things a little differently. Just the way their hips work and they don’t have that upper body strength.” 

Gracie competed at last year's Iowa Wrestlers Coaches and Officials Association Iowa Girls High School Wrestling Championships at Coralville. She competed at 126 and went 1-2 with a victory by fall over Ankeny Centennial’s Avery Grimm in 57 seconds during the consolation second round. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many girl wrestlers,” Gracie said. “It was kind of nice seeing all of the competition. My goal this year is to get closer to placing.”

One of Gracie Leslie's main goals wrestling for Collins-Maxwell is to earn a victory over one of the male wrestlers she competes against this season.

Her dad said it will take a lot of work in order for that to happen. But he added that she is certainly capable of doing it.

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“Getting on that podium is a big task ahead,” Mike said. “She’ll probably be at 125 and it’s a crapshoot right now. Against girls we’re 50/50, which is better than last year. She’s got the skills; she just needs the confidence. If she puts in the work, she can break right through that ceiling.” 

Gracie has a couple of weeks to build her confidence between now the IWOCA's Iowa High School Girls Wrestling Championships, which takes place Jan. 21-22 at the Xtream Arena in Coralville. Beating one of the guys would go a long way toward achieving that.

“I went all season last year not beating a guy,” Gracie said. “I am in high school wrestling and they’re mainly guys. It’d be nice to be able to say I beat a guy in a high school wrestling match.”