Sami Lusk’s basketball career ended before her senior year.
Luckily, the former American Falls hooper had a backup plan.
“Sami had played basketball all three years, and she didn’t make the team this year and came to me and said, hey, I want to wrestle,” American Falls wrestling coach Nate Gugelman said. “It was our first time coaching a girl, and I just said, look, if you want to wrestle, we’re not going to treat you any different. From that day forward, she dove all in ... met all of our requirements, worked her tail off and kind of fell in love with the sport.”
In her only season as a wrestler, Lusk finished sixth in the 122-pound bracket at the Idaho girls state championships in February.
Now, she’s taking her new sport to the collegiate level, as Lusk signed to wrestle at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday.
Grand View’s women’s team will be heading into its second season in 2020. The Viking men are a dynasty in NAIA, having won the last eight national championships.
“If their men’s program is that good, I can’t imagine how good their women’s program is going to get,” Lusk said. “Most of (the women’s college wrestling programs) have only been going for a year, or are just going to get started this next year. So where they’ve already been going for a year, they already have more experience than most of the women’s programs out there.”
If basketball had worked out, Lusk might never have gotten that opportunity. First, she was thinking about keeping stats for the basketball team. Then, some of her friends on the American Falls wrestling team talked her into giving a new sport a shot.
Lusk became the first female wrestler in American Falls history, and took to it immediately.
“She’s a spitfire, she was really aggressive,” Gugelman said. “She naturally just came in and she liked the physicality of it. She liked that she could control her own destiny, the fact that it was her and her opponent, and she could control whether she won or lost, control how hard she worked.”
At the Rollie Lane Invitational in Nampa in January, Lusk was stunned by the size of the crowds. In her second-round match, she faltered and lost to an opponent she had an advantage over.
Two weeks later, she came back to beat the same wrestler at another tournament.
“I kind of pulled her aside and I said, you’ve got to trust the coaching, you’ve gotta trust us in the corner. You had her beat,” Gugelman said. “The very next tournament, when she saw her two weekends later, she tech-falled her. So that one stuck out to me. ... I just liked seeing that moment of growth.”
She had another moment of triumph at senior night — “there was like this spotlight shining down,” Lusk said about winning her showcase match — before going into the state tournament, where she stood out once again.
“She was losing to a girl who had wrestled her whole life in the quarterfinals, and she was down 9-1,” Gugelman said. “And with 15 seconds, she just gritted through it, came back and pinned her. That kind of stuck out to me, like, she mentally fought through the tough time.”
College coaches started to get in touch with Lusk in midseason, starting with a phone call on a bus ride to a tournament in Coeur d’Alene.
The first-year wrestler picked up offers from schools all around the country.
“I ended up getting about nine offers from schools in Nebraska, Arizona, New York, Montana,” Lusk said. “We went and visited most of them, and then when we came back from all my visits, two days later I got a call from Grand View.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Lusk had to take a virtual visit to Grand View, touring the campus through videos and talking to coaches and wrestlers.
Despite that, she knew almost instantly she wanted to go to Des Moines, partially because of the Vikings wrestling tradition and partially because of the academics.
Lusk will study athletic training at Grand View, where she’ll be able to get a masters degree in five years.
After blazing a trail at American Falls, she’ll also help make history on the mat for the nascent Grand View wrestling team.
“Just some advice, if anyone wants to do wrestling, even if they haven’t done it before, if you just put the time in and the work in, then you can go as far as you want to,” Lusk said. “Who would have thought my first year of wrestling, I would have gotten a full-ride scholarship to go wrestle in college?”