Meet Forrest Molinari, one of the rising stars of women’s freestyle wrestling

This is the first in a five-part series featuring the women of Hawkeye Wrestling Club. Today’s story is about Forrest Molinari, a member of the 2018 World Team.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Forrest Molinari’s first dream was to play football.

Early in her freshman year at Benicia High School in California, many of her childhood friends dreamed of becoming grill stars. She had similar aspirations – except that there was only one problem.

“I weighed 95 pounds,” Molinari says now. “I grew up playing baseball, so all of my friends were boys, and when we got to high school they were going to play soccer, so I wanted to play too. I just thought it was normal.

Which position?

“Linebacker,” she laughs, “so 95 pounds wasn’t going to work for that. “

As it turns out, Benicia’s head football coach Craig Holden was also the Panthers’ wrestling coach. The summer before his freshman year, Holden drove Molinari to morning workouts in high school. He came up with an idea.

“I said, you’re probably not going to do very well as a 95-pound linebacker,” Holden recalls, “but I have a sport for you and it starts in November.

“And the rest is history.”

Since then, Molinari has grown into one of the country’s top female freestyle talents. She is one of five women who train with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club.

Molinari’s ever-budding curriculum vitae includes several age-level global teams as well as national and international successes. She was part of the senior world team last year weighing 65 kilograms (143 pounds) and came one step away from winning a bronze medal. She is only 23 years old.

Starting at the US Open in Las Vegas next week – the National Freestyle and Greco-Roman Championships – Molinari will take the first step towards what she hopes will be another world team, which means another opportunity for success at the World level.

“I’m more motivated than ever,” she says. “I tasted it. I made the team. I got to see the world championships and compete. I narrowly missed a bronze medal, on criteria. It was a difficult pill to swallow.

“I am more motivated than ever. I’m ready to show my stuff and go get this gold medal.

In a recent moment of reflection, Molinari pokes fun at his early days of wrestling. Before Holden’s suggestion, she had never heard of the sport. She didn’t know what a rug looked like. She was not aware of college opportunities or the Olympics.

This potential on the world stage caught his attention in a way that other sports did not. Molinari was drawn to wrestling because of the seemingly endless hours of work required to be successful. She struggled at first, but found joy in the everyday.


“I used to be mistreated,” says Molinari. “They were bringing in college kids because there was nobody my size. I would always be beaten.

“But I loved it. I liked how difficult it was. I remember one day I was running sprints and I just thought I had never done something so hard in my life.

But she kept coming back. Holden said Molinari had attended tournaments even when she wasn’t wrestling, meeting the team on the bus at 4.30am and absorbing the action from the stands. The coach said he could count on one hand the number of practices she had missed in four years.

The California Interscholastic Federation added women’s wrestling before the 2010-11 school year, when Molinari was in second grade. State participation rose from 1,493 female wrestlers in 2009-10 to 5,286 last year, according to figures from the National Federation of State High School Associations. Women’s wrestling is one of the fastest growing sports in the country.

“It’s amazing how fast he is growing,” says Molinari. “When I go back to California now, all the schools I’ve fought have full women’s teams, and I was there just six years ago. It’s great to see. I’m happy. I hope it will continue.”

The addition allowed the girls to fight other girls rather than boys. Molinari prospered. She graduated from Benicia in 2013 as a double state medalist. She turned that into a college scholarship, first to Missouri Baptist and then to King University. She has become a four-time All-American Women’s College Wrestling Association. She won a national title in 2016.

“During her freshman year in high school, she was a rock star,” Holden says. “People knew who she was. During tournaments, people stopped to watch her. She signed autographs for the little children.

Hawkeye Wrestling Club acrobatic wrestler Forrest Molinari poses for a portrait before practice Thursday, April 18, 2019 in Iowa City.  Molinari is one of five senior level wrestlers.  Their addition to Hawkeye Wrestling Club has helped women's wrestling continue its rapid growth.


The same year as her national title, Molinari competed in the Olympic trials in Iowa City, where she placed fourth. His performance – a 4-1 record with a pin and a technical fall – foreshadowed his more recent success.

She made the World Under-23 team twice. She won gold at the 2018 Pan Am Championships. She turned a fifth-place finish at the 2017 US Open into a second-place finish last year, losing 5-0 to former King Julia Salata teammate in final. Two months later, in the X Final, she beat Salata twice by a combined score of 15-2 to advance to her first senior world team.

“It’s a huge leap,” said Terry Steiner, coach of the United States Women’s National Team and former Iowa wrestler. “The most encouraging things were the adjustments she made from the Open to the X Final. During that time she made some really good adjustments and that put her in the squad.”

Molinari’s first opportunity arises in Las Vegas. She is aiming for her first crown at the US Open, which would position her for another chance on the world team.

Awareness sets in and she laughs – Molinari probably couldn’t have done all of this if she had remained loyal to football.

“When I started, I had no idea how far the wrestling could take me, or that I would still struggle all those years later,” says Molinari. “I love that.”

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.


► Inside Alli Ragan’s rise from Illinois high school star to two-time world silver medalist

“Iowa is home”: Kayla Miracle of Hawkeye Wrestling Club aims for senior world team and international success

► Why Michaela Beck skipped varsity wrestling to pursue her international dreams with Hawkeye Wrestling Club

► Lauren Louive is looking for a coaching opportunity after her career at Hawkeye Wrestling Club


  • 2018 Senior World Team
  • 2018 U23 World Team
  • 2018 Pan American Gold Medalist
  • US Open 2018 finalist
  • 2017 U23 World Team
  • 2017 Pan American Bronze Medalist
  • WCWA National Champion 2016
  • 2015 Junior World Team

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Robert J. King