Female athletes from Iowa are special in many ways; here at the IGHSAU we work to recognize the “Iowa Girl” and share our enthusiasm for the good that she represents. There is something unique in every Iowa Girl, whether that be leadership, dedication or compassion. Each one has a story worth sharing. 

Welcome to the Iowa Girl Project. Join fellow Iowa Girl Mia Laube as she shares the stories of Iowa Girls who are taking the skills they learned through their education and athletic career above and beyond. These women are making a positive impact on their communities, big and small. They inspire the next generation to compete in sports and conquer the challenges ahead. 

Proud to be an Iowa Girl!



Monica Ayabarreno spent her early life serving her family and playing the game of basketball. Now, she serves her country in the United States Army.

When we encounter tough things in life, we get to choose how we handle them. Monica Ayabarreno has always chosen to serve others.  

Ayabarreno played high school basketball at Dowling Catholic and then Des Moines East. She established herself as a threat on the floor, garnering all-conference honors each year. 

After high school, her focus on basketball carried her into a college education. She played her first two years at DMACC and then moved to Grand View College.

Then, life threw her family for a curve.

“I had to quit because my mother got sick with ovarian cancer,” Ayabarreno said. “I had little siblings— a sister and a brother— that I helped take care of.”

Although she had to retire earlier than planned, she remembers her years as a female athlete as part of the foundation that made her who she is today.

“Growing up with sports in Iowa has helped me with leadership roles,” Ayabarreno said. “I was team captain my junior and senior years.”

After sports, Ayabarreno found new purpose in the Army; yet again, she chose to serve others, although on a much larger scale.

“I was looking to leave Iowa to see what else there was out there. When I joined [the Army], it was to get myself on my feet and go home, but I ended up loving it.”

In the Army, she takes care of the peoples’ needs every day, whether that be her fellow soldiers or the family she’s started with her husband. She’s now in her tenth year of service, and her daily life is demanding.

“I have been in charge of about 24 soldiers for the last six years— the life, the well-being of them,” Ayabarreno said. “I take care of the individual soldiers, their families, their work, anything with that. Every day is a busy day. I start at 4:30 AM and work until five PM, then take the kids to sports.”

Even with the busy life of the Army, she puts family first.

“My five-year-old kid does soccer, basketball, and swim lessons,” Ayabarreno said. “I have a baby girl who was premature at 30 weeks. That was demanding.”

Ayabarreno plans to continue to serve and give her family the best life possible; her goals are to become a warrant officer and retire at 25 years of service. From there, she wants to give her daughter the same opportunities she had as a young girl.

“I eventually want to become a basketball coach for my little girl,” she said. “I want to teach her how to work hard and teach her how to get the things she wants in her life.”

Ayabarreno considers herself an Iowa Girl because she “knows good corn,” but her dedication to what she loves and her willingness to make others a priority make her stand out more than anything else. 

And she does it humbly, too: “We do it because we want to.”


Written by Mia Laube. Mia is a freelance writer for the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union. She is a graduate of Marion High School and currently attends the University of St. Thomas where she studies journalism and communications. As a former Iowa high school student-athlete, Mia is excited to share the stories of the "Iowa Girl" through the Iowa Girl Project.