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Iowa Becomes First Power Five School to Add Women’s Wrestling: Here’s What it Really Means

Graphic courtesy of the Iowa Women’s Wrestling Twitter Page (@IowaW_Wrestling). 

 

“Historic.” 

“Monumental.”

“A game-changer.”

“Exciting.”

These are all phrases used to describe the magnitude and the significance of the University of Iowa’s recent decision to add a women’s wrestling team, starting in 2023-24. In doing so, Iowa will be the only Power Five institution with a women’s program, and just the fourth at the Division I level alongside Lock Haven, Presbyterian, and Sacred Heart. 

Click here to listen to the official full-length press conference from Iowa Director of Athletics Gary Barta and Iowa Wrestling head coach Tom Brands from Thursday, September 23. The press conference can also be seen below. 

In honor of the momentous occasion, The Open Mat decided to weigh in on what this means in the context of women’s wrestling moving forward, both at the University of Iowa and beyond, plus some additional thoughts. 

+ Women’s Wrestling is now at the Highest Level in College Athletics: The best way to legitimize further and grow a sport is by bringing said sport (wrestling) to a blueblood institution within the sport (University of Iowa) at the highest level (NCAA Division I), and  in the sport’s premier conference (Big Ten). Well, that’s precisely what happened last Thursday in Iowa City, Iowa.

 This gesture will show that just like all other major sports, women’s wrestling can be an avenue to a scholarship at a large athletic and academic institution. This new reality will likely cause participation at the youth level to increase even further from the exponential growth we have already seen in recent years, especially if other Power Five schools add teams, too.  

+ Now the Dominos can Fall: Both Barta and Brands revealed in their press conference, Iowa is not the only Power Five institution currently contemplating adding women’s wrestling. At this point, the hesitation of other institutions to pull the trigger on Power Five women’s wrestling is probably due to fear. 

Yes, other schools want to add the sport, but none want to be “the first” to do so for fear of failure. Well, now the University of Iowa is “first.” With that, hopefully, all the other schools interested in adding a women’s wrestling program at all levels, but especially Power Five, continue to push forward with doing so now that the worry and risk that comes with “being first” is off the table. 

Bands intimated that several schools are “close” to adding a women’s wrestling team at their institution.

Additionally, on his, The First Word podcast, Willie Saylor of MatScouts stated Monday, September 27, that John Smith and Oklahoma State are well on its way to fielding a women’s team of their own. And that news may come sooner rather than later. 

+ Pressure to Sanction at High Schools in Iowa and Everywhere Else: There are six other women’s wrestling programs already in existence in the state of Iowa: Iowa Wesleyan (Division III), Waldorf, Grand View and William Penn (NAIA), and Indian Hills and Iowa Western (JuCo). The University of Iowa is now the seventh program in the state and the first at the Division I Power Five level. 

Despite seven college programs currently in the state, women’s wrestling is not a state-sanctioned sport at the high school level in the Hawkeye State. What makes that fact even more troublesome is that female participation within the state is high. According to Barta, more than 600 girls participated in high school wrestling this past season. 

Now that the University of Iowa has planned to field a women’s Division I team, this only applies more pressure to the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) to sanction women’s’ wrestling as an official varsity sport. 

Given The Hawkeyes’ decision coupled with the state’s already high participation numbers, I’d say it’s only a matter of time until women’s wrestling is an IHSAA-sanction varsity sport. 

+ A Dream Come True: For any high school athlete in any sport, it’s often a dream come true to earn a scholarship to play for your local university, the hometown team, the team you grew up rooting for as a youngster. 

Until this week, that has been nothing more than a dream for these 600-plus ladies who are currently high school wrestlers in Iowa. 

As of Thursday, the above scenario is no longer only a dream. It’s a reality as soon as the 2023-2024 season, maybe sooner if another Power Five school joins the party. 

+ An Edge for Iowa: Given the legacy and storied history of Iowa Hawkeye wrestling, the coaching and resources already in place on the men’s side, plus the fact that Iowa will be the only women’s program in Power Five, the Black and Gold will have a serious edge over others schools moving forward. 

Also advantageous, Iowa is set to break ground on a new 37,000 wrestling training facility that will be large enough for both the men’s and women’s squads later this fall. The new facility is expected to cost north of $20 million.

Usually, when a new program is formed, there is an “acclimation period” before the team is competitive in terms of on-field performance. I don’t expect that to be the case for the Hawkeyes when the competition gets underway in 2023-24.

Most elite female wrestlers want to wrestle for the Hawks because 1. The history and legacy that is Iowa Hawkeye wrestling. 2. It’s Power Five. 3. Access to top-notching coaching, facilities, and additional resources. 

Additionally, with the transfer portal in place, even those student-athletes currently in another women’s program across the country will have the opportunity to hit the portal and land in Iowa City if they desire. 

I expect the Hawkeye women’s wrestling team to be great right out of the gate. 

+ Iowa Has Been Preparing for This: A women’s wrestling team at Iowa has been in the works for a while now. 

Since 2017, when Hawkeye Wrestling Club began adding female wrestlers to its athlete roster, some of the best in women’s wrestling have trained in Iowa City. Lauren Louive was the first woman to join the HWC, followed by Alli Ragan, Forrest Molinari, Kayla Miracle, and Michaela Beck.

Ragan and Molinari have World Team appearances/medals to their credit, while Miracle is a 2020 Tokyo Olympian.

 Additionally, earlier this month, HWC bolstered its women’s roster by adding Victoria Francis, Rachel Watters, and Jordan Nelson to its list of resident athletes. I expect this roster to grow as the Iowa women’s wrestling team begins to take shape in the coming months and years.  

+ Iowa is “Too Big to Fail” in Women’s Wrestling: In Iowa and at the University of Iowa, wrestling is ingrained in the fabric of the university and the broader Iowa City community. Simply put, wrestling is practically a religion in Iowa City.

 As Brands said in his presser, “There is no greater place in the world to wrestle than Iowa City, and with our new wrestling facility, we are prepared to offer world-class training for both our Hawkeye men and women.” 

On Thursday, Brands also said, “We will hire a women’s coach. It will be the best coach in America,” Brands said. “The stakes are high for the new coach. We’re going to wrestle the best collegiate talent in the United States.”

With that, I expect Iowa to be firing on all in terms of a star-studded coaching staff, talent-laden roster, and top-notch facilities. Hopefully, by 2023 though, other blue-chip programs like Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Arizona State, Penn State, Ohio State, and others are fielding teams of their own to compete with the trailblazing Iowa Hawkeyes.  

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