Women's Wrestling

Q&A with Gannon Women’s Head Coach Christen Dierken

photo courtesy of Gannon athletics

I first met Christen when she was a competitor at the World Team Trials (University of the Cumberlands) as she was competing against one of my former athletes Adeline Gray (USOEC). Christen fell short in that match but has persevered through her life and career, as you will read about soon.

What age did you start wrestling in competitions and what is your best wrestling accomplishment?

I started wrestling when I was 14 and was a freshman in high school wrestling in Fullerton, California, on an all-boys wrestling team. I’d say my best wrestling accomplishment as an athlete was making the Senior National Team back in 2009-2010. I was 2nd in 2009 losing to Adeline Gray and 3rd in 2010, losing in the semi-finals to Kristie Davis. 

How has wrestling helped you in your life?

Long story short, God used wrestling to save my life. I was not in the best situation as an adolescent and was really going through a lot of struggles internally before joining wrestling. After the first year of hating it, I learned to love the sport and bought into all the amazing things that the sport offers. By my senior year of high school, I knew wrestling would always be apart of my life in some form or fashion. 

How many years have you been coaching at the college level and what has that experience been like?

I coached as a graduate assistant for the University of the Cumberlands and now have 2 years of head coaching experience at Gannon University. Having my own program has been an amazing experience — not to say it hasn’t been extremely difficult at times. I am still a very young coach and, while I feel that I am pursuing my purpose or calling in life, I feel as though there are not enough full-time assistant coaching opportunities available to aspiring female head coaches. I love my team and what we are building, but I definitely seek a lot of wisdom from God and from those whom I trust and have a wealth of knowledge. 

How do you balance marriage, children, & coaching? 

I wear many hats. I am a wife, mom, Coach, and I am a soldier in the Army National Guard. I love each role, but it is exhausting at times because I seem to work non-stop. A few things that I try to implement in my life to balance it all and remain sane include: lots of time spent in prayer, setting healthy boundaries for those around me, lots of structure & time management, and honestly a strong work ethic. There are a lot of times we have to do things we don’t want to necessarily do — but it’s what’s right… So it gets done. My husband is also our assistant coach, so we really run our team as a family. Our 9-month-old and 2 year old come to a lot of our workouts & competitions. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. 

What will it take for high school girls wrestling to triple or quadruple in participation numbers? (Current estimates are 21,000 high school girl wrestlers.)

What it will take for the growth of girls wrestling is: equal opportunities in wrestling. Every state having a [girls] state championship at the youth & high school level is a minimum. However, it takes support & advocacy. People need to speak up & fight for it. I try to do my part, and, the women who are graduating from their college wrestling programs are in a position to advocate for the next generation of girls.  

Why is women’s collegiate wrestling important in the USA? (Current estimates are 70 collegiate varsity teams.)

It’s important for so many reasons. Wrestling changes lives — period. It’s not just for men. Women deserve the same opportunities as men to compete post-high school. Also, from an international standpoint, we are very competitive. As we continue the rapid progress we are making, developing girls wrestling from the youth level to women’s wrestling at the college level — this will make the US more competitive at the world level. 

What impact (if any) will women’s collegiate wrestling have on Japan’s world dominance in women’s wrestling? (Japan has won 23 of 30 team World titles.)

I think it will have a huge impact. However, we cannot neglect youth & high school wrestling. We need athletes to be more experienced before getting to college. There is still a decent size gap in experience levels. Closing that gap sooner will affect how we perform on the world stage in the next 10 years and beyond. We cannot just think about where we want to be 1-5 years out. We need to think about where we will be 5-10 years out and beyond… 

What was your experience like as a high school & college wrestler?

Wrestling in high school was pretty awful most of the time. I had to fight everyone just to have the opportunity to be in the room. The administration, coaches, athletes, peers, & my dad were completely against me wrestling. 

I had a few people encouraging me quietly. My family, for the most part, was supportive and a few close friends. I was hated, tolerated, ignored. People refused to work with me. I got my gear stolen & destroyed by teammates. I was trashcanned by 6 of my teammates. I was pink bellied and had things thrown at me while walking the halls. 

I was called all sorts of unkind names and people spread horrible rumors. I could tell you many [more] awful stories of my high school experience — which no one should have to endure… However, when I started beating boys, I fell in love with the sport. 

Then I heard that there were some girls tournaments and even 6 college programs! I went to what girls tournaments I could on my off weekends. I did well. I went on to wrestle in college at the University of the Cumberlands (because they were the best team in 2007) and was a 4X All-American (2X Runner-up) and made several US teams on the junior & senior level. 

I loved competing in college and for team USA. 

Looking back, I realize how little opportunities we had back 10-15 years ago and am amazed at how far we have come. The college athletes today have no idea what it was really like for us women who were really the pioneers in women’s [college] wrestling. We need to keep pushing through and not be complacent with where we are at. 

What current challenges do you see now for female wrestling?

We have a lack of support from pockets of men in the sport who still don’t believe women have a place in the wrestling world. 

We need to keep going out there and changing mindsets and fighting for support. I think there’s this old school wrestling mentality that “wrestling makes men,” when, in reality, wrestling produces good human beings. 

The other issue I don’t hear mentioned often is how universities chose to structure their women’s wrestling programs. I think people get stuck in the excitement of the fact that programs are being added — not realizing that some programs are being set up for failure with a lack of proper coaching staff. It makes a huge difference if teams have equitable coaching staffs versus if you have 1 head coach for the men & women’s teams. Or, if you have a women’s head coach, with no full-time assistant coach or even graduate assistants. 

At a lot of universities, the women’s teams are still not receiving equal or even equitable treatment. 

How can people contact you to learn more about your program? 

You can email me at dierken001@gannon.edu. That’s the best way to contact me. 

You can also check out our women’s wrestling page and fill out a recruiting questionnaire: https://questionnaires.armssoftware.com/6d1a0d26c3a4?path=wwrest 

We are also on Instagram & Twitter! 

So please check us out! 

Bonus: What are your goals for the future?

We have several types of goals…

Generally, we are always working toward developing our athletes in every area in their lives. We focus a lot on character development and leadership skills. 

We are working toward college degrees and national titles in the process. 

We would like to just continue improving and focusing on all the little details that make a champion. 

As a second-year program, we are hoping to finish the season with some All-Americans individually and place top 10-15 as a team. 

We are also working hard to recruit incoming student-athletes who are a good fit for our program and team culture. 

Bonus #2: What are 3 things people don’t know about you?

I have 5 sisters & 2 brothers (we are all spread out around the country).

I was baptized at 22 (I have an insane testimony lol).

I love to be creative: crochet, scrapbook, photography, draw, paint, etc. 

Bonus #3: What makes wrestling different than other sports?

I don’t know how to explain it any other way, but to say, I think there are not many other experiences you can have that can even compare. I [do] see some parallels through my military experience. 

The structure, discipline, humility, pain, training, the breaking down of your body, mental toughness, overcoming adversity, the accountability, the pursuit of excellence, etc. has such potential to mold you into this crazy amazing person. 

The blood, sweat, & tears; the physical, mental, & emotional toll it takes on you — and you come back for more every time! 

And the relationships built with those who are in the trenches with you — they last a lifetime. 

What other sports go through that level of grind and require that much grit and perseverance?

Who cuts weight and still competes at an elite level in other sports? 

You step on the mat in front of everyone and carry the burden of your losses completely on your back. It’s rough, but we love it. We get obsessed with it to the point that it’s our lifestyle and no one could understand except another wrestler.

Thanks Christen!

Athletics, like academics, can teach many things…

What stands out on the female side of wrestling, time & again, is the not so friendly environment many women & girls go through just to get the opportunity to grow, develop, & reach their goals in wrestling.

Christen is one of the 13 woman head coach joining: Leigh Jaynes, Delaware Valley University; Kristie Davis, Emmanuel College; Dany DeAnda, Presbyterian College; Kate Fox, Lackawanna College; Brittney Gadd, Brewton Parker College; Brandy Green, Limestone College; Shauna Isbell-Kemp, University of Jamestown; Breonnah Neal, Ferrum College; Elena Pirozhkova, New Jersey City University; Carlene Sluberski, University of Providence; Ashley Sword, Life University; & Nicole Tyson,Oklahoma City University, NAIA.

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