Upper Iowa to Add Women’s Wrestling

Courtesy of Upper Iowa Athletics – link

Upper Iowa University announced on Wednesday, Dec. 28 that the Peacock Athletics Department will be adding women’s wrestling in a shift of the department’s women’s sport offerings. UIU will remain at 23 intercollegiate sports including eleven women’s sports, ten men’s sports and two mixed gender sports. The women’s wrestling program will begin competition in the fall of 2024.

“We are thrilled to bring women’s wrestling to Upper Iowa University and offer an opportunity to the student-athletes both in high school and community college to further both their education and athletic careers,” said Rick Hartzell, UIU Vice President for Athletics. “We are excited to extend the traditions of success within our men’s wrestling program and provide a first-class experience to the next generation of women collegiate wrestlers. We will begin identifying the best candidates for the head coaching position and look forward to being a part of the sport’s advancement from NCAA emerging sport to championship sport.”

An emerging sport is a women’s sport recognized by the NCAA that is intended to help schools provide more athletics opportunities for women and more sport-sponsorship options for the institutions. The NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics is charged with the identification, the management and the progression of the sport toward NCAA championship status. In the past 21 years, beach volleyball, rowing, ice hockey, water polo and bowling have become championship sports.

In January 2022, the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union sanctioned girls’ wrestling as the state’s 11th championship sport and this February the IGHSAU State Wrestling tournament will take place in Des Moines. Iowa joined 33 other states in the nation that have girls’ wrestling as a sanctioned sport. This winter, 190 high schools will compete in the sport across Iowa.

Hartzell continued, “While we are excited for the addition of women’s wrestling at Upper Iowa and believe it will thrive as a sport for the Peacocks, we are sad to announce that our women’s lacrosse program will be discontinued immediately. We have worked every day for the last five years to move this program to a sustainable position. Unfortunately, given the roster size issues that we have had over the years and the lack of high school girls’ lacrosse teams in the state, we feel that this is the best decision not only for the university, but for the student-athletes in the state of Iowa that will now have an additional opportunity to continue not only their academic careers at Upper Iowa University, but also their wrestling careers at the collegiate level.”

Since it’s addition to the Peacock Athletics Department in 2016, the women’s lacrosse team has competed in just 12 matches. The University canceled the 2019 and 2021 seasons due to a lack of healthy players, while the 2020 season was canceled due to the global pandemic after UIU lost their only match. Last season, the team put together a full season with an 0-11 record, but played down a player to their opponents in the majority of contests due to roster size and injuries.

“We are very thankful for the women’s lacrosse players that have been here in the fight with us working tirelessly to bring the sport of women’s lacrosse to Upper Iowa and the Midwest,” said Hartzell. “But we owed it to them to end this fight. They deserve to find happiness in the sport of lacrosse with a different program or in another sport here at Upper Iowa. We will do everything in our power to help and take care of these young ladies with their next steps.”

The Midwest is nationally recognized as the hotbed of wrestling. Several colleges in Iowa and the surrounding states already sponsor women’s wrestling programs and will serve as nearby opponents on future Peacock women’s wrestling schedules. Four-year programs in Iowa include institutions at several levels including NCAA Division I (one), NCAA Division III (six), NAIA (four). In addition, five community colleges in the state sponsor women’s wrestling. The student-athletes at these two-year institutions will not only compete against Upper Iowa, but may graduate with their first degrees and then transfer to compete for the Peacocks.

Three schools in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, to which Upper Iowa will be moving beginning in the fall of 2023, already sponsor women’s wrestling including McKendree University, Quincy University, and William Jewell College.

Any questions may be directed to Rick Hartzell, UIU Vice President for Athletics, at hartzellr53@uiu.edu or Howie Thompson, UIU Associate AD for Internal Operations and Communications, at thompsonh@uiu.edu.

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