Iowa women host historic first home event Sunday, with three other Div. I teams in the Trailblazer Duals

Iowa head women's wrestling coach Clarissa Chun gives instructions during practice (Photo by Iowa Athletics)

The wrestling community celebrated when the University of Iowa announced that it would be the first Div. I Power Five program to sponsor women’s wrestling. When they hired World champion and Olympic medalist Clarissa Chun to be its head coach, anticipation built. Last year, a strong set of recruits redshirted for a year, in preparation for Iowa’s first women’s wrestling college season.

The wait is over.

The Iowa women’s wrestling team will host its first competition as a varsity women’s program on Sunday at the Trailblazer Duals, welcoming the other three NCAA Div. I programs to historic Carver-Hawkeye Arena: Presbyterian College, Sacred Heart University and Lindenwood University.

You can sense the importance of this moment just listening to Coach Chun talk about Sunday

“I am really excited. I don’t know what to expect with the crowd coming out for a women’s wrestling event. When I initially got announced in Carver Hawkeye Arena, there was so much excitement, and there still is, two years later. There is a little bit of nerves. It brings me back to my time competing in Carver in 2012 and 2016. Being in that pit took over me. I look forward to having that feeling again. I love for the opportunity for our time to rise to the occasion in an event like this,” said Chun.

The state of Iowa, the Iowa City community and the University of Iowa is a true hotbed for wrestling. You can now add women’s wrestling to the mix, the fastest growing sport for girls and women in the nation. Not only does coach Chun and her staff understand this, so do the athletes on the team.  

“They know. This is a big reason they wanted to be at Iowa, knowing how important wrestling is in this state and community, with the support we have felt since day one being on campus. It is being able to represent our program to the fans of what Iowa wrestling is. I am very excited for them to showcase what women’s wrestling is, and what it looks like. Some have seen women’s wrestling, and there are a lot who have not yet. There is a great opportunity to educate the fans a little bit,” said Chun.

Iowa women's wrestling coaches Gary Mayabb, Clarissa Chun and Tonya Verbeek during the East Stroudsburg dual meet. (Photo by Iowa Athletics)

Iowa intentionally invited the other current Div. I programs to Carver Hawkeye. Although there are over 90 NCAA programs who have women’s wrestling or have announced a new team, the next big challenge is expanding opportunities at the Div. I level.

“We are the only DI programs for women’s wrestling right now. We want to grow that. We want more DI programs added. We want more Power Five programs and Big Ten Conference programs to add. This is the four right now,” she said.

Iowa comes off its first weekend of competition, a road trip to the East Coast. Last Saturday, the No. 8 Hawkeyes dominated No. 7 East Stroudsburg, winning all of their matches for a 43-1 victory. At the Princeton Open the following day, six Hawkeyes won gold medals, and 10 team members finished in the top three.

“The dual meet, we got the monkey off the back. They got to compete and deal with their nerves. They put a lot of pressure on themselves. They know the weight they carry wearing Iowa on their back. They don’t want to disappoint. I am super grateful for coach Anibal (Nieves). He said let’s do this dual, and it was a great state to do it in, Pennsylvania, so rich in wrestling. We went to Princeton Open, a great learning experience. It exposed a lot of areas we need to move forward working on. It was good for those in the dual to weigh in two days in a row. It was a good lesson in weight management.,” she said.

The Hawkeyes spent a year getting ready for this home debut. The team competed in some Open events and entered some post-season USA Wrestling competitions. But mostly, the team trained and developed their identity.

“I am grateful for that year. At times it was hard, because our women wanted to compete more. When we compete, it gives us information on what is working and what is not, and what adjustments we need to make. We got to slow things down, work on technical things and slowly get to know our team. I am grateful we were able to build slowly and do it right. I didn’t want to rush the process. It is going to take time. Anything great takes time,” said Chun.

Iowa women's wrestling coach Clarissa Chun coaching at the Princeton Open (Photo by Iowa Athletics)

Iowa has some special things planned for the historic day. The Hawkeyes will honor one of Chun’s college teammates at Missouri Valley, Mollie Keith, who has going on to become a Colonel in the U.S. Army.

“She is from Iowa and wrestled here in the 1990’s, when there were not many besides her out of Iowa as a female wrestler. She wrestled with me at Missouri Valley. She got her degree on a scholarship because of wrestling and went on to do amazing things. She is a Colonel in the Army. I just want to recognize her as a trailblazer in the state of Iowa. We need to celebrate the people who have provided these opportunities,” said Chun.

The event will be streamed live on B1G+, and Chun reached out to long-time Women’s National Team Coach Terry Steiner, an NCAA champion for Iowa’s men’s team, to serve as a commentator.

“There is no better person that knows the sport, as the National Team Coach for two decades and a national champion for Iowa. It was a no-brainer. We need Terry Steiner to be a part of this,” she said.

While it is hard to know how many folks will show up Sunday, the Hawkeyes will most probably attract the largest crowd to see a women’s college wrestling dual meet. This offers an amazing opportunity to promote women’s college wrestling and expose the world to the developing brand of Iowa women’s wrestling.

“We want to show their individuality. All of the women bring a different style. I want them to be able to show the Iowa fans who they are on the mat. In wrestling, if someone wants to let their personalities out, we will let them shine in their way. I want them to see what our women are capable of individually and as a team. They are awesome. They work together as a team. They work hard. They support each other. Their energy is high.”

Goals and expectations for the first year of Iowa women’s wrestling are high.

“We want to win the NCWWC National title as a team. If we don’t say that out loud, what are we working so hard for every day? I will also say winning National Duals. Beyond that, it is the process of them getting better every day. We have a great group of student-athletes. They continue to amaze all of us on how they do business, not only on the mat but in the classroom. Our goal is to win titles on the mat but also find their best in the classroom and in the community, said Chun.

Anyone able to get to Iowa City on Sunday should check it out.

Tickets are still available at Action begins at 11:00 a.m. CT. Everyone else can watch online on B1G+