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NCAA Div. II Fort Hays State in Kansas adds women’s wrestling; first season set for 2024-25

by Fort Hays State Athletics

World champion Jacarra Winchester at the Fort Hays State women's wrestling announcement.
Top photo: World champion Jacarra Winchester at the Fort Hays State women's wrestling announcement.

Top photo: Fort Hays State leaders, and World champion Jacarra Winchester, at the announcement of its new women's wrestling program.

Photos by Ryan Prickett

HAYS, Kan. – Fort Hays State University President Tisa Mason and Director of Athletics Curtis Hammeke announced on Wednesday (Nov. 2) the addition of Women's Wrestling as a varsity sport in Athletics, set to begin competition in 2024-25. With the addition of the program, Fort Hays State will have 17 intercollegiate athletic programs (nine women's, eight men's).

When the 2024-25 academic year arrives, Fort Hays State will have three sports during the winter season in which both genders compete, including wrestling, basketball, and indoor track and field. Men's and women's soccer were the last sports added to the intercollegiate athletic programs offered at Fort Hays State University, which began competition in 2011 after being announced in 2010.

The search for a head coach of the program begins immediately. Once hired, the coach will have at least a year to recruit and build a roster for competition.

Fort Hays State will be the first NCAA school in Kansas to offer the sport as a varsity program in Athletics. FHSU will also be the first school in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) to add the sport. There are currently six women's wrestling programs at the collegiate level in Kansas right now, which includes National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) members Baker University, Central Christian College, Friends University, Ottawa University, and University of Saint Mary, and National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) member Northwest Kansas Technical College.

Women's wrestling is currently an NCAA Emerging Sport. There are currently 63 women's wrestling programs at NCAA member institutions either established or in the process of being added aside from the announcement by FHSU today, which includes four NCAA Division I schools, 25 NCAA Division II schools, and 34 NCAA Division III schools. Currently, all three NCAA divisions are part of the National Collegiate Women's Wrestling Coalition (NCWWC), which completed its third year of holding the NCWWC National Championships in 2022. McKendree University (Ill.), which is an NCAA Division II affiliate, has won the national team title all three years of the championship's existence. Last year, 40 teams competed in four regional qualifiers for the NCWWC Championships.

The NAIA will hold its inaugural Women's Wrestling Championship in 2023. For three years (2020-2022), the organization has held a National Wrestling Invitational and it will transition to championship status this year. According to the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) website, there are 42 women's wrestling schools affiliated with the NAIA. Women's wrestling is still an emerging sport at the NJCAA level, like the NCAA.

Kansas is one of the fastest growing states in the nation for girls wrestling. Last year, Kansas had over 1,400 participants in girls wrestling at the high school level. This year will mark the fourth year the state activities association will hold a state championship for girls wrestling. All classifications were included in the first state championship three years ago, but there have been two championship classifications for the past two years, 5-6A classes combined and 1-4A classes combined.

Editor's Note: 2019 World champion Jacarra Winchester, who was a WCWA college national champion at Missouri Valley, spoke at the press conference announcing Fort Hays State women's wrestling.

NCAA Div. II Fort Hays State in Kansas adds women’s wrestling; first season set for 2024-25