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2017 in review: New women's programs lead growth in college wrestling

Nassau Community College women's wrestlers Carolyn Herrera and Kristen Walsh drill during practice (Photo/Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

Looking for something to celebrate in the New Year? How about a toast to all the colleges and universities that announced new wrestling programs in 2017.

The year 2017 was a banner year for colleges announcing new wrestling programs. This past year, InterMat reported on nearly twenty schools that revealed plans to launch new mat programs (or resurrect past programs). Of these, just about half were women's programs.

Arguably one of the most historically significant announcements this year came from Presbyterian College. In December, the South Carolina-based school made it official: it would be adding both men's and women's intercollegiate wrestling programs, making Presbyterian the first NCAA Division I school to add individual programs for men and women at the same time. Icing on the cake of that sweet announcement: the school had hired Mark Cody, former University of Oklahoma coach, as its men's coach and director of wrestling operations.

The new women's programs announced in 2017 were not limited to a specific region of the country, but pretty much spanned from coast to coast. In Oregon, Umpqua Community College revealed the addition of a women's mat program to join the newly resurrected men's program ... while, at the opposite end of the country, Nassau Community College unveiled plans to bring women's wresting to Long Island, New York.

A number of other colleges located in the nation's heartland revealed plans this past year to establish women's wrestling programs. Three -- Baker University, Southwestern College, and Central Christian College -- are all located in Kansas, which in recent years has seen explosive growth in collegiate mat programs. Other mid-America schools adding women's squads include Nebraska's York College ... Lakeland in Wisconsin ... and Tiffin in Ohio.

Ohio, Kentucky lead the way in new men's programs

In 2017, a similar number of colleges let it be known that they would add men's wrestling to their sports rosters.

The state of Ohio -- one of the nation's amateur wrestling hotbeds -- led the way with four new or reinstated mat programs. Urbana University, an NCAA Division II school located between Columbus and Dayton, brought college wrestling a short drive from nationally-ranked prep powerhouse St. Paris Graham. The Buckeye State also welcomed good news from a trio of NCAA Division III schools -- a new-from-scratch program at Defiance College, in northwest Ohio ... as well as re-establishing past mat programs at Ohio Wesleyan and Wilmington College.

Kentucky -- a place where the state sport is arguably basketball -- cheered the news that two more colleges would offer students something new to root for in the wintertime. In the space of about a week, Midway University -- an NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) school located halfway between Louisville and Lexington -- and Kentucky Wesleyan, an NCAA Division II school in western Kentucky, near Evansville, Ind. -- both let it be known this fall that they would be rolling out the mats in fall 2018.

Two other southern schools also announced the establishment of wrestling programs in 2017: Bluefield College in Virginia ... and Queens University in Charlotte, N.C., to be led by respected coach (and past Olympic wrestler) Ken Chertow.

Michigan, another state with a rich wrestling heritage, can also lay claim to helping grow the oldest and greatest sport, as St. Clair County Community College is welcoming wrestling to its Port Huron campus.

Waving goodbye to three collegiate programs

In a year with announcements aplenty about new college wrestling programs for women and men, a trio of schools bucked the trend and dropped the hammer on their mat programs in 2017.

In late March, Shorter University announced it would be eliminating its wrestling program, citing time and expense traveling to other Division II schools as a major factor in its decision to scrap the program it established in 2010. About six weeks later, Canada's University of Winnipeg axed its men's and women's mat squads -- and some other sports -- in response to a multi-million-dollar budget crisis.

The announcement that got the most attention was Boise State's decision to chop its NCAA Division I program seemingly without warning, leaving its wrestlers, recruits and first-year coach Mike Mendoza stunned. The school's president, Robert Kustra, revealed that he wanted to focus resources on bringing baseball to the Idaho-based school, and talked about building a $40 million ballpark in downtown Boise to house both minor-league and the yet-to-be announced BSU baseball team. Despite having a rugged 2016-17 season, the Broncos had a rich wrestling history, having won six conference team championships, 2 top-20 NCAA team finishes and five top-10 NCAA team finishes.

The elimination of Boise State wrestling raised anger well beyond the western U.S. Months later, the man behind the decision announced his retirement ... but there's been no official talk of reversing his decision.

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ResiliteMarine (1) about 6 months ago
Please tell T.R. Foley