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2018: The year of the woman in wrestling

Adeline Gray claimed a gold medal at the World Championships (Photo/Larry Slater)

The year 2018 will go down in history as significant for girls' and women's wrestling. This past year, there was tremendous growth on all levels, from high school to college to international competition.

Explosive growth in high school girls' wrestling

By any measure, opportunities for girls to compete in the oldest and greatest sport at the high school level have grown tremendously.

In terms of sheer numbers of individual athletes, more high school girls took to the mat this past school year than in the previous year.

During the 2017-18 school year, 16,562 girls wrestled at 2,351 schools around the country, according to the annual National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) participation survey. By contrast, 14,587 girls wrestled at the high school level during the 2016 17 academic year. That's a growth of nearly 2,000 additional female wrestlers at the prep level in just one year.

What's more, there are greater opportunities for girls to compete at the highest level in more states.

At the beginning of 2018, six states had separate state wrestling championships for girls: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Tennessee, Texas and Washington State. In the past year, eight additional states announced the establishment of a girls' state championships: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, and Oregon. That means a total of fourteen states will have a state championship for female wrestlers in 2019.

Greater opportunities for women wrestlers in college

In 2018, InterMat reported on a handful of colleges that had announced the addition of women's wrestling to their roster of varsity sports:

  • Gannon University, a Catholic school with approximately 4,500 students located in Erie, Pa., announced in January 2017 it would be adding a new women's program to accompany the already-existing men's mat program.

  • North Central College, a private liberal arts school just outside Chicago in Naperville, Ill. With approximately 3,000 students, will launch its women's program for the 2019-20 school year. Joe Norton, NCC's men's coach since 2014, will also coach the women's team.

  • Texas Wesleyan University revealed in November plans to add both men's and women's wrestling to its sports roster in fall 2019. This private college in Ft Worth, which claims to be the first school anywhere in the Lone Star State to offer wrestling scholarships, has 3,400 students.

  • East Stroudsburg Universityis one of two schools in Pennsylvania to add a women's mat program for 2019. Anibal Nieves, who coaches the already established men's program at ESU,will also be responsible for the new women's program. This public four-year university has 7,300 students.

  • University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point announced in November the addition of a women's program which will take the mats this fall. UWSP men's coach Johnny Johnson will coach the women as well. This public university in north-central Wisconsin is home to 9,700 students.

  • Delaware Valley University, a private college in Doylestown, Penn. with approximately 2,000 students, revealed it would be launching a new women's mat program for the 2019-2020 season ... and had already hired Pennsylvania native Caitlyn Baker as head coach.

    By our count, these new programs mean that there will be a total of 50 women's programs competing in the Women's Collegiate Wrestling Association (WCWA) effective this fall.

    Success at the 2018 Worlds

    In October, the 2018 UWW World Championships in Budapest was a major success for the entire Team USA ... with four U.S. women earning medals in freestyle competition at the ultimate international wrestling event of the year.

    Adeline Gray won gold at 76 kilograms/167 pounds ... while Sarah Hildebrandt earned a silver medal at 53 kilograms/116 pounds. Mallory Velte and Tamyra Mensah-Stock winning bronze medals at 62 kilograms/136 pounds and 68 kilograms/149 pounds, respectively.

    For Gray, it was her fourth gold medal in World competition, becoming the fourth U.S. wrestler to have earned gold four times. Gray joins John Smith, Tricia Saunders, and Jordan Burroughs.

    More good news in 2018

    Other news from the past year that's worth celebrating:

  • Kristie Davis welcomed into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame: In June 2018, Kristie Davis, a two-time World champion and nine-time World medalist, became only the second woman to be installed as a Distinguished Member of the Stillwater, Okla. wrestling hall, joining women's wrestling pioneer Tricia Saunders.

  • Wrestle Like A Girl on the TODAY show: In January, the third hour of NBC's TODAY show featured a six-and-a-half-minute segment to Wrestle Like a Girl, the organization devoted to encouraging girls and young women to participate in the sport, with an interview with WLAG founder Sally Roberts, and a video segment which took viewers inside a WLAG wrestling camp.
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