2021 NCAA All-American John Poznanski (Photo/Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors.com; Graphic/Anna-Lee Marie)
Yesterday, the University of Iowa made the groundbreaking announcement that they would be the first Power Five school to offer women's wrestling. There have been plenty of rumors swirling around which school would be the first to take the leap, but it ultimately was the Hawkeyes who did so. Expect others to follow suit in the coming months. Before we get to that, let's throw around some possible candidates for the first head coach for Iowa's women's program.
The team is pegged to start competition in the 2023-24 season, but per the Iowa press release, the school will begin its head coaching search this fall. So who should Iowa choose? We've put together a list of qualified, proven coaches that all would be great selections in their own right. While these coaches have different strengths and backgrounds, Iowa would be in good hands under their leadership.
National Team Coaches
Currently, the head coach of the Women's National Team, Terry Steiner, has overseen the program from before women's wrestling was offered in the Olympics until the present day. Just a few months ago, his team came home from the Olympics in Tokyo with four medals, two of which were gold. So the question is, why would Steiner want to take a step down and coach in college? The answer is twofold. Coaches are always looking for a new challenge. He has led a charge in women's wrestling that has the United States on the brink of knocking off Japan for world supremacy. Where do you go after that? Plus, Steiner is an Iowa alum. He AA'ed three times for the Hawkeyes, including a national title in 1993 at 150 lbs.
One of the early pioneers of women's wrestling in the United States and first superstars was Clarissa Chun. Currently. Chun serves as an assistant coach for the Women's National Team. Getting someone like Steiner or Chun not only brings in high-level technical knowledge to the team, but a Rolodex deep with current and former wrestlers that could assist in some capacity. On the mat, Chun was a 2008 world champion and two-time Olympian that brought home bronze in 2012. Of course, with Steiner and Chun, one of the potential hurdles is that it's been decades since either worked closely at the collegiate level.
Women's Collegiate Coaches
Head coach of Life University since 2017-18, Ashley Sword, has built the Running Eagles from a three-year-old program into one that has produced a WCWA individual champion and finished second at the 2021 NAIA National Championships. She also has been a force on the recruiting front, getting top-five recruiting classes this year and in 2019. While the Iowa program will "recruit itself" initially, it helps to have someone adept at recruit in charge. Sword has also worked closely with two-time world team member Victoria Francis and had three of her wrestlers qualify for the 2020 Olympic Trials. There are some ties to Iowa now, too. Francis and former Life All-American Jordan Nelson have signed on to train with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. Additionally, Sword, the Life staff, and some team members were clinicians in Iowa at July's "Wrestle Like a Girl" camp. There's already some level of familiarity with on both sides.
Iowa wrestling loves winners. That's exactly what Sam Schmitz has assembled as the head coach at McKendree University. Each year the Cliff Keen National Collegiate Women's Wrestling Championship has been held, McKendree has walked away as team champions. More accurately, they ran away with the title behind six individual champions. The success of Schmitz's team is not just limited to the collegiate ranks. A stunning seven of his current team members have made an age-group world team at some point in their careers (Alara Boyd, Emma Bruntil, Cameron Guerin, Kayla Marano, Brenda Reyna, Payton Stroud, and Felicity Taylor). Although McKendree is one of the powers on the women's collegiate front, the program itself is relatively young. Its first year was 2013-14 and they did not crown a single national champion until 2019. Schmitz is the only coach the program has ever known, so he'd be a great figure to lead a program like Iowa's that is starting from scratch.
Currently, an assistant coach at her alma mater, King University, Julia Salata, is winding down on a competitive career that has seen her near the top of the domestic ladder at the Senior level for a lengthy time. While at King, Salata has spearheaded the Tornado recruiting efforts and has assembled two consecutive classes that have lapped the competition. Salata also has a position with "Wrestle Like a Girl" and has been a fierce advocate for promoting the sport on various levels. Her past coaching experience at King, coupled with her work off the mat, lead one to believe she'd be able to handle the administrative responsibilities that fall under the "other" less-glamorous parts of college coaching. Lastly, Salata has the fire and attitude that Iowa fans would embrace. Iowa fans are extremely passionate about their wrestling and it's not hard to picture her charging up to the head table to advocate for her wrestlers or team during a dual against Oklahoma State.
Right behind Salata and King University in the 2021 recruiting rankings was Joe Norton's North Central team. Norton actually had more ranked recruits (12 to 7) in his current crop of freshmen and is assembling a powerhouse in Illinois. While Norton has also led the Cardinals men's team since 2014-15, the women's program is still in its infancy. Despite competing for the first time in 2019-20, the women's team has established itself as one to watch going forward. Last season, the Cardinals placed sixth at the national tournament and produced their first national champion in Yelena Makoyed. Makoyed has been a standout for Norton's team finishing as the runner-up to Junior World Champion, Kylie Welker, at the Junior and U23 World Trials this year. At the most recent World Team Trials, Makoyed locked up a spot on the national team, while teammate Amanda Martinez came up just short in fourth.
Current Men's Collegiate Coaches
Oh, how things would come full circle! North Carolina associate head coach Tony Ramos had an excellent career at the University of Iowa, earning All-American honors on three occasions and capping his career with a national title in 2014. After that, he made two world teams while competing for the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. After the 2016 Olympic Trials, Ramos famously left for North Carolina after losing to HWC member Dan Dennis. While in Chapel Hill, Ramos has become an outspoken advocate for women's wrestling and important in the development of former Tar Heel WC's members Haley Augello and Becka Leathers, along with current star Macey Kilty. It seems like a good match and would be an extremely high-profile hire, but the question is, could fences get mended first?
Heading into his second year at Oregon State, Nate Engel has been an integral part of Beaver Dam RTC. While he is known for his strong Greco background, Engel worked closely with Adeline Gray at the California RTC, as he coached at Stanford. Once he moved to Corvallis, Gray has trained there, as well. In addition to Gray, the Beaver Dam RTC boasts female competitors such as Alyssa Lampe, Alex Glaude, Mallory Velte, and Skylar Grote. Engel has the experience coaching DI at the collegiate level (Oregon State/Stanford/Navy), along with training high-level women. Seems like a great fit?
Another name that is no stranger to Hawkeye fans is two-time NCAA champion Mark Perry. Perry led the HWC from 2017-20 and oversaw a program that had five Senior-level women come through its doors. In 2020, when Perry left, the former HWC women relocated to Arizona State to train with him and the Sunkist Kids. Perry is charismatic and has a loyal following, so there's no doubt that some women would make the change and move to Iowa City to train under him. Perry also has plenty of collegiate coaching experience (Penn State, Cal Poly, Illinois, Arizona State), so the typical challenges associated with running a program wouldn't be foreign to him.
Of course, don't count out current Senior-level stars like Helen Maroulis, Adeline Gray, and Tamyra Mensah-Stock if they want to pursue coaching at the collegiate level.