UGF Vice President for Athletics David Gantt
This fall, the University of Great Falls will feature the first intercollegiate women's wrestling program in the state of Montana, the school announced Tuesday evening.
The women's program will take to the mats during the 2017-18 school year, joining an existing men's program which competes in the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics).
Caleb Schaeffer, who has been UGF's head men's wrestling coach for 13 years, will continue to head up the men's team while overseeing both programs as director of wrestling. The university will then hire a head women's wrestling coach to work with Schaeffer, "allowing the new program to take advantage of Schaeffer's wealth of knowledge and connections in the wrestling world while still allowing him to focus on the men's program," according to the school's press statement.
"This community has become a wrestling powerhouse at both the high school and collegiate level, and we're proud to add women's wrestling to that lineage," UGF Vice President for Athletics David Gantt said. "This school and this department have an eye for significant growth over the coming years and this is a strong start."
"Over the past five months, the university, and specifically Dave Gantt, have been looking into the best ways that athletics can grow and help the school bring in more new students," University President Dr. Anthony Aretz said. "Women's wrestling is the right beginning to that effort. It is a team that we can add immediately and effectively, and will put us in a position to succeed in a sport with rapidly increasing popularity."
The school cited the rapid growth of women's wrestling in the U.S. as a prime reason for adding the program, stating there are currently 44 colleges nationwide that feature the sport, with the NAIA leading all associations with 18 programs. UGF added that there are over 7,000 young women wrestling at the high school level, according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association.
UGF also emphasized how a women's program will complement the existing men's program. Argo wrestling's 11 dual-meet opponents on the 2016-17 schedule, six already have women's wrestling programs, with a number of those being regional opponents. The men's and women's teams will be able to travel together for most contests, bringing to a minimum the effort and cost of scheduling opponents and making travel arrangements.
Furthermore, the university recently signed a 5-year lease for an off-campus building as a new wrestling facility will also provide ample practice space for both a men's and women's wrestling team.
The new women's program will join these existing women's sports: basketball, cheer and dance, cross country and track, golf, rodeo, soccer, softball, and volley. In addition to the existing wrestling program, men's sports at UGF include basketball, cross country and track, golf, lacrosse, rodeo, and soccer.
The University of Great Falls is a private Roman Catholic university located in Great Falls, Montana. It has an enrollment of approximately 1,100 students. The school's sports teams, the Argos, compete in NAIA Division I.
Jan. 16 update: Less than a week after announcing the establishment of a women's wrestling program at University of Great Falls, Abigail "Abi" Gontarek signed with the school on Monday, Jan. 16. A 2014 graduate of Laurel High School, Gontarek made history by becoming the first female high school wrestler to place in the state of Montana. Wanting to continue her mat career in Montana, she has been attending the University of Montana with the hope that an in-state school would add women's wrestling before she graduated. Her hope was realized when UGF made its announcement last week.