Lakeland will become a member of the Women's Collegiate Wrestling Association (WCWA), the national governing body for women's college wrestling.
The Muskies will field their first team in the fall of 2018. Head men's wrestling coach Ben Chapman will also coach the women's program, and Jared Schaaf, assistant coach for Lakeland's men's team, will serve as assistant coach.
Women's wrestling has seen steady growth, and today almost 15,000 females wrestle at the high school level, according to the National Collegiate Wrestling Association. Since 2004, women's wrestling has been recognized as an Olympic sport.
The sport's growth is especially evident in Wisconsin. This February, Wisconsin will host its first girls state wrestling tournament, joining a handful of states who hold a state tournament for females. This past year, the Wisconsin Women's National Team took second in the high school junior division at the nation's largest girls wrestling tournament.
"We want to be one of the pioneers with this sport," said Chapman, who expects to have 15 wrestlers on his first-year roster. "With more states offering wrestling at the high school level and the ranks of the WCWA growing, the trends are impressive and we're excited to be the first school in Wisconsin to offer a college program.
"There is a lot of interest from students who want to continue their education and wrestling careers after high school. Most WCWA-member schools have rosters of 30 or more, so this has great growth potential."
Wrestling will be Lakeland's ninth sport for females.
"We are thrilled to offer our female student-athletes another opportunity to compete, while at the same time becoming part of the national growth of wrestling," said Lakeland Director of Athletics April Arvan. "The demand for this sport will help us grow this program quickly."
Lakeland will become the 40th member of the WCWA, which is a collection of NCAA Division 2 and 3 and NAIA schools and junior colleges. The WCWA has filed a petition with the NCAA for emerging sport status.
Mike Moyer, executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association, and NWCA Board of Directors President Tom Ryan, head wrestling coach at The Ohio State University, applauded Lakeland's efforts.
"I want to extend a heartfelt thanks to the Lakeland University administration and men's wrestling coaches for their pioneering efforts to be the first to add an intercollegiate women's wrestling team in Wisconsin," he said.
The season begins on Oct. 1 and the WCWA holds a national tournament the second week of February. Lakeland will not wrestle as part of a conference, as the Muskies will be the only Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference member school to have women's wrestling.
Chapman hopes to schedule seven or eight competitive dates, including some home contests, for the 2018-19 season, which would include open tournaments and Saturdays featuring multiple dual meets.
The heaviest concentration of schools currently offering women's wrestling are in the central part of the U.S., and they include Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky. Women's wrestling is growing rapidly in the Midwest, with schools in Michigan, Iowa and southern Illinois fielding teams.
Lakeland's program will be open to current students as well as prospective students, Chapman said.
"People within the wrestling community know how fast this sport is growing," Chapman said. "And, for those girls wrestling in Wisconsin, now they have a college option close to home to continue their wrestling careers."
Women's college wrestling uses freestyle wrestling, which is an Olympic style of wrestling, as opposed to folkstyle used by men's college programs.
Lakeland University is a four-year, private liberal arts school located in Plymouth, Wis. Founded in 1862, Lakeland has an enrollment of approximately 4,000 students.