ROCK ISLAND – Women’s wrestling will hit the mats at Augustana College beginning with the 2021-22 school year!

The addition pushes to 26 the number of intercollegiate varsity sports offered by Augustana, with 13 women’s sports and 13 men’s sports, according to a statement released by director of athletics Mike Zapolski. .

“Wrestling is becoming an increasingly popular sport for girls nationwide, and our goal is that Augustana will become the small college destination for young women who want to excel at a high level academically and continue to compete,” said Zapolski on the Augustana website. “We are perfectly situated geographically to attract quality women’s wrestlers from Illinois, neighboring Midwest states plus other locations such as California and Texas.”

Since Zapolski became the director of athletics in June of 2008, the Vikings have added seven new sports. Women’s lacrosse and men’s lacrosse were announced in 2010 and added in 2012 while men’s volleyball and women’s bowling started competition in 2018. Women’s water polo and men’s water polo will begin play in 2021-22.

Tony Willaert, third-year coach of the men’s wrestling team, will start the women’s program.

“Augustana has been discussing the idea of adding women’s wrestling for some time, and, institutionally, we believe the program will attract new students to the College,” said Zapolski on the Augie site. “Coach Willaert has done a solid job rebuilding our men’s wrestling program the last three years, and is eager to be engaged with the launch of a women’s team. Similar to our other recent programmatic additions, Tony will have the next 15 months to recruit in advance of our first competitive season in 2021-22.”

“I’m really excited to get to work recruiting for our new women’s program. Our local area has seen a lot of growth with girls wrestling so this will give us a great base for our recruiting efforts,” said Willaert, whose first two Viking teams finished 30th and 20th in the NCAA Division III National Championships, respectively. “I know we can develop a solid base over the next couple years and compete on the national level right away.”

Women’s wrestling will compete in the winter with the same time-frame as the men. Official practice will begin on October 10 each year with the competitive season going from November through March. Similar to the men’s program, the women will have a total of 10 weight classes: 101, 109, 116, 123, 130, 136, 143, 155, 170 and 191.

“The National Wrestling Coaches Association would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to the Augustana College administration for its extraordinary leadership in establishing our 37th new NCAA affiliated women’s wrestling program in the nation,” said Mike Moyer, Executive Director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association, in the Augie statement. “Intercollegiate wrestling has a very high percentage of first generation college bound students so this new program will provide an opportunity for countless young aspiring female student-wrestlers to obtain a college degree who otherwise might not otherwise attend college.”

“Wrestling is a great teacher of life skills.  Augustana has always been an institution that has given young adults a great opportunity to succeed in life well beyond their college years,” said Terry Steiner, head coach of the United States women’s national team, on the Augustana website.  “Augustana adding a women’s wrestling program is only going to enhance the overall college experience.  It will give those student-athletes first-hand knowledge of overcoming obstacles, dealing with adversity, and finding a way to succeed. Women’s wrestling is growing at unprecedented rates across the United States.  We are excited to welcome Augustana to the wrestling family.”

The men’s wrestling program at Augustana has been a traditional power in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin and the Vikings have won 37 league titles.

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Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.