USA Wrestling #WomensWednesday: Th...

#WomensWednesday: The history of WCWA Nationals, and why it has mattered so much

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Jan. 29, 2020, 7:02 p.m. (ET)

The 2019 WCWA National Champions - Menlo College. Photo by Jim Thrall, Matfocus.com.

Next weekend, many top women’s college wrestling teams will come together for the WCWA National Championships in Marietta, Ga., hosted by Life University for the second straight year.

This year, the event has extra significance in the world of women’s wrestling, for a number of reasons.

First, this is a qualifying event for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling at Penn State, April 4-5. The champions in each of the 10 weight classes qualify for the Olympic Trials at whatever Olympic weight class they choose. With the Olympic Trials field smaller in 2020 than in some previous Olympic cycles, these are valuable spots indeed.

Secondly, USA Wrestling has chosen this event for its Special Wrestle-offs for the Pan American Olympic Qualifier in Canada. Three weight classes will be up for grabs, 50 kg, 53 kg and 57 kg. There are Olympic champion Helen Maroulis will be wrestling at 57 kg. 2019 World champion Jacarra Winchester will be at 53 kg. Two-time World silver medalist Alli Ragan (57 kg) and 2018 World silver medalist Sarah Hildebrandt (50 kg) are also in the mix. Eight great wrestlers will compete, trying to earn the right to go qualify their weight class for the 2020 Olympics.

Then there is the competition, which should be at a high level, a chance for college women wrestlers to bring home a national title or All-American honors. The event allows programs from any college affiliation a chance to test themselves.

This year’s WCWA Nationals is at a crossroads in history, caused by the tremendous growth and expanded opportunities in women’s college wrestling.

There have been two historic things happen within the last year. First, because of growth, the NAIA was able to create its first NAIA National Invitational in 2018, held at the University of Jamestown. This event was held after the 2019 WCWA Nationals, and both tournaments were won by Menlo College. This year, the NAIA National Invitationals return to Jamestown.

In June 2019, the Committee on Women’s Athletics (CWA) of the NCAA recommended that women’s wrestling receive Emerging Sport Status at all three NCAA divisions. Just last week, in a historic decision, women’s wrestling achieved Emerging Sport Status in both Div. II and Div. III at the NCAA Convention (Div. I has not yet voted on this, but will later this year).

As part of this process of NCAA development, a new tournament has been created for NCAA-affiliated teams only, the Cliff Keen National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championships (NCWWC), set for Adrian College in Adrian, Mich. on March 6-7. This event will also be held after the WCWA Nationals.

So, this year, not all of the college wrestling teams made the commitment to compete at the WCWAs. At some schools, the athletic administrators wanted their teams to concentrate on their affiliation national tournaments. There may also be some coaches who decided it was not their highest priority, as it was in previous women’s college seasons.

None of that takes away from the importance of the WCWA National Championships, which became the premier event in women’s college wrestling for many, many years, and has developed many of the greatest wrestlers in U.S. women’s freestyle wrestling history. A history lesson on women’s college wrestling is in order.

The first varsity women’s wrestling team was created in the 1993-1994 season at the University of Minnesota-Morris. Some of the pioneer programs which added varsity teams in the early years included Missouri Valley College, the University of the Cumberlands, Menlo College, Pacific University and Neosho County CC. The main part of the schedule for U.S. college programs in the early years was participating in USA Wrestling national and international women’s freestyle events at the Senior level as well as the age-group levels. In addition, they also against Canadian women’s college teams, often in freestyle tournaments north of the border.

The coaches of the early college programs wanted a year-end U.S. women’s college tournament, just with women college wrestlers.

The first official college women’s wrestling national wrestling championships was held in 2004 at Missouri Valley College, organized with support of USA Wrestling. Missouri Valley won the tournament led by four individual champions. The event remained at Missouri Valley College in 2005, then was hosted at the University of the Cumberlands in 2006 and Pacific University in 2007.

In 2008, the coaches within women’s college wrestling came together to form the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association (WCWA). Oklahoma City head coach Archie Randall was a driving force in that effort, but many other coaches played a big role. The group created a set of bylaws, instituted eligibility and recruiting rules, elected leaders and established individual and team rankings.

The WCWA Women’s College Nationals was first held at Oklahoma City University in 2008. Other colleges which have hosted the event are Missouri Valley College, Menlo College (CA), King University (TN), Missouri Baptist and Life University (GA).

When looking at the WCWA Nationals, historians include those first first four tournaments (2004-07). That means that the 2020 WCWA National Championships are the 17th straight women's college national championships.

In addition to providing a high-quality national tournament for women’s college wrestling, the highlight of the college season, the WCWA Nationals played a big role in three key areas: 1) Great teams; 2) Great athlete heroes; 3) Feeder for Olympic and World Teams.

GREAT TEAMS

The history of women’s college wrestling tournaments shows a number of colleges who were able to string multiple team titles in a row. There have only been seven teams to win the WCWA Nationals, and four of them won multiple titles consecutively.

Missouri Valley College was the first big power on the scene, winning the College Nationals for two straight years in 2004 and 2005. Those teams were coached by Carl Murphree, and included some great athletes including two-time national champions Brooke Bogren and Kelly Branham. In those two years, the Vikings won nine individual national titles.

Next up was the three-year run for the University of the Cumberlands, coached by Kip Flanik. The Patriots won titles in 2006, 2007 and the first called the WCWA Nationals in 2008. Those teams were led by Toccara Montgomery, a two-time World medalist and member of the 2004 Olympic Team who won two college national titles. Other top stars during that championship run were three-time champion Alaina Berube, and two-time champions Othella Lucas and Jessica Medina.

The next big run came from Oklahoma City, which was coached by Archie Randall and strung four WCWA titles in a row (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012). Those teams had stars including three-time WCWA championss Michaela Hutchison and Brittany Delgado, two-time World champion, nine-time World medalist and two-time WCWA champion Kristie Davis and two-time champion Joey Miller. That 2012 champion team also featured a freshman lightweight champion in Emily Webster, who went on to become a four-timer.

In 2013, Simon Fraser won its only WCWA team title, after just missing a few times. That team had six individual champions, including Victoria Anthony and Helen Maroulis, who became four-timers, and Danielle Lappage and Justina Distasio, who won three WCWA titles.

The 2014 WCWAs started a four-year run for King University, coached by Jason Moorman. The Tornado won their WCWA titles in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Those King teams featured a three-timer in Haley Augello, and two-time champions Alli Ragan, Sarah Hildebrandt, Julia Salata and Marina Doi. Over those four years, King won 13 individual gold medals.

Since then, with the tournament continuing to grow in size and strength each year, two new teams added first titles, Campbellsville in 2018 and Menlo College in 2019. Campbellsville was led in 2018 by four-time champion Kayla Miracle, as well as international star from Norway, Grace Bullen. Menlo had three champions in 2019, Alleida Martinez, Gracie Figueroa and Solin Piearcy.

Women’s College Team Champions (7)
Oklahoma City, 4 (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012)
King Univ. 4 (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017)
Univ. of the Cumberlands, 3 (2006, 2007, 2008)
Missouri Valley College 2 (2004, 2005)
Simon Fraser, 1 (2013)
Campbellsville, 1 (2018)
Menlo College, 1 (2019)

GREAT ATHLETES

In the history of the women’s college national tournament, there has been numerous heroes. By the numbers, we have seen four four-time champions, nine three-time champions and 18 two-time champions.

The first three-time champion was Menlo College’s impressive Sara Fulp-Allen, who claimed titles in 2004, 2005 and 2007, and would have won four but did not compete in 2006. Two-time champion Toccara Montgomery of the University of Cumberlands was also very prominent, with her Olympic berth and two World medals to her credit.

In 2014, the first two women wrestlers to win four college national titles were Simon Fraser University stars Helen Maroulis and Victoria Anthony. Because the finals were in weight-class order, Anthony gets credit as the first four-time winner, with Maroulis winning her fourth a few matches later. It took 11 national tournaments before there was a four-time champion.

Next to claim four was lightweight Emily Webster of Oklahoma City, who was the 101 champion for four straight years (2012-15) and never lost a college match.

The most recent four-time champion was Kayla Miracle of Campbellsville, who swept her four years from 2015-2018. What made her victories impressive is that she mostly wrestled up in weight from where she wrestled in the USA Wrestling season, in order to allow her team to have the best lineups. She won her titles at 136 pounds all four years, while wrestling much lighter at the national and international levels.

2016 Olympian Haley Augello of King won WCWA national titles in her first three years in college, but did not return for a senior season. Nobody is currently in position to be a four-timer going into this year’s WCWAs.

Four-time individual champions (4)
Helen Maroulis, Missouri Baptist/Simon Fraser (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014)
Victoria Anthony, Simon Fraser (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014)
Emily Webster, Oklahoma City Univ. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)
Kayla Miracle, Campbellsville (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)

Three-time individual champions (9)
Sara Fulp-Allen, Menlo College (2004, 2005, 2007)
Alaina Berube, Univ. of the Cumberlands (2004, 2006, 2007)
Michaela Hutchison, Oklahoma City Univ. (2009, 2010, 2012)
Brittany Delgado, Oklahoma City Univ. (2010, 2011, 2012)
Danielle Lappage, Simon Fraser (2010, 2011, 2013)
Justina Distasio, Simon Fraser (2012, 2013, 2014)
Haley Augello, King Univ. (2014, 2015, 2017)
Mallory Velte, Simon Fraser (2016, 2017, 2018)
Cody Pfau, Oklahoma City/Emmanuel (2015, 2016, 2018)

Two-time individual champions (18)
Brooke Bogren, Missouri Valley College (2004, 2005)
Kelly Branham, Missouri Valley College (2004, 2005)
Toccara Montgomery, Univ. of the Cumberlands (2004, 2006)
Othella Lucas, Univ. of the Cumberlands (2006, 2007)
Jessica Medina, Univ. of the Cumberlands (2006, 2008)
Kelsey Campbell, Arizona State (2007, 2008)
Katherine Fulp-Allen, Menlo College (2009, 2010)
Hillary Greening, Simon Fraser (2009, 2010)
Kristie Davis, Oklahoma City Univ. (2011, 2012)
Joey Miller, Oklahoma City Univ. (2012, 2013)
Alli Ragan, King Univ. (2013, 2014)
Jenna Mclatchy, Simon Fraser, (2013, 2014)
Sarah Hildebrandt, King Univ. (2014, 2015)
Julia Salata, King Univ. (2014, 2015)
Victoria Francis, Lindenwood (2015, 2016)
Tiara Scott, Campbellsville (2015, 2016)
Tamyra Mensah, Wayland Baptist (2014, 2017)
Marina Doi, King Univ. (2016, 2017)
Dominique Parrish, Simon Fraser (2018, 2019)

FEEDER FOR OLYMPIC AND WORLD TEAMS

Women’s freestyle wrestling was added as an official sport for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, and has now been included in four straight Olympic Games. A large majority of the women who have represented the United States in wrestling at the Olympic Games have competed in college wrestling.

2004 – Patricia Miranda (48 kg, Stanford men’s team), Tela O’Donnell (Pacific U. women’s team), Sara McMann (UM-Morris women’s team, Lock Haven men’s team), Tocarra Montgomery (Univ. of the Cumberland’s women’s team)

2008 – Clarissa Chun (48 kg, Missouri Valley College women’s team), Marcie Van Dusen (UM-Morris women’s team), Randi Miller (63 kg, Neosho CC women’s team, MacMurray women’s team, Northern Michigan USOEC team), Ali Bernard (72 kg, Univ. of Regina women’s team, Univ. of Alberta women’s team)

2012 - Clarissa Chun (48 kg, Missouri Valley College women’s team), Kelsey Campbell (Arizona State men’s team), Elena Pirozhkova (63 kg, no college team), Ali Bernard (72 kg, Univ. of Regina women’s team, Univ. of Alberta women’s team)

2016 – Haley Augello (48 kg, King U women’s team), Helen Maroulis (53 kg, Simon Fraser women’s team, Missouri Baptist women’s team), Elena Pirozhkova (63 kg, no college team), Adeline Gray (75 kg, no college team).

Of the 13 women who have competed for Team USA in Olympic wrestling, 11 wrestled on a college team (85%). The other two athletes attended colleges but were not on an organized college team, as they were training full time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. That means 100% of the Olympic women wrestlers attended college.

This trend has also been seen on the Canadian Olympic women’s wrestling team. Most recently, 2016 Canadian Olympian Danielle Lappage wrestled on Simon Fraser’s women’s team. Simon Fraser is an NCAA Div. II institution, and Lappage won three WCWA women’s college titles.

All 15 of the women who competed in the four Olympic Games for Canada attended college (100%), and 14 of them wrestled on a college women’s team (93.3%). NCAA institution Simon Fraser has placed three different women wrestlers on the Canadian team, including 2008 Olympic champion Carol Huynh. (Add in Helen Maroulis of the USA and SFU boasts two Olympic women’s wrestling champions). In both the United States and Canada, college wrestling has been a key pipeline in the development of Olympic women’s freestyle wrestlers.

When you look at U.S. Senior World Teams, that list gets even bigger. A total of 17 different WCWA national champions have made U.S. Senior World Teams, and nine of them have won Senior World medals. Topping the list are Senior World champions Kristie Davis (Oklahoma City), Helen Maroulis (Simon Fraser), Tamyra Mensah-Stock (Wayland Baptist) and Jacarra Winchester (Missouri Valley).

The WCWA Nationals has created a huge impact on women’s wrestling in the USA. Regardless of its future, it will have been the foundation for generations of women’s college wrestling opportunities moving forward.