Chadron State Sees Women’s Wrestling as the Next Big Sport,
The banter between them combines a little trash talk with encouragement as they switch out practicing defense and attacks.
Sweat-soaked, panting and grinning, they finish the drills.
Lindstrom declares it a “good practice. I feel like we got a lot done.” Smith smiles and says, “I love feeling this sweaty, honestly. It feels like I accomplished something!”
The four other team members from Nebraska, Arizona, Nevada, and South Dakota, were recruited on short notice over the summer. Coach Alijah Jeffery found their skill level and attitude good additions to a start-up program.
“Give it a year or two, and I think Chadron State will really be known for women’s wrestling,” Jeffery said.
He caught the attention of Chadron State after he helped lead Indian Hills Community College in Iowa to a national championship the same year the school introduced its women’s wrestling program.
Passionate about the sport, Jeffery said, “I love women’s wrestling. I love seeing the growth and women’s wrestling, and I think that passion is going to help this program succeed.”
The athletic department liked having a coach who could build a program from scratch, and Jeffery liked the prospect of creating another winning program. He knows it’s a challenge.
“We don’t have a foundation of women that have already been to school here and been (in) the program a year or two,” he said. “So, everyone is learning, and we’re doing the best that we can.”
Chadron State considered options other than wrestling to add to its women’s sports line-up. (The college also features women’s basketball, volleyball, softball, golf, cross-country, track and field, and rodeo.)
Options considered by the school as new additions included swimming, lacrosse, triathlon, and soccer.
While a popular and potentially crowd-pleasing team sport, soccer would require substantial investments in a soccer field and facilities. The others had their pros and cons.
Athletic director Smith kept returning to the hard data showing an unmistakable surge in women wanting to wrestle at the prep and collegiate levels.
It helped wrestling has deep roots at Chadron State, going back 50 years.
Smith said, “it started to make some sense that maybe that was a really easy thing to do since we already have men’s wrestling.” It would not be a hard sell for the school’s leadership since “we had the infrastructure for it, all locker room spaces, places for them to work out that kind of thing.
Adding a sister program, he believed, would be “a pretty easy transition.”
Nor were there objections from the men’s program, which according to Smith, saw the profile and publicity of adding women wrestlers would only solidify the college’s reputation as a wrestling heavyweight in the region.
Chadron State College competes in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Colorado Mesa boasted the first women’s team in the group.
There are times when schools use the lack of competition as an excuse not to provide additional athletic opportunities for women. Chadron State turned that argument on its head.
“I like being in that position where we’re something new and unique,” Smith said. “But believe me, we had long conversations with a lot of our conference schools, which I think eventually will add it, and I think it’ll eventually be a conference sport.”
The college sees being an early adopter of a new sport as having the advantage of being a good business decision. It will potentially lure a few dozen new students to a school they might not have otherwise had on their radar.
“This sport gave us the greatest opportunity to have the largest amount of kids for the resources that we had available,” Smith said.
For an up-to-date map of women’s wrestling programs, CLICK HERE.
Before deciding to add the women’s program, Smith said there were “numbers and indicators and analysis” they reviewed and asked, “How many kids can we get to come to school? That’s our biggest thing.”
He says it goes beyond the 30 women they hope to attract within five years, but he says there’s the assumption that “when athletes come to an institution, they bring along a couple of kids with them so that we can see the growth from that standpoint.”
Smith believes the fast growth of girls’ wrestling in Nebraska high schools means “we don’t have to go very far to recruit kids.”
There are individual goals, team goals, and the goals set by college administrators, but for the coach and his wrestlers, there’s a sense that for this sport, at this time, more than trophies could be at stake.
Jeffery says that “from the very first team meeting, I let them know that this is more than just going out for a college athletics program.”