West Liberty adds women's wrestling as varsity sport
By West Liberty Sports Information
WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. -- West Liberty University President Dr. Tim Borchers announced today that the university is adding the sport of women's wrestling to its list of intercollegiate athletic offerings. The Hilltoppers expect to begin competition in the 2024-25 season.
"Adding women's wrestling will build on the national reputation of the West Liberty wrestling program," Dr. Borchers said. "With the growing popularity of the sport, this new program will provide additional opportunities for students throughout the region to continue their education."
Officially recognized as an emerging sport by the NCAA during the 2020-21 academic year, women's wrestling is the 19th intercollegiate sport on the WLU roster and the 10th targeted at providing opportunities for female student-athletes.
West Liberty joins the more than 150 colleges and universities – including nearly 100 NCAA institutions – that have started women's wrestling programs. Fueled by an explosion of participation at the high school level, the Hilltoppers expect to have plenty of company in the next few years.
According to FloWrestling, the number of girls participating in high school wrestling nationwide jumped from 35,000 during the 2021-22 academic year to 52,000 this past season. With 40 state high school associations now sanctioning the sport and several others putting it on the sanctioning track, girls' wrestling has become the fastest-growing high school sport in the country.
Closer to home, more than 750 high schools are now sponsoring girls' wrestling in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania alone. West Liberty joins Frostburg State as Mountain East Conference members currently offering the sport. In West Virginia, nearby Bethany College also plans to hit the mats in 2024-25 and Bluefield State will debut this fall.
West Liberty athletic director Lynn Ullom said those numbers combined with the Hilltoppers' storied tradition and decades of success in collegiate wrestling is what led to this decision.
"We wouldn't be doing our due diligence if we weren't constantly strategizing how to aid enrollment goals for the university while providing new pathways to success for the changing marketplace of student-athletes in our region," Ullom said.
Danny Irwin, head coach of WLU's nationally-ranked men's wrestling program, will take on an expanded role as Director of Wrestling at the university. In addition to his duties with the men's program, Irwin looks to recruit a strong base of student-athletes for the inaugural 2024-25 roster while using his connections in the wrestling world to spearhead the search for West Liberty's first women's head wrestling coach.
"I am beyond excited that the university has given us this opportunity to lay the foundation for a women's wrestling program," Irwin said. "I'm looking forward to adding another elite group of people who possess that 'Climb The Hill' mentality.
"I'm also focused on identifying the next addition to our women's coaching staff who has the same passion for wrestling that I do and wants to serve our student-athletes at the highest level. We will create an environment to help our women build for their future academically while having a first-class experience on and off the mat."