50 U.S. Women’s Wrestling Milestones To Celebrate 50th Anniversary of Title IX
By Gary Abbott
When Title IX became law on June 23, 1972, wrestling for girls and women was not yet a reality. There was an occasional girl who was permitted to compete on a boys team in the next decade or more in the United States.
Opportunities for girls and women to wrestling began in the late 1980’s, when the international wrestling federation United World Wrestling began hosting competitions. The first World Championships for women recognized by UWW was held in Lorenskog, Norway in 1987, but the USA was not included. USA Wrestling sent its first Women’s World Team to the World Championships in Martigny, Switzerland in 1989, and started its women’s wrestling program. The development of women’s and girls wrestling in the United States began at that point.
Since then, girls and women’s wrestling has consistently grown, and is currently one of the fastest growing sports in the USA and around the world. Although the opportunities and benefits created for female athletes through Title IX did not impact wrestling for girls and women until years after its passage, today’s women wrestlers are the product of the law in many ways. The United States is a leader in women’s wrestling at the international level, with vibrant growth at the youth, high school and college levels as well.
To celebrate Title IX and its impact on women’s wrestling, we list 50 milestones of U.S. women’s wrestling over the years. These milestones are not ranked, but together show the rich history of growth for the sport.
A group of historians and leaders provided input on this list, with the final writing and editing by Gary Abbott. Special thanks to Joan Fulp, Jason Bryant, Kyle Klingman, Andrea Yamamoto and others for their input. Although we know we have not included some amazing achievements and milestones, we will continue to help promote the history of wrestling for women and girls, and work to continue to add to the sport’s legacy.
• Sheila Wager becomes the first U.S. female to referee at the Olympics, working the 1988 Seoul Olympics. She also went on to officiate at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
• Afsoon Roshanzamir wins the first World medal for USA Wrestling, a bronze at 47 kg. The USA wins three medals, with silver medals from Asia de Weese (50 kg) and Leia Kawaii (70 kg). This was the first Women’s World Championships in which Team USA had entered.
• This is the first year in which the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS) tracked high school girls who participate in wrestling and reported 112 girls from 101 teams nationwide. These girls were members of the boys team at their high school. The number of girl wrestlers nationally has increased every year since then for three decades, up through the pandemic when participation numbers were not kept.
• The first official U.S. Senior Women’s World Team Trials event was held in Vallejo, Calif., with the winners qualifying for the World Championships in Tokyo, Japan.
• Tricia Saunders wins the gold medal at 50 kg at the Women’s World Championships in Villeurbanne, France, the first U.S. woman wrestler to claim a Senior World title. Saunders went on to win four Senior World titles, the most among U.S. women for 27 years, until Adeline Gray won her fifth World title in 2019.
• The U.S. Senior Women’s Nationals and World Team Trials was held alongside the Senior Nationals for men in freestyle and Greco-Roman for the first time in Las Vegas, Nev. This was an amazing showcase to expose the U.S. wrestling community to women’s wrestling and the star women athletes in the sport.
• The University of Minnesota-Morris creates the first varsity women’s wrestling team at the college level, competing for the first time during the 1993-94 academic year. The program wrestled on the USA Wrestling circuit as well as against Canadian college programs.
• USA Wrestling hosted its first age-group national championships, the UWW Cadet Nationals for ages (15-17 years old), held in Las Vegas, N.M.
• The United States wins a trophy at the Senior Women’s World Championships for the first time, placing third at the World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. Tricia Saunders wins a gold medal, and Jackie Berube and Kristie Davis add silver medals.
• Kent Bailo founds the U.S. Girls Wrestling Association (USGWA), an organization which ran all-girl high school folkstyle national tournaments, and a series of state or regional events leading up to an annual national championship. For over two decades, the USGWA provided girls an opportunity to compete against other girls in folkstyle.
• Hawaii holds the first official girls state high school wrestling championship. Their first champion ever was Clarissa Chun of Roosevelt High School in Honolulu at 98 pounds, who later became an Olympic medalist and a Senior World champion.
• The United States wins its first age-group World gold medals, with Michal Kelly of Pennsylvania taking gold at 43 kg at the Cadet World Championships and Kristie Davis winning gold at the Junior World Championships at 75 kg.
• USA wins 1999 World Team Title in women’s wrestling, beating international power Japan by one point in Boden, Sweden. All six U.S. wrestlers place in the top six of their weight classes: Tricia Saunders (gold at 46 kg), Sandy Bacher (gold at 68 kg), Kristie Davis (silver at 75 kg), Stephanie Murata (fourth at 51 kg), Lauren Lamb (fifth at 52 kg) and Tina George (sixth at 62 kg). Coaches were USA Wrestling Freestyle Developmental Coach Mike Duroe and Rob Eiter. This was also the first time the USA had two World champions in women’s wrestling during the same year.
• The International Olympic Committee announces women’s wrestling has been added to the Olympic program, to start at the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece.
• USA Wrestling hires Terry Steiner as its first National Women’s Coach, a position he still holds today, making him the only head coach for USA Wrestling’s women’s program to date.
• A girls division was held at the prestigious Junior National Championships in Fargo, N.D. for high school girls for the first time. Minnesota's Rachael Holthaus became the first USA Wrestling Junior Women's Freestyle national champion, winning the title at the tournament's lightest weight, 95 pounds. A girls Cadet division (ages 15-16) was added to the event in 2011.
• This is the first full season in which USA Wrestling has a women’s freestyle resident program at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., where they are coached by USA Wrestling national coaches.
• All seven U.S. women win a medal as USA ties Japan at 2003 World Championships in New York City, to take second place after the tie-breaker was used. Kristie Davis won a gold medal, her second career title, making her only the second U.S. woman with two or more World titles.
• Women’s wrestling is included in the Pan American Games for the first time, in the four Olympic weight classes. The USA sweeps the four gold medals with Patricia Miranda (48 kg), Tina George (55 kg), Sara McMann (62 kg) and Toccara Montgomery (72 kg)
• The United States beats World power Japan in the final dual meet to claim the title at the Women’s World Cup, beating them on their home mats in Tokyo, Japan.
• The first U.S. Olympic team in women’s freestyle wrestling was created in Indianapolis, Ind., with Patricia Miranda (48 kg), Tela O’Donnell (55 kg), Sara McMann (62 kg) and Toccara Montgomery (72 kg) earning their spots on the team. Three of these women wrestled on women’s college teams: McMann (UM-Morris), O’Donnell (Pacific) and Montgomery (Cumberlands). Two wrestled on men’s college teams, Miranda (Stanford) and McMann (transfer to Lock Haven).
• Patricia Miranda wins first Olympic medal for the USA in history, a bronze medal at 48 kg. Sara McMann becomes the first U.S. woman Olympic finalist, winning a silver medal at 62 kg. One of the official coaches of the team was a woman, Tricia Saunders, alongside her husband Townsend, and National Coach Terry Steiner.
• Missouri Valley College hosts the first college women’s wrestling national championships. Led by four champions, Missouri Valley wins the team title, with champions crowned from four different universities.
• The University of the Cumberlands, Missouri Valley and the USOEC program at Northern Michigan compete at the NWCA's National Duals, the first time women were showcased in the event.
• Working with Northern Michigan University and the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Wrestling creates a women’s wrestling program at the U.S. Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University. This becomes a training site for elite age-group girls and women, and although the program no longer exists, many of their athletes are still competing on the Senior level for Team USA.
• Ali Bernard of Minnesota becomes the first to win two Junior World gold medals for the USA, with a 2003 Junior World title at 67 kg and a 2005 Junior World title at 72 kg.
• Tricia Saunders becomes the first woman inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as a Distinguished Member.
• Michaela Hutchison of Skyline High School in Alaska becomes the first girl to win an all-boys state title, capturing the 103-pound title.
• Maryland's Nicole Woody becomes the first four-time USA Wrestling Junior Women's Freestyle National Champion.
• The Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association (WCWA) is officially formed, an organization that oversees women’s college wrestling and hosts the annual national championships. The first WCWA Nationals was held at Oklahoma City University, with the University of the Cumberlands claiming the title.
• USA Wrestling creates the USA Wrestling Girls Folkstyle Nationals in Oklahoma City, Okla., which becomes the largest and most respected age-group folkstyle event for girls on the youth and high school levels.
• A pair of Olympic wrestlers became the first two women to serve as head coach for a women’s college wrestling team. 2004 Olympian Toccara Montgomery was first when she was named head coach at Lindenwood University. 2008 Olympia Marcie Van Dusen was next, when she was named head coach at Menlo College.
• Tricia Saunders becomes the first U.S. woman inducted into the United World Wrestling International Wrestling Hall of Fame.
• Oklahoma City University becomes the first program to win four consecutive women’s college national titles, with their team victory at the WCWA Nationals held at King University. The next program with four straight was King, which ran their streak from 2014-2017.
• Victoria Anthony of Simon Fraser won the 109-pound title at the WCWA Nationals at Missouri Baptist University, becoming the first four-time WCWA champion. Later in the finals, her Simon Fraser teammate Helen Maroulis won the 130-pound title, becoming the second four-time WCWA champion.
• Helen Maroulis becomes the first U.S. American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in women's freestyle wrestling in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, defeating three-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida of Japan in the finals.
• Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C. becomes the first NCAA Division I school to add a women's college wrestling team.
• In Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, the United States wins three women’s freestyle gold medals at the Senior World Championships for the first time from Jacarra Winchester (55 kg), Tamyra Mensah-Stock (68 kg) and Adeline Gray (76 kg).
• The NAIA hosts its first Women’s Wrestling National Invitational, making it the first major multi-sport college organization to host a women’s college nationals. Menlo College, with five champions, wins the team title.
• Tamyra Mensah Stock becomes the first U.S. wrestler of either gender to win three Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix title, one of most prestigious events in the world. Mensah Stock won all three Yarygin titles in a row, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
• The NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics (CWA) recommends women’s wrestling for Emerging Sport Status, the first and most important step towards making women’s wrestling an official NCAA sport. The recommendation was passed on to each of the NCAA Divisions (I, II, III), all of which approved women’s wrestling as an Emerging Sport in 2020.
• The National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championships (NCWWC) is created for NCAA colleges and universities in all three divisions. The inaugural event was held at Adrian College in Michigan, with McKendree University winning the first NCWWC Nationals.
• Joan Fulp becomes the first woman elected to serve as an officer for USA Wrestling when she was elected as Second Vice President of the organization during its 2020 Board of Directors meeting.
• Tamyra Mensah-Stock becomes the first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in women's freestyle wrestling at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, claiming the 68 kg title. This also makes her only the second U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. Helen Maroulis won a bronze medal at 57 kg, becoming the first U.S. woman wrestler to win two Olympic medals. The USA won four women’s wrestling Olympic medals, doubling its previous best result of two medals in 2004.
• Adeline Gray wins her sixth Senior World title, claiming the 76 kg crown, the first U.S. athlete of any style or gender to win the event six times.
• The USA women’s program wins the World Team title in both the Cadet (U17) and Junior (U20) divisions the same year, the first time the USA has won two women’s titles the same year. USA Wrestling’s National Developmental Coach Jessica Medina is a coach for both teams.
• The University of Iowa announced it would add women's varsity wrestling in 2023-24, becoming the first school from a "Power 5" Conference to add the sport. The Hawkeyes tabbed 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Clarissa Chun as the program's first head coach.
• Life University head coach Ashley Sword Flavin becomes the first female to lead a team to either a dual meet or tournament national championship in women’s wrestling as Life beat Campbellsville to win the NAIA Division of the NWCA National Duals in Louisville, Kentucky.
• Tennessee hosts the first high school state dual meet championships event in girls wrestling, which was won by Rossview High School.
• The NAIA fully grants championship status to women's wrestling, starting with the 2023 competition, making it the first college multi-sport organization to do so.