An emerging sport - PC has nation's 1st D1 program
Women’s Wrestling - It Will Defy Expectations
What you won’t see at a PC women’s wrestling match – a ring with turnbuckles, where women in flashy costumes fly off to tackle each other – and no trash talking.
You won’t see, long times when one wrestler is “down” struggling to break the grip of another, and an “up” wrestler trying for a roll-over, like what you see in men’s collegiate wrestling.
What you WILL see at the first - and only - NCAA Division I women’s wrestling program in the nation, at Presbyterian College, is fast-paced action. Wrestlers might stay in the “down” position 20 seconds – then the referee puts the wrestlers on par with each other. And, they go at it.
PC Wrestling Director Mark Cody and Women’s Wrestling Coach Dany DeAnda say while it doesn’t have the theatrics of professional wrestling, it also doesn’t have the emphasis on brute strength of men’s wrestling.
It is a sport of quickness, agility and smarts – in fact, Dany even as a young mother can mix it up with the late teens and early 20s wrestler she recruits. She shows them a thing or two.
“I’ve got that old woman funk,” smiles DeAnda, whose husband Tony is the PC men’s wrestling coach.
Women’s wrestling is so unique and, frankly, fun for spectators that it’s one of the fastest growing sports in the collegiate world. PC is the only DI program right now – but, the NCAA just announced it will consider women’s wrestling “an emerging sport,” incentivizing much larger schools to plan to add the sport. Men’s wrestling is one of the NCAA’s most popular sports – it’s National Championship has grown out of a gym, and now is staged in a stadium.
For now, PC will seek opponents in the NCAA Division II and NAIA levels, while the emerging Blue Hose men’s wrestling program will focus on DI and earning a spot in the national tournament.
For women’s wrestling, the first meet could be the second week of October. The wrestlers have come in and started pre-season conditioning. The sport compared to men’s wrestling, DeAnda said, is “pretty similar – the only difference is, we wrestle freestyle so there will be more throws, more action on the bottom. It’s a lot like judo, improving position. In 15-20 seconds, you’re back on your feet. In men’s wrestling it can be the whole 2 minutes, unless there’s an escape. In women’s wrestling, it’s 15 seconds unless you turn them.”
Cody said men’s wrestling’s popularity is in the East Coast and Mid-East – “for Ohio State and Penn State, and a lot of schools, that’s their number one winter spectator sport. This year, the (men’s) national tournament has sold 45,000 tickets, they’re going to hold it in Vikings Stadium. We just got that statistic last week at the national conference from a representative from the NCAA.”
“We have athletes from all over the place,” women’s coach DeAnda said. “Washington, California, Texas, Hawaii - it’s been sanctioned for just the last few years. We want to recruit locally and the numbers are coming up. We would love to have a wrestler from South Carolina, but we recruit all over. The D1 athletic experience and the small school academic experience, women want that.
“There were four colleges when I came out of high school. Now, we have 60 - in 16 years, it’s grown that much.”
“Every month, I’ve seen at least one program added,” Cody said.
In January, when the sport gets emerging status, that’s when you will see all the NCAA schools add it, DeAnda said. “That’s what they’re waiting for.”
Cody admits for Presbyterian College, right now it provides a unique sales pitch. If the Blue Hose are recruiting a major-name male wrestler, Cody can pitch, “Your sister can wrestle here, too.”
“We’ll see if it works,” he grinned.
Dany said even without a mat, women wrestlers can practice - agility training, running distance, sports specific wrestling skills, “you don’t need a mat all the time – on the field before we get on the mat, they get their wind.” Wrestlers came in Aug. 28 and started working out a couple days after that, the coaches want to “ground them academically,” Cody said. “The guys start a little later because our season starts a little later. It’s the longest running season, almost 6 months. We’re trying to get it down to one semester because there are more 1st generation college students in wrestling than in any other sport. You want them used to academic rigor and managing their time – that takes the whole first semester. For men, it’s always been number one in 1st generation college students. It’s a blue-collar sport, it takes almost no equipment – shoes, $30; singlet, $50; and you wrestle. There are a lot of clubs because of the low equipment costs.”
PC has recruited two SC wrestlers of the year in their respective classes on the men’s side, Cody said. “Mostly, they’ve been looking at DII schools, so here (Presbyterian) along with The Citadel we can give them more options. When they’re used to going to certain schools, we want to get them to take a look at us. There are several good high school programs in the state, within a 40-mile radius (of Clinton). A lot of it is football players who want to stay in shape. You roll them in from football and takes them a while. But they have the basic toughness.
“So much goes into this sport – the agility of a gymnast, the strength of a weightlifter, the wind of a cross-country runner, and the cunning of a chess player. That’s what makes the sport so tough. You’d better love it.
“It’s a lifestyle – it’s your lifestyle against their lifestyle. We push the academics and lifestyle choices.”
Dany DeAnda said she started wrestling at age 8, and continued in high school and all through college. “I was a tomboy. My best friend, her family was a big wrestling family, I went to practices. I lived in Hawaii and wrestled boys before high school, and girls in high school.”
“And she’s got a daughter that’s just like her,” Cody said.
Dual wrestling meets can be held in auditoriums, Cody said, but for the most part, PC wrestling right now will be in Templeton Arena. “The first DI women’s dual meet here will be a big deal,” Cody said. “They’ve recruited really well; that will make it exciting right out of the gate.
“Wrestling is underserved in the south at the college level, it’s at the DII and NAIA levels. We are hoping to promote it here at the DI level, us and the National Wrestling Coaches. It’s in the infant stages, but it has a lot of potential.
“This is the most big-time administration I’ve been a part of. Their support has been incredible,” Cody said.
“With the guys, they’re are so evenly matched. I went to my first women’s event in Oklahoma City – it was a tournament, early in the morning, something you wouldn’t always advertise, but it was a dual tournament environment – they were hitting those high-flying moves, and I was like, ‘This, is really something.’ With her husband, Tony, and Dany we have the best situations in the country coaching-wise.”
Dany DeAnda said 6 of the 10 PC women’s wrestlers are Trisha Sanders Award winners in their respective states. PC women’s wrestling will have national champions at the cadet level, DeAnda said.
“I’d be shocked if this is not the #1 recruiting class in the country,” for women’s wrestling, Cody said.
Their competition will be Limestone College, Life, Emmanuel, King in Tennessee, and programs in Georgia, Arkansas and Kentucky. “In wrestling the coaches get in there and scrap, too. I won’t shoot under a 191 pounder, but I can give them a different look. I’ve been wrestling a long time. I’ve traveled the world. I can give them a different look.”
Cody said, “In sports, you’re always testing yourself, trying to get better. If I want to get better (as a Presbyterian College, NCAA Division I women’s wrestler) I’m going to grab Dany.”