Outside on an 80-degree September afternoon, Francesca LoPresti ’25 and Sofia Doroshenko ’25 try to explain the “gable handle”. The “Gable Grip”, known by other names, refers to an overhand / underhand ring grip in which athletes insert their thumbs. According to LoPresti, it is particularly difficult to escape from him. The name comes from the famous wrestler Dan Gable from the 1970s, but is now reminiscent of the University of Minnesota wrestler Gable Stevenson – his namesake – who won a gold medal in the men’s 125kg freestyle in Tokyo this summer.
Stevenson isn’t why we’re talking about grip, however. LoPresti, Doroshenko and Anna Andreasen ’23 are the three founders of the Women’s * Wrestling Club in Macalester, which is currently in its first year. Although it’s a women’s club in name, Andreasen made it clear that it was a queer and trans-welcome space.
“Many sports do a bad job taking gender diversity into account,” said Andreasen. “I want to make this gender inclusive.”
All three people fought in high school. While Andreasen and Doroshenko fought in mixed teams (all genders), LoPresti wrestled in a women’s team at their San Diego high school. However, co-ed teams are common for female wrestlers.
“I was the only girl on my wrestling team; the year before there was such a thing as a girl … but that’s basically it, “said Doroshenko. “There have never been so many girls. I’ve fought with men so it’s really nice to get some variety and wrestle with women. It’s completely different, but I’m getting used to it. “
Only 32 states currently have state sanctioned girls’ wrestling championships for high school students. At least six of these sanctions came in 2021 and another eleven were sanctioned in 2020. The first sanctioned women’s wrestling championship was held in Hawaii in 1998, and Texas sanctioned a championship the next year. However, in 20 states and territories, high school and middle school girls wrestle in mixed teams.
It’s not just high schools where women’s wrestling doesn’t offer the same opportunities as men. College-level women’s wrestling is currently referred to in all divisions (I-III) as “NCAA Emerging Sport for Women”.
There are only three Division I programs that have dedicated wrestling teams for women: Presbyterian College in South Carolina, Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania, and Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. There are some Ivy League schools like Harvard and Columbia that have wrestling clubs for women and others that allow women to wrestle on the men’s team, such as Princeton. By and large, however, there are far fewer opportunities for women to wrestle in the NCAA.
In order for the sport to develop from an “emerging sport” to an official NCAA championship sport, 40 programs are required in one division. That means wrestling would have to add over 80 other programs to have official championships in each division. There are currently 38 programs or planned programs in Division II and III schools, including one at the University of Augsburg in Minneapolis. Ultimately, it is difficult for elite female wrestlers to get scholarships and competition opportunities at academically demanding institutions.
LoPresti and Doroshenko described receiving offers from some programs in Division I schools, but both weren’t interested because they wanted academic rigor. Both described seeing talented men in their schools who could receive scholarships to compete at prestigious institutions. LoPresti saw Macalester as a school where she could do both.
“It feels like everyone just wants the men to stay in college,” said Doroshenko. “But there isn’t really much in women wrestling to keep going.”
“Frankly, there aren’t many academically challenging colleges that have women’s wrestling teams,” added Andreasen. “It’s getting more and more, but it’s still pretty limited – especially when I look at colleges [in the 2018-2019 school year]. “
Andreasen thought she was formally done with wrestling until she met LoPresti and Doroshenko, both of whom wanted to start the club.
With her commitment to academic excellence and the ease of setting up student organizations and club sports teams, LoPresti decided to come to Macalester and start a wrestling club for women.
“I was done wrestling,” said LoPresti. “It’s been four years of my life and I thought, ‘Okay, I’m done with that.’ Then I took some time off and dealt with everyone I could, but also really struggled mentally to find something that would give me the natural high that wrestling brought about. “
Both Doroshenko and LoPresti have been working on starting a wrestling club for women since the beginning of the summer. They found Andreasen and founded the club together this fall. Earlier this week, the athletics department agreed to purchase a wrestling mat and added a huge vote of confidence to their month-long endeavor.
LoPresti also works with a Division I-focused organization, DI Women’s Wrestling, which helps students at Division I schools establish wrestling clubs and begin the process of creating a varsity program. She said they were helpful in understanding the process of starting a new club and working with the Macalester athletics department.
“I was really excited to find other people who wanted to start an association,” said Andreasen. “I definitely wouldn’t have had the confidence to do this on my own, but I really miss wrestling.”
So far they have had great interest, also from men who want to wrestle. According to Doroshenko, there are men who are trying to start a male wrestling club in Macalester, but they “cannot pull themselves together”. You presented yourself at the student organization fair two weeks ago and collected almost 50 registrations. Often around 15 people come for training and training at the Leonard Center, and anyone with any wrestling experience is welcome.
Despite the lack of formal institutional support for women’s wrestling at colleges and high schools, the US ranks second in the world after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, scooping a gold medal and two bronzes. Tamyra Mensah-Stick is the first black woman to win the gold medal in wrestling. She won in the 68 kg category. Mensah-Stock didn’t wrestle in a DI institution; She went to Wayland Baptist University in Texas, where she won the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association championship in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics in 2014 and 2017.
She is the second American to win a gold medal in wrestling. The first, Helen Maroulis, won the gold medal in the 57kg category at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Despite being from the United States, Maroulis attended Simon Fraser University in British Columbia to wrestle at the Division II level. Both women, along with the 2020 50 kg bronze medalist Sarah Hildebrandt, were able to wrestle at college level, but not at Division I level. That’s what the wrestling advocates hope for.
“There are so many men in my school who have been recruited to great colleges because they were great at football or really great at golf,” LoPresti said. “I had the feeling that I was on a similar level in terms of sport and performance. I’ve received offers; two very strange schools that no one has heard of, that do not have much academic emphasis and that I really wanted to give up. “
While access to Division II, III, and club programs is important, the lack of Division I programs is worrying. Division I has the most scholarships available; Without this, some women are unable to wrestle at the highest level – both athletically and academically. Instead, they need to go where they can afford it, which often means leaving behind athletic dreams.
With this new wrestling club, wrestlers who want to continue their sporting career – be it for an Olympic medal or learn a new sport – are now offering this opportunity in Macalester. This move creates more space for women who want to wrestle and seek the kind of academic challenge that a school like Macalester advertises. Both Harvard and Colombia have women’s club teams, but many other small humanities do not. Carleton, St. Olaf, and Grinnell, for example, do not currently offer wrestling programs for women.
Ultimately the three founders wants people to join and form a supportive, inclusive, and strong community – regardless of their previous wrestling experience.
“[Wrestling] was just one of the most important things to me during high school as everyone finds out their insecurities, ”LoPresti said. “High school is terrible, but you have such a girl family and we are so connected. I love them to death and they still write to me out of the blue just to check on me. “
* This club is gender fair – trans and non-binary wrestlers are welcome.