|Women's wrestling will be the 27th varsity sport at North Central when it makes its debut.
North Central (Ill.) athletics photo by Steve Woltmann
North Central has announced plans to expand its athletic department to include a 27th varsity sport beginning in the 2019-2020 academic year, as the Cardinals will enter the competitive arena in the sport of women's wrestling.
Collegiate women's wrestling is currently classified as a winter sport, with competition beginning in October and running through February. The Women's Collegiate Wrestling Association governs the sport and has overseen the national championships since 2008. A total of 45 collegiate institutions will field varsity women's wrestling teams in 2018-2019, an increase of 29 percent over the previous year. The National Wrestling Coaches Association has applied to add women's wrestling to the NCAA's Emerging Sports for Women program.
Adrian, Ferrum, MacMurray and Pacific are the other Division III schools which sponsor women's wrestling.
"We're really proud of the fact that, as an institution, we've been able to be a leader in terms of providing competitive opportunities for women," said North Central athletic director Jim Miller. "We've tried to be creative and forward-thinking in how we decide where to expand our department, and seeing the tremendous growth of this sport nationwide at the youth and scholastic levels, it made a lot of sense to move forward with women's wrestling. There's no question we have the capacity to provide a top-caliber competitive experience in this sport and we're excited to get started."
North Central's newest team will conduct its practices on campus in Nichols Gymnasium, which also houses the men's wrestling program. Nichols is a 5,000-square foot dedicated wrestling facility with permanent wall-to-wall mats and cardiovascular and weight training equipment. Gregory Arena will serve as the primary competition venue for home events. Women's wrestling currently features competition in 10 weight classes: 101, 109, 116, 123, 130, 136, 143, 155, 170 and 191 pounds.
Joe Norton, who has coached North Central's men's program since 2014, will serve as the head coach of the women's team as well. Norton was named the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin and NWCA Lower Midwest Region Coach of the Year in February after leading the men's team to a 12-2 record in dual meets and the program's seventh CCIW team championship.
"The popularity of women's wrestling is rising at an encouraging rate across the country," Norton said. "We saw potential for North Central to be a leader in it, and we have a great opportunity to do so as the first CCIW school to add it at the varsity level. I fully expect other Division III schools in the Midwest and elsewhere to follow suit in the coming years.
"I'm grateful for the leadership of Jim Miller, Marty Sauer and President (Troy) Hammond for buying into this vision and for their faith in me to build a program that can compete with the best in the country."
The expansion to 27 sports continues to make North Central's athletic department the largest in the CCIW. The Cardinals have added four other new sports in recent years: men's volleyball (2015-2016), women's triathlon (2016-2017), men's lacrosse (2016-2017) and women's bowling (2017-2018). The women's triathlon team won the first-ever USA Triathlon Division III Collegiate National Championship last November, while the men's volleyball team claimed the Midwest Collegiate Volleyball League (MCVL) regular-season championship this past April.