Sharing the Mat: How CMU's "Trailblazing" Led To A Women's Wrestling Team

Tell your friends: Colorado Mesa is on the hunt for some talented collegiate wrestlers. 

Last week, the college officially added women's wrestling as the school's 28th sport. The future squad will compete in the winter, and will share facilities and training equipment with the men's team. 

The Mavericks men's wrestling team, at one time eliminated to free up funding for Title IX athletics, will now have a sibling sport sharing their gym. According to men's assistant wrestling coach Larry Wilbanks, the men had a hand in adding another dimension to Maverick athletics.

"The idea started when I was doing coaching clinics in Utah," Wilbanks said. "When I headed back here I started talking to coach Pipher about it, and we agreed we would bring it up to the administration in the spring. Then President Foster got a letter about it, and was interested in starting a women's wrestling camp. It kind of snowballed from there."

Members of the university administration were eager to jump on the opportunity to expand.

"We saw this as a great opportunity to add a sport and diversity our offering at CMU," co-Athletic Director Kris Mort said. "Our hope is that some other schools will see our program as a trendsetter, and some other universities in the RMAC might consider adding [as well]."

Women's wrestling is already on the rise nationwide. The Colorado High School Athletic Association (CHSAA) is beginning a two-year pilot program this winter. The success and interest in the sport during those years will ultimately decide if it is picked up state-wide.

"In Washington, Texas, and California there's about 10,000 girls that wrestle," Wilbanks said. "That's a number that was shocking at me, and I'm involved in the sport. Seeing how much it's grown, it made sense to get on board with it here."

Although it seems the hotspots for wrestling may be outside the range of the Western Slope, Mort believes the campus will serve as a midpoint for the national out-of-state talent looking for a cheap education to their competitors.

"If you put a star on Grand Junction, we sit right in the center of the collegiate programs," Mort replied. "University of Oklahoma, Kansas, Simon Fraser, Oregon, California...I think we're on the cutting edge of this. I think you give it two years. We'll be considered trailblazers. "

Mort also says the men's coaches have already started recruiting for the women, and a survey up on their website for less than a week has piqued interest. 

"Since we've announced it, I've gotten more questionnaires about females than males." Wilbanks was surprised to find. 

The search for a new coach is still ongoing. Mort expects about 50 to 60 candidates to apply before they start sorting through the applicants. But regardless of who they choose, she still expects a high level of competition. 

"I think the expectations at CMU are never low. We have a success rate, and I think there's an expectation that we're second to none." 

For those already engrained in the rise of wrestling on a national stage, it's an exciting development at CMU, beating the path for the university that's accepting change and diversity through its doors. 

"For the wrestling team, it's awesome," says Wilbanks. "It shows we're not just a bunch of guys out here wrestling. We care about the growth of the sport. Bringing in different viewpoints, fans, changing the mindset that wrestling's not just for guys anymore. It's for everybody."

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