Courtesy of Cornell University

The Cornell Women’s Wrestling Club practices at Friedman Wrestling Center.

February 21, 2023

Cornell Women’s Wrestling Club Hits the Mat

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Though Cornell fields dozens of Division 1 varsity sports teams, including a successful men’s wrestling team, it does not offer a women’s team for the sport. In fact, only four colleges and universities in the United States offer women’s wrestling at the Division 1 level. However, the recently formed Cornell Women’s Wrestling Club is set to change that. 

Headed by President Destiny Garcia ’25 and Vice President Kate Zavuholnik ’26, the club, which started in the fall semester, consists of fifteen members. Though Cornell offered no women-only wrestling team before the club’s founding last year, the team has received strong support so far, including a $10,000 donation from wrestling alumni Alex Steinbergh ’62 and coaching from former Team USA wrestler Jon Jay Chavez ’19. The club aims to introduce more women to wrestling and to ultimately promote women’s wrestling to a full university-sponsored varsity sport. 

“There are so many girls that just didn’t have the best experience or the best coaches in high school, so they didn’t really get the chance to even consider collegiate wrestling,” Garcia said. “That’s what this club is based off of, giving girls a chance to wrestle in college and grow the sport.”

Garcia, who wrestled in high school, stepped away from the sport in college when she decided to attend Cornell, which didn’t offer women’s wrestling. During her freshman year she casually participated in the co-ed wrestling club, with only a few women participants.

Garcia was then approached by Lori Ayres, a chair of the nationwide D1 women’s wrestling committee, to participate in an Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association exhibition match in March 2022. Though initially hesitant, Garcia agreed to compete and said she fell back in love with the sport, later agreeing to form a women’s club when Zavuholnik reached out to her via Instagram. 

“I never thought I could have the opportunity to wrestle at the collegiate level,” Zavuholnik said. “Halfway through my high school career, I fell in love with the sport. Wrestling, there’s just something so different about it, to really be able to push me to my limits. No other sport has given me that same experience.”

According to Zavuholnik, after ripping her shoulder in high school, undergoing surgery and deciding to quit wrestling, she was miserable. She was inspired to reach out to Garcia to continue wrestling at Cornell after being accepted to the university.

In order to drum up interest in the club and gain new members, Garcia and Zavuholnik have been advertising on social media and in campus gyms, encouraging potential new members to attend one of the five practices held each week in the Friedman Wrestling Center. 

“You just go up to random people and are like ‘hey, do you want to learn to throw someone?’ Once they come in [to a practice], we just show them the basics and they usually get interested pretty quickly and want to try it out,” Garcia said. 

The team plans to travel to compete in tournaments in the future, including the U.S. Open in Las Vegas in April, according to Garcia. Zavuholnik will also participate in an EIWA exhibition match to promote visibility for women’s wrestling.

For members new to wrestling, like Mikel Alvis ’26, the team has also offered the chance to get familiar with the sport in a safe environment. Alvis, who decided to join the team after seeing a flyer that had been posted in the Appel Commons, described the club as welcoming, with the leadership being highly willing to share their knowledge. 

“I really love it so far,” Alvis said. “It doesn’t feel like a high-pressure [and] toxic environment. It’s just very much a safe space, but also as difficult as you want it to be, which I really enjoy.”

According to Alvis, she enjoys the woman-led environment in the club. Though she was a competitive rower in high school, which she said has a more established community of women, she likes the push for more equal representation in wrestling. 

“It’s really cool to be learning from people who are so young and just really trying to move women up in a sport,” Alvis said.

Though wrestling is a male-dominated sport, Zavuholnik commented that the women’s club is a step in the right direction, bridging the divide and boosting confidence beyond the sport.

“Cultivating an environment of empowering women in wrestling has helped me a lot to keep my head a bit higher and take on challenges from the mindset of a wrestler. I think it would be really cool if other women could feel that way too,” Zavuholnik said.