The Muhlenberg Women’s Wrestling Invitational and its participants. How fierce!
The Muhlenberg Women’s Wrestling Invitational and its participants. How fierce!

Why women’s wrestling is on the cusp of its big boom – and how the Lehigh Valley is the perfect place to push it over the edge

Touring D1, D2, and D3 schools with my dad while he was scouting and having meetings with some of the most respected coaches and up-incoming athletes in college wrestling right now was a decent part of my summer. Being that I grew up surrounded by this environment for 15 years, it wasn’t necessarily new.

But walking into the ESU gym and seeing the FloWrestling bracket on the massive screen made me remember the environment of wrestling tournaments all over again. This time, there were two different brackets on either side of the screen. The male bracket and, newly, the women’s bracket. I hadn’t been to (let alone seen) a women’s tournament, but when I watched those mats something was different. When the women were on the mat, the energy that everyone had was more electric than I had ever seen.

Muhlenberg Head Coach Travis Spencer, pictured here with author Boden Spencer (Julie Spencer)

“I knew I wanted change,” said newly appointed Muhlenberg College Women’s Wrestling coach Travis Spencer when asked why he took the job, “And this was a great opportunity of change not just for me, but also to change others”.

In February of 2023 Muhlenberg announced that they would be starting an official wrestling program for women, and just four months later they found “their guy” in Spencer.  This reveal of the program came after their neighboring Cedar Crest college, which started a team in Fall ‘22, became the first school in the Lehigh Valley to start a program of such. There is no doubt that the program at “The Berg” will take quite a bit of time to develop, but the ripple wave it sends out has a quick effect. And if there was any place to start a boom of the sport, almost any wrestler would tell you exactly what Coach Spencer said: “It’s the Lehigh Valley.”

Take Lehigh University wrestling grad, LVWC wrestler, and Division I national champion Darian Cruz for example. “Growing up, there were just a few girls that wrestled in the VEWL (Valley Elementary Youth Wrestling League). The first time I really heard about women’s wrestling was at Fargo. There was a division where these women could compete. Since then it’s quickly become a sanctioned sport in PA.” Cruz said.

Cruz wrestling in the NCAA tournament (Flickr)

And while Muhlenberg and Cedar Crest were the first in the Valley to have these as official sports, Lehigh, which is home to one of the top wrestling programs in the country, started a club team which has unsurprisingly grown just as fast, already having a roster of 12.  Darian told me he wouldn’t be surprised to see those numbers skyrocket soon, saying “I believe it could be a deep sport at the D1 level. With Lehigh looking to grow their women’s wrestling team, they’ve been creating an even bigger buzz in the valley.” The buzz is important, because as many opportunities as possible need to be given in order to get more women to wrestle. Clubs such as Grit Mat Club and LVWC have provided programs and clinics for high school athletes who are open to trying wrestling, teaching them basic and advanced tactics and even bringing in professional wrestlers such as Jordan Kutler, who is an NCAA All American as well as the Women’s Wrestling Head Coach at Easton. Another guest was Skylar Grote, a Fargo champion in 2015 and 2024 Olympic Hopeful.

With all these resources laying down the foundation for women’s wrestling, it’s very clear that the sky’s the limit for this sport to grow exponentially faster than any we’ve seen in a while. Many women in high school and college alike have been waiting for this, and with 41 states sanctioning the sport in the last 20 years, what can happen in the next 20 years is endless.  And the cherry on top? The Lehigh Valley will almost certainly be the big push over the edge that the sport of women’s wrestling needs to grow.

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  • D

    Deb WalshDec 15, 2023 at 8:06 am

    Great article Boden Spencer! I learned a lot about how the women’s side of wrestling started, right here in the Lehigh Valley. Thanks for you’re insight and “Best of luck Travis!”

  • J

    Jeanne GebhardDec 14, 2023 at 5:56 pm

    Wonderful article on Women’s wrestling now in the Lehigh Valley @ Muhlenberg College by Bode Spencer.