St. Ambrose University will add men's wrestling and co-ed competitive winter guard to an already expansive menu of varsity athletics, beginning in the 2021-2022 academic year.
The new additions bring to 31 the number of varsity options St. Ambrose offers student-athletes interested in furthering their education while continuing to compete at a high collegiate level.
Men's wrestling is a sanctioned National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) championship sport with a significant history in the two states that send the most students to St. Ambrose. Iowa is a noted hotbed for both high school and college wrestling, with more than 6,300 high school wrestlers competing on an annual basis. Illinois has the nation's second-largest number of boys high school wrestlers.
Winter guard will pair with the growing SAU Athletics Bands program to build on a new phenomenon across the nation. Under the Winter Guard International (WGI) organizing body, winter guard combines color guard, winds, and percussion participants who compete in large-meet formats judged by qualified panelists.
St. Ambrose will be the only winter guard college program in the region and while competing in the WGI's independent division can include on its roster current high school students interested in the competitive opportunity.
"We believe adding wrestling and winter guard to our athletics menu will give many additional prospective students more reason to consider St. Ambrose University," said Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, PhD, president of St. Ambrose. "Currently, varsity student-athletes comprise more than half of our undergraduate student population, and the most rewarding aspect of our growth in the number athletic participants has been the consistent success these student-athletes enjoy in the classroom."
Athletics Director Mike Holmes said the university will look to fill the head wrestling coaching position as quickly as possible so that recruiting for the 2021-2022 season can begin. The first class of wrestling recruits is expected to number about 20. The roster should reach 35 in a matter of three years.
The university has partnered with Beyond the Baseline, a for-profit facility located on the former campus of Marycrest College, to provide wrestling practice space. Home meets will be held in Lee Lohman Arena.
Although the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC), the conference in which most SAU teams compete, does not sanction wrestling, St. Ambrose will become the fifth member school to offer a wrestling program. Holmes noted competition across the state of Iowa also will fill the schedule. St. Ambrose may apply for affiliate membership in the Heart of America Athletic Conference, which includes members from Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa.
The season will begin in November and end when the NAIA National Wrestling Championships take place each March.
The Winter Guard program will hire separate directors for the color guard and percussion units. Directors will report to Athletic Bands Director Megan Cooney. The unit would compete in five to six meets across the region from February through April, with the intent of hosting one of those meets in the Wellness and Recreation Center.
"These programs make sense for St. Ambrose Athletics and they will bring their own unique energy to campus," Holmes said. "Wrestling has a vast footprint in Iowa and college wrestling has a storied history in this state and this region. Winter Guard will give us a niche market in the area, and will allow us to showcase our campus and tremendous facilities to high school students both regionally and nationally."