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Clarissa Chun eager to begin role with Iowa women’s wrestling program
2-time Olympian and bronze medalist is first to lead NCAA Division I Power-5 women’s wrestling program
A little more than a month has passed since Clarissa Chun was announced as the first head coach for University of Iowa’s women’s wrestling program.
The two-time Olympian and bronze medalist spent the opening weekend whisked from event to event, being introduced to Hawkeye fans. Chun was introduced on a Thursday. She met media and attended a banquet before taking center stage at Carver-Hawkeye Arena at intermission of Iowa’s dual against Princeton the next day. On Saturday, Chun was presented to the Kinnick Stadium crowd during the Hawkeyes football game against Illinois.
Chun is removed from the whirlwind of warm welcomes and now identifying her next moves, transitioning from U.S. Women’s National Team coach to the first leader of an NCAA Division I Power-5 conference women’s team.
“I’m really excited for it,” Chun said in a phone interview with The Gazette. “There are times where it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, what did I get myself into?’
“There is so much I need to learn and so much I feel it’s learn as I go. For me, my start date was February 7, but obviously, it’s starting before then in the sense of thinking of assistant coaches, who I’m recruiting and then how I can get those recruits to visit. Just get my ducks in a row a little bit and get a feel of how to do this.”
Iowa’s first women’s wrestling season is set for 2023-24. Athletes are expected to arrive on campus and can compete unattached during the 2022-23 season. Chun’s mind is already abuzz with what needs to be done in the coming months.
“I would lose some sleep, wake up in the middle of the night and just random thoughts would come into my head,” Chun said. “I’m like I need to make some calls. I need to make some decision. Then, there are times when I’m like I need to compartmentalize. Take one thing at a time.”
Chun has maintained her commitment to USA Wrestling the last month. She has been busy, traveling internationally. Chun conducted educator courses to help develop women’s wrestling in Saudi Arabia as a United World Wrestling volunteer. She went to Ukraine for training with various age groups of the U.S. national teams.
“It’s the end of the year and Saudi Arabia is done (and) Ukraine is done,” Chun said. “Technically, I had another month with USA Wrestling, but I might try to push up my start date with Iowa, so that I can start that because there are a lot of seniors that are reaching out.”
High school athletes have expressed interest in wrestling for the Hawkeyes. She doesn’t want to lose those prospects and wants to provide them a favorable process. Chun said she wants to arrive in early January instead of later in the month.
“For them, they are graduating soon in May and if they don’t get a visit or get to see Iowa. The school and everything speaks for itself but they want to get on campus. They want the full experience to be recruited.
“I’m thinking now to try and move up that start date so I can get those top recruits a chance to not get that opportunity.”
Chun knows the high-profile program will attract a lot of wrestlers. She said she wants to pick Iowa men’s wrestling coach Tom Brands’ brain on identifying the right recruits for the program. Chun has reached out to him occasionally, but doesn’t want to occupy much of his time in season.
“I’m sure he gets a lot of people wanting to wrestle at Iowa just because of the success of the program,” Chun said. “I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. We have one of the top coaches in the country, in the world. I can’t wait to get on campus myself.”
Female wrestling has continued to explode in Iowa. More high school and college programs have emerged after Iowa’s announcement of its program and the commitment with one of the country’s most accomplished women’s competitors. Cornell and Wartburg colleges have created women’s programs. Before the tournament cancellation, the Midlands Championships had added a women’s bracket to the annual event.
Iowa high schools have seen more growth. Many have created girls’ wrestling teams, including Iowa City West, Iowa City High, Linn-Mar and Cedar Rapids Kennedy. West has a contracted coach just for its girls’ wrestlers and held duals with City High and Kennedy. The Battle of Waterloo also had eight girls’ teams compete in two brackets, including Independence, Waverly-Shell Rock, Bettendorf, Osage, Crestwood and North Scott.
Chun said girls will migrate to the sport with the added opportunities and there is no better sport to produce character in people.
“I love the blowup of it,” Chun said. “You’re going to get a bigger, deeper pool of competitive athletes coming out of it. That is what will make USA, as a whole, better. It’s exciting to see it in Iowa. The state has been synonymous with men’s wrestling for the longest time. Now, with the women, it’s just going to be wrestling in Iowa. I love seeing that exponential growth.”