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IOWA CITY — A month after four members of the University of Iowa women’s swimming and diving team sued the campus over federal gender equity violations and demanded it reinstate the sport the UI intended to eliminate, Abbie Lyman and Miranda Vermeer joined the suit — asking the Hawkeyes to add women’s wrestling and rugby teams, too.
Thursday, UI Athletics announced plans to become the first Power Five conference school to add women’s wrestling.
“It came a lot faster than I thought it would,” UI sophomore Lyman, 20, told The Gazette on Friday. “It’s exciting to see Iowa doing it first — that’s a big thing.”
UI Athletics Director Gary Barta, in making the announcement, cited the Title IX gender equity lawsuit and its resulting settlement talks as compelling his department to make the move now — noting it had long considered women’s wrestling but paused discussions when the pandemic hit and devastated the budget.
Lyman, who was a freshman when she put her name behind the wrestling-specific demand in the lawsuit, said she’s glad to have played some role in the historic decision.
“It’s kind of a lot, thinking about it,” she said. “It’s really, really cool.”
Before taking the leap to join the lawsuit, Lyman said she considered the high-profile nature of the case and the ramifications of putting herself out there publicly.
“It was kind of a difficult choice — being that it was kind of in the limelight,” she said. “But I don’t regret doing it.”
Lyman said she learned only hours before the announcement Thursday morning — at about 6 p.m. Wednesday — that the UI was taking the leap as the first of its stature to add women’s wrestling. And she was, to some degree, speechless.
“I don’t even know the word to use,” she said. “It was obviously exciting.”
Her other thought was a hopeful one: “Monkey see, monkey do,” she said. “Iowa’s doing it, and now other big wrestling schools like Penn State, they’re going to look at us and be like, well, they’re doing it. We need to get started.”
Lyman — although growing up around wresting — didn’t start competing in the sport herself until she was a senior in high school, placing fourth in the girls’ state tournament. In the lawsuit, Lyman called it “unusual and disappointing” that the Hawkeyes didn’t already have a women’s team.
“She knows of growing, strong support for female wrestling in high schools across the state and believes that increasing numbers of female students who come to the UI to study share this interest,” according to the lawsuit.
By the time the Hawkeyes recruit a women’s wrestling team, hire a coach and have the opportunity to start competing, Lyman likely will have graduated.
“It’s a little sad,” she said. “But I’m really glad that I could be part of this happening.”
The lawsuit months ago also compelled UI Athletics to reinstate women’s swimming and diving — although some members already had committed to other campuses and teams given the degree of uncertainty at Iowa.
Sage Ohlensehlen, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit and former captain of the UI swimming and diving team before graduating, said about the women’s wrestling announcement she’s “pleased with the outcome of this litigation and what it means for women athletes at the University of Iowa.”
“We believe that the impact of this resolution will be felt by women athletes at other universities and will lead to an expansion of varsity female athletic opportunities beyond the UI,” said Ohlensehlen, now a law student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Plaintiff Alexa Puccini was a UI freshman at the time of the announced cut — having been recruited from Naperville, Ill., as a 16-time state qualifier, nine-time state medalist, All American in nine events, and female athlete of the year for her high school. Although the UI reinstated its team, Puccini left and is swimming for the University of Arizona.
Other plaintiffs like Ohlensehlen had graduated — including Miranda Vermeer, who joined Lyman in adding her name to the lawsuit, although Vermeer was pushing for the university to sponsor a woman’s rugby team. Without a team, the UI hosts only a women’s rugby club, which has minimal support.
The UI women’s rugby club earlier this year received its first invitation to the prestigious National Collegiate Rugby Championship, which this year was held near New Orleans. Without much financial support from the university, the team initiated an internet fundraising campaign.
“As a non-varsity level club, the rugby team is responsible for raising the funds it needs to operate and travel to play our great sport,” according to the team’s campaign, which raised more than its $4,000 goal. “There are no scholarships to play rugby at the University of Iowa and our coaching staff is 100 percent volunteers.”
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