116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Terry Steiner had numerous reasons why he wanted to return to Iowa City.
The appreciation for anyone willing to lace up shoes and step on the mat.
They were all reasons the former University of Iowa three-time All-American wanted to bring the USA Wrestling Women's National Team here for a weeklong camp, culminating with four wrestle-offs before Friday's second-ranked Hawkeyes' dual with No. 20 Purdue. The event to determine representatives for the Pan American Olympic Games Qualifying tournament March 5 in Frisco, Texas, will begin at 6:30 p.m.
Steiner, the U.S. national team coach since 2002, wanted the wrestlers to become comfortable with Carver-Hawkeye Arena before the Olympic Trials on April 9-10. Also, the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex was where he became an NCAA champion, earning Outstanding Wrestler honors at the 1993 NCAA Championships.
'It's a special place,' Steiner said. 'It's a special place for wrestling. It means a lot to me personally. I feel like I grew up here and accomplished some great things.'
Steiner added, 'There is a standard of excellence (and) a standard of intensity in purpose. I want them to see that, be around it and feel it, being around the wrestlers and (Iowa) Coach Tom and Terry (Brands). I want them to witness it and be around it.'
Steiner brought wrestlers to Iowa City before the 2012 Olympic Trials. They didn't hesitate to accept this opportunity, including Ally Ragan, who was just coming on the scene during the last Olympic rotation.
'I'm excited to be here this week and training,' said Ragan, adding with a laugh, 'and see where Terry became a man, kind of.'
The U.S. Women's National Team finished third at the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas, receiving titles from Helen Maroulis (55 kilograms) and Adeline Gray (75 kg). Leigh Jaynes-Provisor earned bronze.
'You have to be pleased and enjoy that,' Steiner said. 'At the same time, we left a lot on the table. We had a world champion who didn't win a match. We have some medalists there that never got back on the stand, so we've got to be more consistent than we show.'
Chun recalled going for breakfast after the 2012 Olympic Trials, being recognized and receiving congratulations from spectators. Steiner said he wants the public to get to know these wrestlers before April. He also wanted the athletes to realize their efforts don't go unnoticed.
'We're doing it so they can understand,' Steiner said. 'These girls have grown up in an environment that these guys have never felt, where they haven't been appreciated so much. I want them to understand what they do is very much appreciated and wrestling is appreciated in Iowa City, Iowa and the Unviersity of Iowa.'
The Pan Am Games are a chance to earn berths for the country in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Focus will be on securing those spots before it turns to the Trials.
'The main thing is to qualify our weight,' Ragan said. 'Once that happens, then we can worry about making the team.'
While standing on the CHA concourse, Ragan could picture the full arena and the mats on the floor. She received a feel of what competition would be like in a few months, which is exactly what Steiner expected from coming here.
'For me, I can just visualize the Trials on the mat down below,' Ragan said. 'It's awesome to see and feel that aura.'
Hawkeye wrestlers and the coaching staff have welcomed the visitors. Some caught one of the U.S. Team's workouts Monday.
'It's pretty cool,' Iowa's 149-pound All-American Brandon Sorensen said. 'I haven't been around the women's team before so maybe learn some new things here or there. It's a good experience.'
In addition to training, which included sprints along the CHA concourse Monday and buddy-carries up the steep arena stairs, they have watched the Hawkeyes practice. Clarissa Chun, a 2008 World champion and 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, said she appreciates the intensity, culture and grind as the team focuses on mental and physical preparation for this weekend's duals.
'I love it,' Chun said. 'Wrestling is wrestling. Anytime I can observe and pick up something that was said by the Brandses or something that happened technically out there that is how I can grow.'
Growth remains at the center of women's wrestling and the acceptance of it as a viable sport. Steiner cited statistics form the National Federation of High Schools, saying female wrestling has been one of the fastest growing high school sports in recent years, but just seven states have it as a sanctioned sport. He also said women's wrestling has blossomed in smaller colleges. He said five programs competed 14 years ago and now 26 exist.
'It's a constant fight or purpose of exposing the current wrestling fans and coaches to the sport of women's wrestling,' Steiner said. 'The realization that we pride ourselves in this sport that it's a sport for everyone, and it really is a sport for everyone.
'It's opening people's hearts and minds to it. There is room on this wrestling mat for women as well.'
Chun sees the swell of participation when she returns to her home state of Hawaii. She said she sees girls as young as 6 years old excited to wrestle. They have more opportunities than when she wrestled at NAIA's Missouri Valley (Mo.) College. The sport might expand to the NCAA Division I level in the future.
'We just need to take that dive in,' said Chun, who trains at West Virginia University. 'I train at a men's college program. I think it would be awesome to have a women's college program alongside with it.'
Ragan, a 2014 World Team member, wrestled for King (Tenn.) University, an NCAA Division II school. Not only do women wrestlers aspire to wrestle in college, but also coach at that level.
'We have to keep growing our sport,' Ragan said. 'The numbers are getting there. We are at the D-II level. The next step is D-I. I think that would be like a lifelong dream for most of us girls.'
Steiner said that women's wrestling is approaching 'emerging sport' status. An emerging sport is one the NCAA recognizes and is intended to provide more opportunities to female student-athletes.
'It's just a matter of time,' Steiner said. 'It's not a question of if it's going to happen. It's a matter of when it's going to happen and who is going to be the first. Who is going to step forward and be the leader of the sport of women's wrestling? Again, I'm biased. Why couldn't it be the University of Iowa? They have set a lot of firsts and set a lot of standards.'
WOMEN'S SPECIAL WRESTLE-OFF
At Iowa City, Iowa, Jan. 22 (alongside Iowa vs. Purdue dual meet)
53 kg/116.5 lbs. — World Team member Whitney Conder (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army WCAP) vs. challenger Helen Maroulis (Huntington Beach, Calif./Titan Mercury WC)
58 kg/128 lbs. — World Team member Alli Ragan (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) vs. challenger Leigh Jaynes-Provisor (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army)
63 kg/138.75 lbs. — World Team member Erin Clodgo (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) vs. challenger Elena Pirozhkova (Colorado Springs, Colo./Titan Mercury WC)
69 kg/152 lbs. — No. 2 Tamyra Mensah (Katy, Texas/Titan Mercury WC) vs. No. 3 Randi Miller (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army WCAP)
Note: Winners of each best-of-three series will compete for the USA at the Pan American Olympic Games Qualifying Tournament in Frisco, Texas, March 5.
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