Women of the New Jersey City University wrestling team are taking down barriers
The women of the New Jersey City University wrestling team are throwing out gender norms and taking down barriers. It is the first collegiate women’s wrestling program in the state.
“I really want to represent Jersey. I want to make Jersey proud, Jersey strong,” says West Orange native Sandra Guerrero. “Jersey wrestling is huge here for the boys and it’s now just getting big for the girls.”
Building a women’s program from the ground up has been a challenge for NJCU wrestling coach Elena Pirozhkova. But the former World Champion and two-time United States Olympian says that she was up for it.
“Some of these girls only wrestled on boys’ teams. So they’ve only had a couple years of experience due to the fact there’s not as much opportunity,” she says. “The recruiting level is a little more mixed, but I’m very excited to have some girls capable of competing at a national level.”
In its inaugural year, the team has three wrestlers that qualified for the National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championships, including Guerrero.
“When I started wrestling, I was 8 years old. I might be the only girl in the room, or one of two in the room and as I got older, there were more and more girls in the room and it’s just amazing to see it grow from no one, nobody, to so many girls now. It’s amazing,” she says.
Trenton native Johnae Drumright also qualified. It is an incredible accomplishment considering the college freshman only started wrestling her junior year of high school.
“It’s unbelievable. I mean, I can’t believe it. I started my junior year, that’s pretty late for a sport like this. So to say that I have had so much accomplishment and got so far is crazy to say, crazy to think about,” Drumright says.
Women’s wrestling is considered an NCAA emerging sport, meaning that it is a few steps away from achieving full NCAA Championship status. A top-eight finish at Nationals will earn wrestlers All-American status and there is a greater opportunity beyond that. If any of the women win gold in their weight class at Nationals, they earn an automatic bid to the 2021 United States Olympic trials.
But no matter how they place, the women say that the sport has given them something more important than medals.
“I wouldn’t say I was the most confident person walking around, but this sport has definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone,” Drumright says. “It made me comfortable being uncomfortable and has taught me a lot about self-confidence.”
The National Collegiate Women's Wrestling Championships are this weekend at Tiffin University in Ohio.