women wrestling

With the help of a few other students, Tess McGinley ’24 (right) created the women’s wrestling club at Lehigh.

Lehigh Women’s Wrestling Club Building on Nationwide Momentum

The club, formed in fall 2021, made history in February wrestling in an exhibition match with Rutgers and Alvernia universities.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Marcus Smith

Tess McGinley ’24 was in middle school when women’s wrestling first piqued her interest.

The Albany, California high school she would eventually attend won a national championship, and she was hooked. And by her sophomore year at the high school, she was wrestling herself. While McGinley wanted to continue to wrestle when she got to college, she committed to Lehigh knowing that the university didn’t have a women’s wrestling team.

She decided to change that.

McGinley joined forces with another student from the West Coast—Giselle Kimball ’24 (Nevada)—where women’s wrestling is more popular, and Irene Macri ’24 (Bucks County, Pennsylvania), and created the Lehigh Women’s Wrestling Club in Fall 2021.

wrestler working out

The Lehigh Women's Wrestling club practices twice a week in Grace Hall in the men’s wrestling room, with an additional workout on Fridays. Here, Sophie Gani '24 trains.

On Feb. 4, the club made more history. During intermission of the Lehigh and Army men’s match, the women’s club wrestled in an exhibition match with Rutgers and Alvernia Universities. It marked the first women's match in Lehigh history and coincided with the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which prohibited gender discrimination in educational programs and activities.

“We showed people that girls can wrestle, and there were a lot of people wearing T-shirts that said ‘LEHIGH WOMEN'S WRESTLING.’ It was really amazing.” McGinley, who is in her first year as the club’s president, says.

The club also participated in its first tournament in November, the Princeton Open.

As a school with an excellent wrestling tradition—Lehigh’s men’s program has had 28 individual national champions, 159 NCAA All-Americans, 16 top five NCAA team finishes and are 38-time EIWA champions—McGinley hopes one day that the women’s wrestling program can enjoy success that rivals the men’s team.

"I've been impressed with the women who are part of the club program, and also by the support they have received from the Lehigh Valley Wrestling Club as well as the coaches in our men's program,” Dean of Athletics Joe Sterrett ’76 says. “Lehigh's wrestling tradition was built as much by the quality of the participants and coaches throughout our history, as by the specific successes earned by individual wrestlers or teams. The sport demands from its participants unusual dedication and devotion to continuous improvement, and I do see those qualities in the women who are involved in the club program. That bodes well for their futures and the future of their sport."


The women’s club began with just three members but quickly grew its roster to 12.

“Women's wrestling is one of the fastest growing sports in the country,” McGinley says. “In Pennsylvania alone, there [are] almost 100 high schools with women's wrestling programs.”

I think we're gaining a lot of momentum with the club, and I am personally pushing hard to transition into a DI [Division I] program.

Anni Futch ’26

In the Lehigh Valley, Cedar Crest College already has a varsity women’s wrestling program and Muhlenberg College announced in February that it is adding women’s wrestling as a varsity sport. Muhlenberg’s program will begin dual meet competition in fall 2024. It comes at a time when the popularity of women’s wrestling is growing exponentially at the high school level. Between 1994 and 2022, according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association, the number of women who wrestle in high school has grown from 804 to more than 31,600.

women wrestling

Women's wrestling is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. Above, from left, Tess McGinley ’24 practices wrestling with Sophie Gani '24.

And in May, the PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association) unanimously voted to sanction girls wrestling, starting with the 2023-24 season, making Pennsylvania the 38th state to do so.

“I think we're gaining a lot of momentum with the club, and I am personally pushing hard to transition into a DI [Division I] program.” Anni Futch ’26 says. “Right now I think our focus is just being able to continue to grow the club, as well as offering the potential for our athletes to succeed in the capacity they chose, either continuing at the club level or aiming to be more competitive.”


Kerry McCoy

Kerry McCoy, a former Olympian and Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, has been mentoring the club on a voluntary basis.

Kerry McCoy, who is with the Lehigh Valley Wrestling Club, which is a Regional Olympic Training Center, has been coaching the club. McCoy competed at the Olympic Games twice and the World Cup Championships four times. He’s also a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

McGinley says McCoy has been mentoring the girls on a voluntary basis, but they’ll have a permanent coach next semester.

Along with a permanent coach, having their own training resources and more competition from other schools would greatly benefit the club, according to McGinley.

While McGinley is proud of what they have built so far, she’s hoping the club can continue the momentum.

“In the future, I hope that more new girls can join the club before my graduation, so that women's wrestling can flourish at Lehigh.”

Yueyang Yan ’23 contributed to this story.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Marcus Smith

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