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UWO women’s wrestlers from 10 states are ready to #BeThe1st

A motivated group of new Titans would like to help start a UWO women’s wrestling program this fall.

There’s a future biomedical engineer. One or two prospective elementary school teachers. Marketing, nursing, and a number of other majors: all well represented.

But the common thread and passion of this groundbreaking group of titans is something entirely new for the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh: women’s wrestling.

Delaney Rapp of Imperial, Missouri, founds a university with biomedical engineering and women’s wrestling.

Nearly 30 new Titans make up the first UWO women’s wrestling team – a group of student-athletes from 10 different states, all attracted by the opportunity to receive a quality education and experience at UWO while helping to create a sport they are passionate about and that is spreading across the country.

“Oshkosh is definitely a perfect fit for me,” said Delaney Rapp, 18, of Imperial, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis.

“Finding a university that offers both biomedical engineering and women’s wrestling is no easy task,” Rapp said. “(Women’s wrestling) coach Costa and Dr. (Greg) Kleinheinz have been very helpful, and the campus and student body are the perfect size: not too big, not too small. I’m so excited to become a Titan!”

Several UWO wrestlers, including Rapp, have already reached out and attended a camp in late June organized around their orientation visit to Titan Takeoff. This gave them, women’s wrestling head coach Jared Costa and his team the opportunity to prepare for the 2024-2025 school year and begin building the culture needed to create a successful team.

“One of the things I tell them all now is there’s a watchword: culture,” Costa said. “That’s our culture: family, hard work and all that. Culture is the team. Now that they’re all going to be here, we’re finally getting clear on all the goals and the culture. I’m ready to go. I’ve been talking about this for 10 months… It’s exciting.”

Costa said the team motto had already spawned the hashtag for the upcoming season: #BeThe1st

Cassidy Vanden Heuvel of Kaukauna said the opportunities at UWO are “endless.”

Remarkable growth

In total, the first women’s wrestling team will consist of 26 students. They come from Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas and of course Wisconsin.

UWO’s student-athletes and athletics will be the latest developments in a sport that is growing exponentially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Costa said.

“When I started training for women’s wrestling in the fall of 2021, there were only about 15,000 girls wrestling in high schools,” he said. “Last year, I estimate there were more than 55,000.”

When UWO decided to join the movement and Costa was tasked with building the program, he launched a nationwide search for recruits, leveraging the networks of high school coaches and alumni to identify hundreds of potential student-athletes.

High school wrestlers across the country are hungry for college opportunities as the landscape of the sport changes dramatically. In Wisconsin, UWO will be the fourth team to add the sport, alongside Lakeland University, Carthage College and UW-Stevens Point, which just added 10th in the NCAA Division III ranks. Costa said the NCAA will officially consider women’s wrestling as a Division III sport next winter. That is expected to lead to more new programs across the country, making the timing ideal to start a UWO team, he said.

“It was exciting. It was a long journey. But it was as I expected it to be,” he said, citing the location, size and variety of programs on the UWO campus – in addition to the opportunity to start a team – as major selling points for his student-athletes. “…One of the statistics I really like this year is that out of 34 girls who visited campus, 26 came. It’s a city, but it’s not overwhelming when you’re on campus. One of the things I focused on was attracting great people. They love wrestling. They love school. They love life. It just took off. As soon as we had one, two came, then three … soon there were 26.”

Capturing the excitement in the words of student athletes

Sophia Garza of La Vernia, Texas, is excited to be part of a new wrestling and engineering program.

Costa and his colleagues at Athletics were quick to capture and amplify the opening team’s enthusiasm on social media.

“I chose UWO for a variety of reasons,” said team member Sophia Garza of La Vernia, Texas. “One of them is how excited I am as a Texan to have the opportunity to be part of the new women’s wrestling program and the engineering program that UWO offers. Plus, the city is beautiful.”

“I chose UWO because of the coach and the family,” said Tahonesty Donnell of Milwaukee. “I believe no matter what college I go to, I will do great, but UWO is it! I am honored to have been accepted! I can’t wait to achieve my goals!”

Mya Delleree, 18, of Ozaukee, first competed in sixth grade. The possibility of continuing on at UWO while pursuing an elementary school teacher training program kept the university in her sights. And it didn’t hurt that she had some high school teachers from Titan pushing her to come to UWO.

“That’s definitely what drew me to Oshkosh,” Delleree said, citing her early experiences as a teaching assistant and assistant wrestling coach for younger students. “…It just gave me a lot of joy to watch them learn and grow.”

Costa said many of the student-athletes who leave high school with a 3.0 grade point average or better join the team. “We want to be the national champions in grade point average,” he said, emphasizing UWO Athletics’ commitment to academically grounded and successful Titans.

“We’re successful in other sports,” Costa said. “Our academics are strong – engineering, nursing, education … (students) see those opportunities too. They’re strong academically, but they want to push each other.”

Tahonesty Donnell of Milwaukee said she was honored to be accepted to UWO!

The start of the season is getting closer

The UWO women’s wrestling season begins on October 10th with the team’s first practice.

“It’s exciting to add a growing sport that has immediately attracted so many talented student-athletes from across the country,” said Darryl Sims, associate chancellor for athletics. “We expect UWO and the broader community to respond and support these titans when women’s wrestling launches later this year.”

The first contest is scheduled for Nov. 2 at UW-Stevens Point. UWO will host three home games at the Kolf Sports Center beginning on Nov. 16, which will also feature the UWO men’s team. The women’s first home game will be Nov. 21 against Carthage College. The team will also host Northern Michigan on Dec. 6.

Experiencing this first home game will be exciting, said Delleree.

“It will be exciting for all the families to be there,” she said.

Costa said his and the UWO team’s excitement has only grown with the sport’s continued national resurgence. Wisconsin’s collegiate competitive programs are sure to flourish in the coming years.

“There’s an initial phase where the sport is growing, where colleges are taking on more and more new players,” he said. “The high schools are growing, growing, growing. I still see us as that pioneering program… We’re still one of the trailblazers that can put the sport on the map. We have the opportunity to give thousands of girls more opportunities to wrestle.”

Rapp said the excitement is real, as is the early support behind a brand new team of student-athletes eager to advance the sport while pursuing degrees and career fields they see themselves in in the future.

She said it was “cool to establish a wrestling culture and create the new biomedical engineering program.”

“I came here because everyone was sociable and everyone wanted me to succeed,” she said.

Learn more:

UWO women’s wrestling

UWO Athletics