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Women's wrestling earns full championship status from NAIA for 2023 season

Dakota Wesleyan is one of a handful of programs adding the sport, putting it over the minimum of 40 institutions needed to fully sanction an NAIA championship

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Women’s wrestling will be contested as a full national championship sport in the NAIA starting in the 2022-23 season, the athletic organization announced Saturday.

The NAIA and its national administrative council voted to make the change at the annual NAIA convention in Kansas City, giving the association 28 national championship events.

Women’s wrestling was on invitational status for the last three seasons. The NAIA is the first organizing body in collegiate sports to make women’s wrestling a championship sport.

The change was possible as the sport now reaches the minimum threshold of 40 colleges and universities, including the addition of Dakota Wesleyan University next school year. Thirty-five colleges and universities competed in the most recent championship event held in March in Jamestown, North Dakota.

In addition to being South Dakota's first collegiate women's program, DWU will join Doane, Jamestown, Hastings and Midland as women's wrestling programs in the Great Plains Athletic Conference. DWU hired former Northwestern College wrestler John Lynch to be the Tigers’ women’s wrestling coach when the program begins in 2022-23.

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“This is a great day for the sport of wrestling and all of our women’s wrestling student-athletes,” NAIA president and CEO Jim Carr said in a press release. “Women’s wrestling has seen sustained growth, and we are proud to become the first collegiate athletics association to offer this as a championship sport.”

The NAIA will begin work on determining several logistics in terms of national championship format and qualification immediately and will announce during the summer. Under the previous invitational format, the team championship was decided based on individual wrestler finishes and the top-six finishers in the double-elimination format earned All-America status. The tournament was administered by the NAIA Women’s Wrestling Coaches Association.

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