Augie announces new varsity sports for 2020-2021 school year

Julie Lombardi

In April, the college announced three new programs in the athletic department that will begin play during the 2021-22 school year: men’s and women’s water polo, and women’s wrestling.
According to Mike Zapolski, director of athletics, about 670 out of 2,500 students at Augustana are involved in varsity athletics. 
“Athletic recruiting is an important part of the overall enrollment puzzle,” Zapolski said. The rosters for the new programs will mostly be composed of incoming students who probably chose Augustana for the new athletic programs.
Augustana chose Ryan Pryor to lead its first men’s and women’s water polo programs as head coach. Pryor worked six years as the women’s water polo head coach at Virginia Military Institute, where his teams compiled an overall record of 89-69.
Many factors convinced Pryor to come to Augustana, including the idea of starting a new program. “It’s always been a dream of mine to build a program from the ground up,” Pryor said. He was also drawn to the new Peter J. Lindberg Center, where the teams will hold their home matches. 
According to Pryor, the women’s team will likely be competing in the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA), which has a Division III league that includes all Division III programs, excluding those in California. Some potential opponents will include Monmouth College and traditional CCIW foe Carthage.
On the men’s side, the competition is even more spread out. Pryor said that while the men’s team does not have a league affiliation yet, it is looking at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), which includes Division III schools such as Penn State Behrend and Austin College, as well as Division I schools such as Stanford, Cal, USC and UCLA. \
“It’s an interesting league and it’ll give us the opportunity to go out to California… and compete against some elite competition,” Pryor said.
For women’s wrestling, there have been conversations and a few visits made by girls currently being recruited, according to Tony Willaert, head coach of women’s wrestling. The goal right now is to bring 10 girls in to correspond with the 10 different weight classes. 
 Willaert will be coaching both men’s and women’s wrestling next season, and he’s hoping for things to mesh together well. Since many schools in our conference have added women’s wrestling recently, it’s likely when there are duels set for the men’s team, there will also be duels set for the women’s team so the majority of the traveling can happen together. 
Willaert is planning on overlapping men’s and women’s practices when possible, and is hoping to get some help from his current coaching staff. There are plans to hire a full-time assistant, dealing strictly with the women’s team.
 When asked if he foresaw any issues coaching a women’s team for the first time after coaching men’s teams and individual girls, Willaert did not seem too concerned. “They [women wrestlers] have something to prove, so they work just as hard,” Willaert said.
 Women’s wrestling is already a growing sport in the Quad Cities, with clubs set up in the area for younger girls, and having a college team in the area will hopefully help the sport grow more.
 Willaert is planning on hopefully bringing in girls from Chicago, as well as Texas and California. Those states have really good wrestlers, just not a lot of options, considering the fact that women’s wrestling doesn’t have a NCAA sponsored national championship yet. 
 According to Willaert, some of the girls the team has already been looking at have a good chance of making world teams and winning medals at the Olympics. 
Bringing in really good wrestlers from across the country should help with recruiting girls from the Quad Cities, as there’s already a lot of excitement here.
 If all goes to plan, women’s wrestling should continue to get bigger. “In a couple years we’re hoping to have 25 to 30 girls on the roster,” Willaert projects.