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Augsburg becomes Minnesota's only university with a women's wrestling team

Wrestling champion Emily Shilson has declared for Augsburg, where she can finally face off against athletes of her own gender.

Wrestling champion Emily Shilson has declared for Augsburg, where she can finally face off against athletes of her own gender. Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

Emily Shilson, a Mounds View senior, has been throwing boys to the mat for almost a decade.

At 106 pounds, she’s both a Cadet World champion and a Youth Olympic Games champ in wrestling – all with a 4.03 grade-point-average on top. Her ultimate goal, she told Press Publications, is the Olympics. But not before she joins the only college women’s wrestling program in the state.

Augsburg University announced last week that it would build a team for the 2019-20 season, calling it the first in the state. (The University of Minnesota-Morris used to have a team, but its funding was cut in 2003.) It’s great news, Athletic Director Jeff Swenson says -- especially for athletes like Shilson, who has been stuck competing against male classmates for almost a decade.

Not that it ever stopped her. But, as she told Press, she is glad to see her favorite sport going in a more inclusive direction.

Wrestling is one of the fastest-growing high school sports in the country among women. Since 1994, the number of participants has shot up from 800 to 16,500. So far, only 46 other colleges and universities have programs, but Augsburg is expected to be one of 14 schools to jump on the bandwagon within the next two years.

At this rate, women's wrestling could get recognition from the NCAA as an emerging sport in the very near future -- and all the prestige, scholarships, health care, and elite training opportunities that come with it.

Swenson is quick to say Augsburg is a “pioneer.” It was among the first schools in the Midwest to sponsor women’s hockey. It was also the first in the area to have a women’s lacrosse team.

There are still not a lot of young wrestling women out there, and Swenson wants a team 30-strong within four or five years. If this is going to work, Augsburg officials are going to have to spread the word far and wide.

He’s not sure which sport will be the next to invite women aboard. A decade ago, he would have been surprised to see women’s lacrosse take off the way it has. You never know which arena is going to be the one women want to conquer next.