By Hannah Newman
THE athletic community at Rider continues to reach new heights and expand opportunities for students, most recently with the university’s up-and-coming club sport offering the rare opportunity for women to participate in college-level wrestling.
“Personally, I’d love to make it a Division I sport. But I recognize the challenge that it’s not as simple as, hey, let’s do it,” said Director of Recreation and coach of the women’s wrestling club Timothy Trivisonno. “The main thing I think with any program is growth and increasing visibility and opportunity.”
The women’s wrestling club was established in the spring of 2021 with Trivisonno, ‘11, taking on the position of coach hoping to broaden the club and making it as legitimate as possible.
Trivisonno wrestled at Rider during his college years and now has 24 years of experience within the sport, including 15 years coaching and working with the men’s wrestling team at Rider.
Trivisonno said the opportunity for women’s wrestling is not a prominent concern in the eyes of many institutions. There are many that have not taken the time to set up an opportunity for women wrestlers to pursue their sport as opposed to men’s wrestling, which provided motivation for Trivisonno to take the time and figure out the best way to make the idea possible.
“There’s a lot of opportunity at the high school level, and then it kind of bottlenecks because there’s not as many opportunities that come right out of high school,” said Trivisonno. “We’re trying to increase the opportunities for these young ladies to compete and I think Rider’s the perfect place; we have a diverse group in the sense of experience and you know, background which I think is vital to a healthier environment.”
In addition to Trivisonno feeding his unconditional love for the sport, he mentioned the Women’s Wrestling Movement which helped women’s wrestling reach the criteria for the NCAA to sponsor it as a varsity sport.
This effort has become the catalyst for women to get back on the mat after many of their careers as athletes ended after high school.
There are currently eight members involved in the club, who joined from Broncapalooza and word of mouth. The students were recruited in the fall of 2022, one being sophomore accounting major Sheila Cortez who transferred to Rider solely for the opportunity to wrestle again after her journey on the mat was cut short after high school.
Cortez mentioned that her high school coach was good friends with Trivisonno. She realized she missed the sport, and wanted to make it a part of her career after a year at Ocean County College.
“I was still practicing but I didn’t think I was ever going to wrestle again,” said Cortez. “I would go to my high school and club and help out the girls while practicing and I would leave saying, ‘I miss wrestling.’”
Some other girls joined without having any background experience with the sport at all.
Junior environmental science major Francesca Clarke recalled her study abroad trip to England last spring where she took boxing classes instead of attending the gym due to the expense of going to the gym and the reasonable price to learn how to box.
Clarke came home from her trip yearning to continue the sport and decided to join the Women’s Wrestling Club.
Clarke explained that stepping outside of comfort zones results in vast growth for any individual.
“I learned so much in England and [from] wrestling. If you’re not trying new things you’re not growing and it’s just so awesome to be uncomfortable for a little bit to gain traction,” said Clarke. “It’s such an awesome feeling because I’m like, ‘You can just do it. You just don’t know where it’s gonna go.’”
With the first match in November 2022 versus Princeton, the club has relied on open tournaments with matches against Princeton and Ursinus where freshman business administration major Emma Matera took second place.
In addition to open tournaments, the club has had about seven exhibition matches that have often been before the men’s matches. The club has also been featured in the men’s match against Lock Haven and in between their match against Lehigh.
“We’re finding every possible avenue to compete in terms of exhibitions, whereas next year, we’ll have more of a full lineup, and we’ll be able to schedule dual meets,” said Trivisonno.
Trivisonno and Cortez noted that the men’s wrestling team and specifically Head Coach John Hangey has dedicated time and effort in assisting the club team in their skill and development.
Cortez recalled the times when Hangey would go out of his way to help the girls even if he was just passing through the room.
“We just try to create as much opportunity as possible and like I said, the men’s coaches have been terrific. There’s times where they’ll come in, and they’ll show technique or they’ll give feedback to the girls. So it’s really been an awesome environment to facilitate growth and success,” said Trivisonno.
As the club sports at Rider continue to strengthen, the attitude of those involved will remain contagious to those who are looking for a place to pursue what they love while facing disadvantages with opportunity among colleges universally.
“I coached girls lacrosse for 10 years, and I recognized that women’s sports were underserved, and that’s kind of what motivated me to go into coaching, women’s wrestling,” said Trivisonno, who mentioned his three-year-old daughter. “I want her to have the same opportunity that I have, especially in a place that is very special to me.”