In hopes of ascending from a club sport to a Division I program, the Lehigh women’s wrestling team brought new head coach Brazel Marquez to Lehigh from across the country.
While there is no set timeline, Marquez said the goal is for the team to reach the highest designation of collegiate sports in two years.
The club team was formed in the fall of 2021 and has since continued to gain momentum. Last semester, they competed in exhibition matches against Rutgers University and Alvernia University.
Kerry McCoy, the executive director and head coach of the Lehigh Valley Wrestling Club, has trained the team for the last two years.
The team approached McCoy in 2021 to help facilitate the growth of their program. Since then, he said he continued to teach the team new techniques, provide training sessions and give them advice before their competitions.
“All of the women in the program, even if they’re beginners or have little experience, they’re always eager to learn and try to get better and that’s really exciting,” McCoy said. “I think (the team) has the potential to become a powerhouse really quickly.”
McCoy is confident in the team’s ability to rise to the Division I level and in Marquez’s ability to assist them in getting there.
“She’s had success at every place she’s been, internationally, domestically, east coast and west coast,” McCoy said. “I know she’s going to do a great job and take this from a club program and build it to a varsity program. She’s the right person for the job.”
She was previously the women’s wrestling head coach at Auburn University and assistant coach at both Emmanuel College and Menlo College.
After coaching at Wyoming Seminary Preparatory School in Kingston, Pennsylvania, she moved to Southern California in the summer of 2023 to coach at Vanguard University and Titan Mercury Wrestling Club, an international sponsorship organization.
Marquez heard Lehigh was looking to hire a head coach for their women’s wrestling team last year when she was coaching in Kingston.
Although she recently moved to California over the summer, she reached out to Lehigh’s athletic director, Joe Sterrett, to ask if she could interview for the position. She flew back to Pennsylvania this fall to go through the interview process.
Marquez said she’s excited to begin working with the team this year and plans to keep growing the program in the future.
“I’m really excited to provide (stability and structure) for these women who have been craving that and deserve that, especially being a female coach,” Marquez said. “We’re doing a lot of recruiting already and bringing in some high talent for next year.”
There are currently only four Division I women’s wrestling teams in the United States, which she said makes it hard to find a direct path to follow.
Marquez is aware of these obstacles, but she sees the lack of history as a fun asset.
“There are a lot of unknown variables as we are navigating the club model into a scholarship model and funding model,” Marquez said. “We don’t have a major blueprint right now, but that also frees up creativity to be able to make it your own.”
She said it’s been fun meeting new people and putting Lehigh women’s wrestling on the map.
Sophomore wrestler Anni Futch is excited for the team to see some stability and become an official Division I sport but understands the obstacles in doing so.
Futch said the first difficulty is the red tape on the administrative side of confirming the program as a Division I program and the second issue is securing funding.
“The school is wary of officially making us varsity without assurance that we have funding for the program, but donors don’t want to commit significant funding without the guarantee of a program,” Futch said.
Marquez began holding lifting programs for the team after Thanksgiving and they will continue on their proposed path to become the fifth Division I women’s wrestling team in a couple of years.
“It’s been a long process, but we’re making slow and steady progress,” Futch said. “Hiring a coach exclusively for the women’s team is a big step in the right direction and kind of officially sets the ball rolling.”