Grappling toward a goal: Nation’s top women’s wrestlers are at McKendree

News-DemocratJune 29, 2014 

An outstanding three-sport athlete, Alli Ragan had college scholarship offers to compete in soccer, volleyball and wrestling four years ago when she graduated from Carbondale High School.

The decision of which sport to choose and where to go to college wasn’t an easy one.

But it has proven to be the right one.

A two-time WCWA Women’s College National champion while attending King University in Bristol, Tenn., Ragan is the top-ranked 58-kilogram (128-pound ) wrestler in the nation, ranked 12th in the world and a contender to compete as a member of the United States Olympic team at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“I was a defensive specialist/setter in volleyball and I had committed to play at SIUEdwardsville. But I also loved soccer and I had been around wrestling my whole life,’’ Ragan said. “It was a very tough decision, but it was the best one for me because I wouldn’t have been on the stage at the Olympic level that I am now if I would have picked those other sports.’’

A 2010 graduate of Carbondale, the 22-year-old Ragan is joining 100 of the nation’s top amateur women wrestlers who are participating in the USA Women’s Wrestling Combined Team Training Camps this month at McKendree University’s new wrestling and sports performance facilities in Lebanon.

The camps began June 15 and continues until July 12.

Four levels of competitors — cadet, junior, university and senior — from Team USA Women’s Wrestling have conducted or are in of process of holding their camps in preparation for world competitions this summer.

A member of the Senior National team, which opened its camp at McKendree on June 18, it runs through July 1, Ragan and the other team members will compete in the Grand Prix of Spain held in Madrid, Spain on July 4-5.

Several other of the top Senior National team members — including Alyssa Lampe, ranked No. 4 in the world, and Victoria Anthony, ranked seventh (both at 48 KG/105.5 pounds), and former world champion Elena Pirozhkova, ranked fourth at 63 KG/138.75 pounds — also have competed and trained at McKendree for the past two weeks.

The U.S. National Team coach is Terry Steiner.

A former three-time All-American at Iowa and NCAA national champion in 1993, Steiner has been the women’s head coach since 2002. Steiner said the McKendreee administration, athletic department and Bearcats wrestling coaches have been extremely helpful after being chosen to host the camp.

“I tell you. They’ve really rolled out the red carpet for us here at McKendree,’’ Steiner said. “We put the bid out and they were very receptive of what we needed and required for our camp. We talked and they just wanted to make us comfortable.

“One of the big things was transportation to and from the airport and then to the venues and facilities. They have excellent facilities here.’’ Steiner also said the fact that McKendree has a women’s team also proved important.

“When we started in 2002, there were five women’s college programs. Now we have 22,’’ Steiner said. “In the last two years, girls wrestling has been the fastest growing sport at the high school level. It’s coming. It’s growing in popularity all the time.’’

McKendree boasts one of the newest and most successful women’s wrestling programs in the nation.

Under the direction of coach Sam Schmitz, McKendree ended it first season with an 11th-place finish at the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association National Championship.

Schmitz, who is working as an instructor at the camp for the second straight year, said hosting the top women wrestlers in the nation is very special for McKendree.

“When you speak of USA wrestling, you’re talking about the best of the best. A lot of these athletes aren’t just the best in the nation, but they’re also among the best in the world in their divisions,’’ Schmitz said. “It’s a great opportunity for our wrestlers here at McKendree to watch and to see what it takes to be at the highest of levels.’’

Introduced to the sport of wrestling by her dad, longtime Carbondale High School wrestling coach Dennis Ragan, Alli Ragan is already at the world-class level.

Third at the world junior championships in 2011, Ragan won the U.S. Open championship and took second at the World University Games in 2013.

Ragan now hopes to move up in the world rankings with the hopes of securing a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in 2016 and even 2020.

“I’m ranked 12th and I’m working to move up higher. Whatever it takes,’’ Ragan said. “The goal is to be in the Olympics and be on the medal stand. I’m young. I’m looking at 2016 and then 2020 in Tokyo.

“What would it mean? It would be a dream come true. It’s been my dream for as long as I’ve wrestled. It’s the ultimate. Being able to represent the United States in the Olympics is everybody’s dream.”

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