Who will coach the University of Iowa women's wrestling team? Here are 7 potential candidates

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — The next step in the construction of the Iowa women's wrestling program is perhaps the most important one.

Who's going to be the coach?

"We will hire a coach, the best coach in America," Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands said.

Iowa athletics director Gary Barta offered mostly similar thoughts when asked what he's looking for in the program's first coach. He also said Brands, and Deputy Director of Athletics and Senior Women’s Administrator Barbara Burke, will be involved in the hire.

"I don't know how to answer it other than we're going to go find the best coach," Barta said. "We want to win championships. We're going to look for the coach that we think can get us there.

"I would be a fool not to rely on Tom's expertise as we go out and search for a new head coach."

After discussions with folks around the wrestling community over the past week, we've created this list of seven potential candidates as Iowa proceeds with the hiring process, as well as more names at the bottom that could also be considered.

Clarissa Chun, USA Wrestling

Chun currently serves as USA Wrestling's top women's wrestling assistant. She was a decorated athlete, a five-time U.S. Open champ, a two-time Olympian and a five-time Senior world team member. She won a world title in 2008 and Olympic bronze in 2012.

She joined USA Wrestling's staff in 2017, under head women's coach Terry Steiner, and has helped lead the U.S. Senior women's team to new heights. With her on staff, the U.S. has won 10 total world medals: five gold, two silver and three bronze.

More recently, Chun played a vital coaching role in USA Wrestling's sterling performance at the 2020 Olympics, where the U.S. women's freestyle team won four medals, led by Tamyra Mensah-Stock's gold. For perspective: The U.S. had won five all-time medals in women's freestyle wrestling before winning four in Tokyo. 

Nate Engel, Oregon State

Engel currently serves as the associate head coach at Oregon State, after serving as an assistant for one. Before arriving in Corvallis, he coached at Stanford for two seasons and, before that, at Navy from 2014-18.

Considered a fantastic wrestling mind, Engel has a ton of high-level experience. He was a two-time U.S. national team member during his own competitive career and coached the U.S. Junior Greco-Roman world team at the 2018 Junior World Championships.

While at Oregon State, Engel also works with the Beaver Dam Regional Training Center, which includes a star lineup of women's wrestlers in Adeline Gray, Alyssa Lampe, Mallory Velte, Alexandria Glaudé and Skylar Grote. Engel was Gray's personal coach at the 2020 Olympics and coached her to a silver medal finish in Tokyo.

Wrestler Jessica Medina warms up during practice at ASU April 5, 2016. Medina will be competing in the Olympic Trials.

Jessica Medina, USA Wrestling

Medina currently serves as USA Wrestling's national women's developmental coach, a role she's had since 2019. She has been instrumental in USA Wrestling's rise and success on the international age-level world scene. This past summer, the U.S. Cadet and Junior women's freestyle teams both won world team titles.

The Cadets finished with seven medalists, including three champs, and won the first-ever Cadet women's world team title in USA Wrestling history. The Juniors put five on the podium and four won gold, marking the first time the U.S. had multiple Junior women win world titles in the same year.

Many of those girls that won medals and represented the U.S. on both teams are about to become available in recruiting. Medina already has a great relationship with them and has shown the ability to develop that age level into wrestlers that will soon be the future of the U.S. senior women's teams.

Lee Miracle, Campbellsville

Miracle currently serves as the head coach at Campbellsville in Kentucky and has led the Tigers to incredible heights since taking the job in 2013: two Women's College Wrestling Association national team championships and, more recently, the 2021 NAIA national championship.

Miracle has coached eight individuals to 13 national championships in eight seasons. That includes his daughter, Kayla Miracle, a four-time WCWA national champion, 2019 world team member, 2020 Olympian and one-time member of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club.

Lee Miracle, a Navy veteran, has coached all levels of wrestling over the past two decades. He was a volunteer coach for the 2011 U.S. women's world team and an assistant for the U.S. at the 2012 world championships, and he helped coach the Junior world team in 2017.

Jason Moorman, King University

Moorman currently serves as the head women's coach at King University in Tennessee, one of the most successful women's college wrestling coaches. Since 2009, he's led King to four national team championships as well as four national duals titles.

King wrestlers have accumulated more than 100 All-American honors at the WCWA national championships under Moorman, including 10 wrestlers who were four-time All-Americans. His wrestlers have also combined to win 20 individual national titles, and two, Haley Augello and Sarah Hildebrandt, have made the U.S. Olympic Team.

Moorman has been named the WCWA Coach of the Year three times in his career. His résumé speaks for itself. Since he took over the women's job, King has been a steady and consistent winner when it comes to women's college wrestling.

Sam Schmitz, McKendree

Schmitz currently serves as the head women's coach at McKendree in Illinois, which is another successful women's college program. Schmitz has been the coach since the program started in 2013, and has steadily built McKendree into a national power.

Under Schmitz, the Bearcats have won three national team titles, as well as back-to-back national duals crowns in 2019-20. His wrestlers have combined for 68 All-American honors — including South Winneshiek's own Felicity Taylor, a 2021 national champ. McKendree had eight wrestlers qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials last spring.

Schmitz has also been active in helping coach with USA Wrestling, having served on trips for the University World Games in 2013, the Junior world championships in 2015 and the Cadet world championships each of the past two summers. Three of his wrestlers made age-level world teams this past spring.

Terry Steiner, USA Wrestling

Steiner currently serves as the head coach of USA Wrestling's women's freestyle program, and has been instrumental in not only the overall growth of the U.S. women's freestyle Senior-level team, but has been a staunch advocate and ally when it comes to the overall growth of girls' and women's wrestling around the country.

A former Hawkeye and 1993 NCAA champ, Steiner has served as USA Wrestling's top women's coach since 2002, and has guided the U.S. women's program to 48 total world medals: 13 gold, 11 silver and 23 bronze. In the last quad, from 2017-19, the U.S. won 10 total world medals, then won four Olympic medals in Tokyo this past summer.

It might be odd for Steiner to leave his post at USA Wrestling, but the idea here is that he could leave the women's program in the very capable hands of Chun and Medina to come back to Iowa City to coach the Hawkeyes. It might be a stretch, and may not happen, but it's a fun thought and would make a huge splash as a first hire at Iowa.

Adeline Gray offers up some hand sanitizer to teammates during the fourth session of the USA Wrestling Olympic Team Trials, Saturday, April 3, 2021, at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

Other names to watch

  • Justin Abdou: The head women's coach at Simon-Fraser who's led SFU to runner-up finishes at the WCWA national championships in 2017, 2018 and 2019. 
  • Joey Bareng: The head women's coach at Menlo College who led the Oaks to WCWA and NAIA team titles in 2019, and was named the WCWA, NAIA and National Wrestling Coaches Association Coach of the Year.
  • Adeline Gray: One of the most decorated women's freestyle wrestlers ever, a five-time world champion and, more recently, an Olympic silver medalist. Could she step right into a head-coaching role after she's done competing?
  • Vladislav Izboinikov: Nicknamed "Izzy" and a two-time winner of USA Wrestling's Women's Coach of the Year. He was the personal coach for Jacarra Winchester and Tamyra Mensah-Stock at the 2020 Olympics.
  • Helen Maroulis: Another incredibly decorated women's wrestler, a two-time Olympic medalist and America's first-ever gold medalist in women's wrestling. Could she be ready to step into coaching immediately?
  • Tamyra Mensah-Stock: The face of USA Wrestling's women's program right now, a 2019 world champ and 2020 Olympic gold medalist. This would be a slam-dunk hire if she's ready to coach.
  • Mark Perry: Could the former Hawkeye Wrestling Club coach come back home? Unlikely, because Perry likes his gig at Arizona State, but it's a fun thought.
  • Aaron Sieriacki: Currently a women's coach for the Army World Class Athlete Program (WCAP). He was named USA Wrestling's Women's Coach of the Year in 2015 and has been instrumental in building the WCAP's women's team, which includes a handful of past and present world team members.
  • Troy Steiner: Terry's twin brother, another former Hawkeye wrestler and the former coach at Fresno State, which dropped the program last year. There's an ongoing fight to save Fresno State, not unlike the efforts that saved Stanford wrestling, but Troy coming to Iowa City for this job makes some sense.
  • Ashley Sword: Currently the head coach at Life University, which took second at the NAIA national championships last year. Sword and Iowa have built a great working relationship in recent years, from helping with women's wrestling camps to the Hawkeye Wrestling Club Showdown Open.

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.