AU Brings Back Wrestling

Wresting Facility
Rendering of the new AU wrestling facility.

Aurora University wrestling is back, and this time, women are joining the competition.

After a 35-year hiatus, men’s wrestling is returning to AU as an NCAA Division III program. And women’s wrestling, one of the fastest-growing emerging sports in college athletics, is starting up for the first time.

Justin Pearch
Justin Pearch, head coach of AU Wrestling.

Leading AU’s wrestling program as head coach for both the men’s and women’s wrestling programs is Justin Pearch, who built the boys wrestling program at Aurora Christian High School into one of the top teams in Illinois.

The Spartan wrestling programs are scheduled to begin competing in the 2021–2022 season, bringing the total number of NCAA DIII sports at AU to 24.

“We are thrilled that women’s and men’s wrestling will be the newest programs at AU,” said Jim Hamad, vice president for athletics. “We have added other athletic programs in recent years — including women’s hockey and men’s volleyball — and have quickly found success. We are confident that our wrestling programs will follow a similar path.”

Pearch comes to AU after four seasons as Aurora Christian’s head wrestling coach, where he led the program to an Illinois state championship and two additional top-three finishes.

Pearch has also served as the Illinois National Dual Meet head coach since 2015 and as the Illinois Cadet and Junior National team coach since 2013. He wrestled collegiately at the University of Oregon, where he finished second at the 2007 Pac-10 championships and earned a place in the NCAA Division I tournament.

Wrestling teaches students discipline, confidence, and resilience. Justin Pearch, Head Wrestling Coach

“Wrestling kept me grounded when life was crazy,” said Pearch. “No matter where I was in life, I always found my way back to the path that kept me moving forward — and that was wrestling.”

Wrestling teaches students discipline, confidence, and resilience, Pearch added, and it gives students a “competitive integrity and mental toughness” that will help them in the classroom and in their careers.

A total of 116 men’s wrestling programs compete in NCAA DIII, and the men hold their championship in March. There are a total of 59 collegiate institutions with varsity women’s wrestling teams.

Last year, the NCAA voted to approve women’s wrestling as an emerging sport, a key step toward its evolving into an NCAA championship-level sport in the future. Women’s college wrestling has existed since the early 1990s and became an Olympic sport in 2004. There have been women’s college wrestling championships since 2004 as well, and the sport is gaining momentum across the U.S.