ITHACA, N.Y.—Destiny Garcia was ready to walk away from the sport she loved to pursue her education at a school that didn’t offer women’s wrestling.

“I had de-committed and retired from wrestling,” Garcia said, explaining that after a whirlwind of being encouraged to unretire and compete at an International Wrestling Association (IWA) exhibition match, training on her own and getting an Instagram direct message from Cornell Unversity freshman Kate Zavuholnik, she was inspired to form a club for women’s wrestling at Cornell at the beginning of this semester.

Garcia, a sophomore English major from California, and Zavuholnik, from New Jersey, both had high school wrestling careers that they thought had ended when they both chose Cornell for various academic programs.

The Cornell University Women’s Freestyle Wrestling Club practices in the Friedman Wrestling Center. (Photo by Casey Martin)

“Kate’s kind of who I built the club off of,” Garcia said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘Okay, let’s build up this club.’ Now we have about 15 girls.”

The women’s freestyle wrestling club offers novice practices and tries to recruit women around campus regardless of whether or not they have experience wrestling.

“A lot of girls are forced to choose [between athletics and academics], there’s not a lot of opportunities at the higher level,” Zavuholnik said, adding that she fell in love with the sport during high school and didn’t want that to be the end of her career.

“Right now, we’re just trying to create a safe space for women to practice a sport that is male-dominated,” she said.

Nationally, only four NCAA Division I schools have women’s varsity teams: Presbyterian College, Sacred Heart University, University of Iowa and Linden University.

Kate Zavuholnik and Destiny Garcia at practice. (Photo by Casey Martin)

While getting the club officially recognized by the university, Garcia said Cornell men’s head wrestling coach Mike Grey agreed to let the club have more practice times.

“He’s been very supportive and super helpful,” Zavuholnik said. “It means a lot to create opportunities where there are none and to be in places where you are not expected to be. It’s less about myself and more about paving a way for younger girls and making it known that they are supported in their pursuit of a collegiate career at the D-I level.”

Right now, there are only three women in the club who have wrestled before, including both Garcia and Zavuholnik. “Having girls come in who have no wrestling experience is a lot easier, because sometimes they come with bad habits that are harder to break. It’s also a tough transition from folkstyle to freestyle,” Garcia said.

High school wrestling typically focuses on folkstyle, while collegiate wrestling focuses on freestyle.

Cornell wrestling alum Jon Jay Chavez, NCAA All-American and Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Champion, to name a few accolades, is helping coach the club this semester.

“Jon Jay had been in the wrestling room with us every single day, taking the time out of his schedule to help us improve,” Zavuholnik said.

The club also received support from Alex Steinbergh, another wrestling alum who graduated in 1962, donated $10,000. Zavuholnik said the group was very grateful to Steinbergh and would likely use a portion of the money to compete.

“Right now we’re focusing on the US Open in April, I have a match at the EIWAs,” Zavuholnik said, adding that Lori Ayres has been helping coordinate matches for the club. Ayres is the director of the Princeton University women’s wrestling club program.

The club practices five days a week in the Friedman Wrestling Center: Mondays at 5 p.m., Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at 4:30 p.m. More information can be found on the club’s Instagram, or the club website.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is the digital editor/reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Joining in November 2021, she has covered a wide range of topics related to local news. She can be reached at,...