Gannon Names Christen Dierken First Women’s Wrestling Coach
ERIE, Pa. – Gannon Director of Athletics Lisa Goddard McGuirk has named former United States National Team member and four-time collegiate All-American Christen Dierken as the University’s first women’s wrestling coach. The Lady Knights’ inaugural season kicks off in November.
Dierken brings a plethora of wrestling experience to the Gannon program. Nationally-renowned for her performance on the mat, Dierken qualified for the World Team Trials five times (2008-13) and competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials. She was also a two-time Senior National Team member, representing the USA in tournaments and training camps domestically and internationally from 2009-2011.
“We are very excited to welcome Christen to the Gannon family,” said Lisa Goddard McGuirk. “Her experience, coaching philosophy and wrestling expertise are impressive. Christen will be a tremendous addition to our department and community.”
Dierken started her wrestling career as a high school freshman after her older brother, Mike Lilly, convinced her to give it a try. She became the first and only female to wrestle all four years at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, California where she was coached by her older brother’s former coach, James Valenzuela, who has since also coached two other family members. Following graduation, she earned a scholarship to wrestle at the University of Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky. Dierken proceeded to become a four-time All-American, including a pair of national runner-up performances. She placed among the nation’s top six all four years as a Patriot.
“My family and I are extremely excited to join the Gannon family and be a part of pioneering women’s wrestling in the state of Pennsylvania,” said Dierken. “I am eager to begin working with our student-athletes in their development as champions not just in athletics, but in their academics, spiritual life and personal character.
“I hope to make a positive impact in the lives of our student-athletes and the local community. I am so blessed and grateful for this opportunity to follow my God-given passion (wrestling) to make a difference in lives and minister to the needs of others.”
Dierken’s collegiate career featured two national championships, including titles at the Fila Junior National Championships and University National Championships. In addition, she captured a pair of Pan-American Championship silver medals. In 2010, Dierken won the international competition and NYAC tournament. She was a four-time U.S. Open All-American and three-time University National All-American. Academically, Dierken was a member of the Spanish Honor Society at the University of Cumberland from 2009-11.
Dierken began her collegiate coaching career at the University of Cumberland following graduation, serving as a women’s wrestling graduate assistant coach from 2011-13. She was part of a staff that coached 18 All-Americans, six U.S. Open placewinners and a pair of national runner-ups during a two-year time span. Dierken’s responsibilities included recruiting, practice oversight, administrative duties, workout plans, and travel plans. She currently serves as a Specialist in the Army National Guard and Physical Education teacher at A.M. Yealey Elementary School in Florence, Kentucky.
Gannon announced the addition of women’s wrestling as the University’s 22nd varsity sport in late January with 2018-19 serving as the inaugural season. Gannon is the first school in the state of Pennsylvania to offer women’s wrestling as a four-year intercollegiate program.
Women’s wrestling is the first varsity athletics program to be added at Gannon since 2013 when the acrobatics and tumbling and competitive cheer programs became varsity sports. The official competition season is November-March. Gannon is the 39th school to sponsor the emerging sport.
In contrast to the men’s sport which wrestles under folkstyle rules, the women’s sport competes with freestyle rules which represent one of the two olympic-style formats. Although not an official NCAA varsity sport at this time, women’s wrestling is currently in the process of trying to achieve NCAA emerging sport status. The Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association (WCWA), in conjunction with the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA), provides oversight as the governing body for the up-and-coming sport.
Women’s wrestling has experienced notable growth nationally and within the state of Pennsylvania at the high school level. Since 1994, the number of women participating in high school wrestling nationally has grown from 804 to 14,587 and the number of high schools that sponsor wrestling has grown from 8,559 to 10,629. Women’s wrestling has been an olympic sport since 2004 with Helen Maroulis winning the first gold medal for the United States in 2016.