Iowa's Chun, Mayabb pave way for future of women's college wrestling

Chun is first Power 5 women's wrestling coach, Mayabb spent most of his career at Oak Park High School
Illinois Iowa Football
Posted at 9:00 AM, Jul 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-03 20:48:26-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nearly a decade ago, Clarissa Chun walked into Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City with an Olympic dream.

She went on to qualify for the 2012 U.S Olympic women's wrestling team and win a bronze medal at the London Games.

The wrestling fans in Iowa left an impression that day.

“Man that was wild," Chun said. "Just being in Carver and the fans, just the support, they know their wrestling and they just appreciate good wrestling. Obviously, they are going to cheer for their own. But if there are two athletes out there that are not Iowa or any tie to Iowa, they just cheer for good wrestling and that was cool.”

Fast forward a decade, Chun now leads the first women's wrestling program at a Power Five school. Iowa formally introduced her as the Hawkeyes' first coach on Nov. 18, 2021.

Chun — a two-time Olympian, who also placed fifth at the 2008 Beijing Games — previously worked as an assistant coach for USA Wrestling with the Women’s National Team from 2017 to 2021.

She is a veteran of five Senior World Championships, winning gold at the 2008 World Championships in Tokyo.

Last month, Chun was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as a distinguished member, and she believes her experiences as a competitor can help others.

“Wrestling is not easy; it’s tough," Chun said. "It is one of those hard sports that, once you’ve been through that, you can kind of empathize with others that have gone through that, too. I just really fell in love with the sport and what it had to offer in so many ways. The opportunities that were available to me at that time, the timing of things couldn’t have worked out better for me.”

As Chun started the process of building her coaching staff, she reached out to a fellow coach at USA Wrestling who had left an impression on her — former Oak Park wrestling coach Gary Mayabb.

“Being at the Olympic Training Center, seeing everything he does on the back end of things and on the mat. It made sense to me," Chun said. "I don’t think he knew it at that time, but there was something in him that I was like, 'Wow, I want to capture that.' He is a great person. He is a great leader, he lives with integrity and that is someone I want to be a part of the program. To hold not only the team accountable but me accountable for things. That’s him in a nutshell.”

Mayabb’s résumé includes seven MSHSAA state titles, including six at Oak Park and one at Staley.

During his tenure at Oak Park, 38 Northmen won individual state titles, 96 claimed medals at state and 145 qualified for state. The program was nationally ranked eight times on Mayabb's watch.

Chun recalled a phone call with Mayabb to gauge his interest.

“Hey coach, these are the things I admire, the qualities you have of you as a person and characteristics and what you have to offer," she said of that conversation. "What are your thoughts being around a woman’s wrestling program?"

Mayabb told Chun he'd be thrilled to help out the program, but he didn't quite realize yet she was offering him a job as associate coach.

“I said, 'Coach, whatever weekend you want, I’ll be there,'" Mayabb said. "She’s like, 'Well, I’m really thinking about a little more than that.' I said, 'Well, if you want to do a camp, we will do a camp. Are we talking about hand fighting?' Finally, she just stopped and said, 'Hey, would you think about this? And I was like, 'Oh, my goodness.'"

Chun said, “I think it caught him off guard a little bit."

“It did catch me off guard," Mayabb said, "but, at the same point and time, it was just one of those things I wasn’t in the mode yet. Then, my next immediate thought was, 'Did I just blow this?'"

Ultimately, Mayabb had a tough decision to make.

When he returned to Oak Park, he planned to stay for four years and enjoyed his work with USA Wrestling, so he wasn't actively seeking a new opportunity.

Chun also reached out to Mayabb's wife, Dorothy. The Mayabbs discussed the Iowa job later that day and felt like it was too tempting to pass up.

“She goes, 'I think it is almost too good to be true,' and I said, 'I think you are right,'" Mayabb said. “It was just one of those moments. I’m not going to forget it. It is too big of an opportunity.”

Since Iowa announced the women's wrestling program, female wrestlers around the country have been reaching out to Chun about the chance to get in on the ground floor at this historical moment.

“There is over 300, 400 (inquiries), and it continues to grow — emails I’ll get with young girls wanting to come and wrestle at the University of Iowa," Chun said. "I unfortunately can’t take all 300 of them, but it’s there. The women are there. They want to be able to compete at a Power Five institution.”

With a women’s wrestling program starting at one of the most accomplished college wrestling schools in the country, there are a lot of eyes on what Chun and Mayabb are building.

“If we do it right, hopefully sooner than later, we will be competing against another Big Ten school or another Big 12 school or another AAC school or another Ivy school or another big program that is willing to add women’s wrestling,” Chun said.

The gravity of the moment for women's college wrestling, which the NCAA classifies as an emerging sport in 2020, isn't lost on the Hawkeyes' coaching staff.

“This is a game-changer," Mayabb said. "I think that the University of Iowa and the support and people they have here and their wrestling tradition, they want to see this turn out not only the right way but the best way.”

Iowa women's wrestlers will compete unattached during their 2022-23 season.

The Hawkeyes will formally begin competing during the 2023-24 season.

As an emerging sport, the NCAA won't conduct a Division I championship unless and until there are at least 40 NCAA varsity programs added during the next decade.