A fresh face in Muhlenberg athletics

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The wrestling mats the night before a tournament. @muhlenberg_womenswrestling on Instagram

On Feb. 15, 2023, Muhlenberg College announced the addition of its 23rd athletic program, women’s wrestling, with resounding confidence and enthusiasm. The school claimed in its press release, “Further advancing its commitment to provide robust and competitive athletics opportunities, Muhlenberg College is adding women’s varsity wrestling as its 23rd varsity sport.” Especially considering the state of women’s wrestling in today’s athletic climate, Muhlenberg is jumping into one of the fastest-growing competitive sports in the nation, an initiative to be proud of. So, with this announcement, the school immediately began conducting its search for the leader of this brand-new program, a process ending in the hiring of Travis Spencer.

Spencer was officially announced as head coach of the women’s wrestling program on June 6, 2023, with the athletic department announcing the hire. According to that announcement, “Spencer will have an immediate opportunity to hire an assistant coach to support the program’s development, as the College received a Division III Coaching Enhancement Grant from the NCAA. The grant is designed to support member institutions that are committed to enhancing ethnic minority and gender representation in newly created assistant coaching positions for any NCAA-sponsored sport.” This position has yet to be filled. The job for Spencer also includes being an assistant athletic director, making his interim period even more action-packed as he integrates himself into the Muhlenberg community. 

Spencer commented on his adjustment thus far, “I grew up and lived in the area, so I know the community already, making it an easy transition for me to move to campus. Getting back into the sport of wrestling is something that I’m passionate about. I was excited for an opportunity to grow women’s wrestling, put Muhlenberg out in front of that process, and get more girls wrestling. So, when the opportunity came through, it was a good fit for me at the right time in my life, and it’s been a great ride since.” If you have traveled anywhere near the Life Sports Center, you have likely seen Spencer in one way or another.

Regarding the sport of wrestling, it has consumed Spencer for his entire life, and he is eager to bring that passion to his future wrestlers, “I wrestled my whole life since second grade through college. I wrestled at the University of Scranton and then coached at Scranton for six years afterward before moving back to the Lehigh Valley, working at Lehigh University for just under 15 years and being close with their wrestling program. I refereed here in District 11 for almost ten years. So I stayed in the sport by refereeing youth through high school kids before taking a position in New Jersey.” Spencer has engaged with wrestling in almost every way possible, a testament to his love for the sport. 

In his six months at the helm, Spencer has been tireless in putting his name out there and getting Muhlenberg women’s wrestling into the minds of prospective students looking to wrestle collegiately. “For me, I have to sell a brand, which is Muhlenberg women’s wrestling,” said Spencer.  “So I came up with the hashtag ‘let’s gro.’ I have been on the trail since almost day one going to different schools, communities and campuses to let people know about our college and let them know we have a women’s wrestling team, and the response has been amazing. I was in New York City a few weeks ago, I’ve been down to Princeton. I’m at Lehigh a lot. I’ve been to many different high school towns, even clubs over the last few weeks, just letting people know who we are and trying to build a program while also trying to find the right kids to build that program.”

Spencer continued to be optimistic about the state of the program heading into a busy winter recruiting period, “I’m just letting people know that we have wrestling, and the reputation of Muhlenberg will rise above any lack of knowledge when they see what kind of institution we are. Now, we have women’s wrestling, which is not common in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, but we want to make sure the girls that come here are the right fit, they feel good about where they’re at, and they build the culture of our program. So, I think we have a pretty good head start on where we want to be.”

The importance of finding the right athletes to recruit to a program cannot be understated, especially when starting a program from scratch. The athletes who represent Muhlenberg women’s wrestling will continually look to uphold the program’s values and standards, with help from coaches and athletic faculty, as they begin to cycle through the ranks. Spencer commented on finding the trailblazers of his program, “Work hard and be coachable, that’s what I want. Girls who are resilient, show high character and treat people the right way, including their teammates and the people around them. [I want to] help them understand that the world is bigger than even our program, and to have them want to be a force in that world. I want my girls to go out and be professionals. I want them to be moms. I want them to be sisters and daughters that we’re proud of and that, you know, wear our name across their chest.”

The Lehigh Valley wrestling community is strong, and Spencer looks to use that to the program’s advantage when explaining the positive and tightly-knit Muhlenberg community. “There are only two [women’s wrestling programs] in the Lehigh Valley of the 11 or 12 schools that are here,” added Spencer. “There are only two that have sanctioned women’s programs, and we’re at the front of that. So, I don’t want to let people down. I want to let prospective student-athletes know that they can come here to wrestle. We have some great [local] high school programs started on the girls’ side, with numbers increasing year to year. They need a place to go, and some of them want to stay home. So why not us? Right? Why not us? You know, somebody has to be a national champ, why not me?”

Spencer and the athletic department have held events on campus this year to promote women’s wrestling and gauge interest from any current students. This past Sunday, Dec. 3, there was a local women’s wrestling open tournament on campus where novice wrestlers aged 17-23 could learn about the program and compete. On Oct. 18, Spencer held an interest meeting for students currently enrolled at Muhlenberg who wanted to hear more about the women’s wrestling program. 

Alexandria Konzelmann ‘26 was one of the five students who attended that interest meeting, and she had nothing but good things to say about her interactions with Spencer. “I have spoken with Coach Travis,” said Konzelmann. “He has been very open and honest with how he wants to build the program, and for me, transparency is key to making a good leader. He answers any questions that I’ve had to the best of his ability, and you can tell he is trying to build a program Muhlenberg will be proud of.” Regarding potential roster size, Spencer is aiming for 10-15 wrestlers for the inaugural 2024 season, making the five who attended the interest meeting that much more meaningful for the program.

Konzelmann, after seeing what the program and sport are about, is optimistic about its potential to land feet first on campus next fall. “I think having the addition of the Muhlenberg women’s wrestling team will bring a major sense of inclusion for the girls on campus,” relayed Konzelmann. “I also think that it will give the campus something to rally behind, a new and exciting thing that will give them something new to watch, something some people may have never seen before.”

As fall 2024 approaches, Spencer has his eyes set on creating the next program to walk through those red doors as champions after a long, grueling season, and he has spent his time on campus well thus far. “The last six months have been really fun,” Spencer disclosed. “The university has embraced the challenge of adding this program, and we have a lot of plans to help support not just our program but other programs. This is also certainly an opportunity for young ladies to come here, wrestle, have strong academics and graduate as high-character human beings.”

To embrace creating a women’s wrestling program is a purposeful and ingenious endeavor from the College, a sign that shows the willingness to take unique steps in developing its athletics. There is a subtle buzz around the team and sport now, but that buzz will be loud by next fall when the newest Mules step onto the mat. 

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