June 13, 2011
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EDWARDSVILLE, ILL. - The final piece of the conference puzzle materialized Monday as Southern Illinois University Edwardsville wrestling was named an associate member of the Southern Conference.
SIUE joined Gardner-Webb (Boiling Springs, N.C.) and Campbell (Buies Creek, N.C.) as associate members who will help the Southern Conference improve to eight members. The other league members include Chattanooga (Chattanooga, Tenn.), The Citadel (Charleston, S.C.), Appalachian State (Boone, N.C.), VMI (Lexington, Va.), and Davidson (Davidson, S.C.).
"The establishment of men's wrestling in the Southern Conference is one of the final pieces as SIUE completes the NCAA Division I certification process," said SIUE Chancellor Vaughn Vandegrift. "While most of our student-athletes will compete in the Ohio Valley Conference (with men's soccer as an affiliate member of the Missouri Valley Conference), becoming an associate member in the Southern Conference means that all SIUE student-athletes can compete for NCAA Division I championships in major conferences. We are most pleased with this development."
SIUE Director of Athletics Dr. Brad Hewitt said the Southern Conference is the proper fit for Cougar Wrestling.
"We are very pleased to join the other seven members of the Southern Conference and extend our congratulations to Gardner-Webb and Campbell. We believe this will be an exciting partnership for SIUE. It gives SIUE's wrestlers a great opportunity for postseason competition and to realize their goal of competing at the NCAA Division I Championships," Hewitt said.
SIUE wrestling began in 1969, and this move marks the first time in the 41-year history of the program that it has been affiliated with a conference. SIUE Head Coach David Ray said joining a conference for his up-and-coming wrestling program is an important step in its development.
"This is a great day for SIUE Wrestling. We've got a conference - a good conference. It's a conference with longevity. They brought in two other teams which shows the commitment from all of the athletic directors," said Ray. "That's a positive vision from the Southern Conference."
Ray said the Cougars immediately will begin to schedule as many Southern Conference schools as possible. SIUE will not be eligible for the 2011-12 conference championships which will be the 75th annual event in Chattanooga. The Cougars will first compete in conference championships on March 9, 2013, to be held at VMI.
Participation in conference championships is how individuals gain entry into the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
"This Conference will give our student-athletes the best opportunity to qualify for the Division I national championships and be there for the big dance," said Ray.