Hopes to be women’s wrestling pioneer
By Erik Buchinger
Former New London wrestler Maddie Ruckdashel will be on the roster for the state’s first ever women’s college wrestling team this fall.
Ruckdashel signed her National Letter of Intent in the New London High School auditorium in March to compete for Lakeland University.
“It was really awesome,” Ruckdashel said of Signing Day. “It felt a little surreal just because it happened fast for me. The opportunity came up, and I just took it right way. It was a good feeling to get it done and totally committed.”
Ruckdashel graduated from New London High School in 2017 and said it was important for her to hold her Signing Day in New London.
“That’s where I found my passion for wrestling, and it was nice to have all my friends and family there to support me,” Ruckdashel said. “Some of my best friends are from that team.”
Ruckdashel started wrestling in first grade when she would walk with her younger brother Garrett to New London Middle School where her father Earl was the wrestling coach.
In high school, Earl finished fifth in the state tournament, and Garrett recently finished his high school career at state for New London.
Ruckdashel’s older sister Abbie works for the Wisconsin Wrestling Federation and writes articles for Wisconsin Wrestling Online.
“Wrestling is a really big part of our family,” Ruckdashel said. “It just brings us together. My brother, sister and I for the last two years went to the Big Ten Championships together. It’s just a good thing to bond over, and we get to talk about it. It’s just something special to us.”
Ruckdashel said she has always enjoyed the wrestling because of its individual and team aspects.
“I enjoy that it’s an individual sport and that it’s all on you, but it’s also a team sport too when you’re in the dual situation and everybody is there to support you,” Ruckdashel said. “Wrestling is the toughest sport in my opinion, and it just builds your character and helps you in the real world.”
From wrestling at an early age, Ruckdashel noticed a gradual increase in girls in the sport.
“I remember when I was younger there would be a few girls at tournaments,” Ruckdashel said. “I referee now, so when I go to youth tournaments on the weekends, there are so many more girls, and I actually referee some strictly girls tournaments. On the national level, there are states that are introducing it in high schools, so girls have their own high school teams. It’s really taking off.”
After she finished wrestling in high school, Ruckdashel said she thought her wrestling career was over.
“Once I was done, I thought I had hung up my shoes for good,” Ruckdashel said.
Ruckdashel is a freshman studying psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, but when she heard the news about a women’s wrestling team coming to Wisconsin, she made plans to transfer.
“I didn’t want to go out of state, so when this came up, I knew I had to take the opportunity,” Ruckdashel said.
Ruckdashel said she heard rumors about the potential for a women’s team before Thanksgiving at a coaches’ clinic she was working for in Green Bay. Then in late November, Lakeland University announced it would be the first in Wisconsin to provide college wrestling strictly for women. Ruckdashel’s national coach Gary Quackenbush helped put her in contact with the Lakeland University coaching staff.
Ruckdashel visited Lakeland University before Christmas. She will be studying psychology to become an elementary school counselor or sports counselor.
“It’s a small campus, and I actually think I’m going to enjoy that because there’s less distractions,” Ruckdashel said. “It’s easier to make friends when you’re in a smaller community.”
Ruckdashel said the team expects to have 10 to 14 athletes to begin its first year, and she is excited to help grow the sport.
“That’s really what inspired me to go there,” Ruckdashel said. “I want to go there to be a part of the pioneers that are moving women’s wrestling forward throughout the nation.”