Former World Champion and two-time United States Olympian Elena Pirozhkova has been selected as the first-ever head coach of the New Jersey City University women's wrestling program. Pirozhkova, 32, one of the most decorated American women in the history of the sport, will have the unique opportunity to develop the first-ever collegiate program in the state of New Jersey or the tri-state area, from the ground floor.
Pirozhkova, a 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympian, was crowned the 2012 World Champion. A 2010 and 2014 World silver medalist and a 2013 World bronze medalist, she finished fifth at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. She wrestled for Team USA for 10 years (2007-17), wrapping up her competitive career in 2016-17 ranked No. 1 in the United States at 63 kg/138.75 lbs.
"Having a women's program at NJCU is very exciting and I'm looking forward to being a part of this momentum in women's wrestling in the NCAA," said Pirozhkova. "NJCU is a great place to build a women's program due to its location and resources. It's exciting to start a new program and be part of history in the making."
Shawn Tucker, Director of Athletics and Associate Vice President, added: "This is a great day in the history of New Jersey City University and our athletics program. We have hit a grand slam with the hiring of Elena Pirozhkova as our first-ever women's wrestling coach. Elena is a world champion and an Olympian. She has done it all in the sport of wrestling and is a hero to young women in the sport around the country and the world. Her experience level cannot be understated. Coming on the heels of our historic announcement as the first women's wrestling program in the state of New Jersey, the excitement level is very high. Adding Elena as the leader of this program will only elevate that excitement. NJCU will be a destination for girls from around the country who will want to be coached as a collegian by a true champion, both on the mat and in life."
Pirozhkova was a member of Team USA world championship and Olympic teams for nine straight years from 2008-16 and won an eight-time U.S. Open champion (2009-15, 2017). She captured the 2008 and 2010 University World championship, was a four-time Pan American Championships champion and a three-time Golden Grand Prix Finals champion. Pirozhkova was the 2010 USA Wrestling Women's Wrestler of the Year.
"Elena Pirozhkova was one of the mainstays on our Senior National Team for a decade," said Terry Steiner, USA Wrestling National Women's Coach. "Elena is a past World champion with five World-level medals to her credit. She earned every bit of those medals. She started as just a normal kid and grew into a great champion for Team USA! There is no doubt in my mind that Elena will have a positive effect on the athletes she is around on a daily basis. I'm excited for Elena and also excited for New Jersey City University and the athletes she is coaching."
Kyra Tirana Barry, the Team Leader for USA Wrestling Women's Freestyle at the 2016 Rio Olympics noted: "I am thrilled that Elena will be continuing her wrestling career as a collegiate coach in New Jersey. Over the last 10 years, I have watched Elena grow from a young senior team participant into a talented and thoughtful student of all aspects of the sport. She has long supported her peers, mentored up-and-coming athletes and more recently been an active board member guiding Beat the Streets. As women's wrestling moves toward NCAA Emerging Sport status, the sport will be fortunate to have Elena leading a program and contributing to collegiate wrestling's development and success."
At NJCU, Pirozhkova will serve as a head coach for the first time. During her competitive career, she has coached for Team New York at the Fargo Junior Nationals and has trained younger girls at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She has also served as an instructor at numerous clinics throughout her competitive years and worked with Beat the Streets as a coach.
"Having this program so close to home is an amazing opportunity for me as a coach and for the women on the East Coast," Pirozhkova noted. "I'm excited to build a great, high-level program here in Jersey City."
Pirozhkova has been a board member for Beat the Streets New York for nearly two years. She received her bachelor's degree from the University of Bridgeport and is currently completing her PhD in Bridgeport's Doctor of Chiropractic program.
A native of Greenfield, Massachusetts, she attended Greenfield High School where she was a 2005 ASICS High School All-American Second Team member and the 2005 United States Girls' Wrestling Association (USGWA) national champion. She placed third in the 2003 and 2004 USGWA Nationals. She started wrestling at the age of 13, competing primarily against boys in high school. Born in Russia, she moved to the United States at the age of three.
Pirozhkova resides in Jersey City, N.J. with her husband, Alan Vera, an international Greco-Roman wrestling star for Team USA, and formerly the Cuban National Team.