The SF State wrestlers emerge from a grueling winter schedule bruised and battered–but not broken.
With the Gators traveling for most of winter recess–first to the National Wrestling Coaches Association Duals in Iowa, and later to Cal State Fullerton and Cal Baptist in Riverside–there was little time to recuperate from back-to-back matches against tough competitors.
An unprecedented number of injuries proved to be a handicap for the Gators throughout winter recess.
“The biggest factor is that we’ve run into so many injuries,” said head Coach Lars Jensen about their performance over break.
“I’ve never in all my coaching had this many injuries,” said Jensen, now in his 28th year of coaching at SF State.
The Gators started the new year off with success, placing second overall in the Menlo College Invitational. Junior Naveed Bagheri and sophomore Isaiah Jimenez both dominated their individual weight classes, and eight other wrestlers placed in the top four of each of their respective weight classes.
The team traveled to Cedar Falls, Iowa, where they competed against five nationally ranked teams in two days at the National Wrestling Coaches Association National Duals.
“We won some key matches and were firing on all cylinders,” said Jensen. “When one of our kids gets hurt, it’s hard to win a dual meet when you give up six points.”
In spite of injuries and losing a few difficult matchups, the Gators finished 8th overall in Iowa, shooting them from the 20th to the 8th position in the weekly team polls.
The Gators traveled next to Fullerton where the team came up short against two Division I opponents, with a 33-9 defeat to Wyoming and a 34-8 loss to Cal State Fullerton. Many hours of traveling and several long practices began to take a physical toll on the athletes.
“It was pretty hectic,” said senior wrestler Pierre Bondoc. “We didn’t put up as good of an effort and wrestle as tough as we did in our previous matches. We were beat up over the whole grind we’d been through the past month.”
The final meet of winter break took the Gators to Cal Baptist in Riverside, where four of the teams starters were sidelined due to various injuries.
Although the Gators started out strong against both opponents–initially leading 6-0 against Cal Baptist and 3-0 against Grand Canyon, they were unable to seal a victory in either match, and lost six crucial points in the decision against Cal Baptist due to injury.
After a much-needed three days off, the Gators look ahead to facing Division I Stanford this Sunday, Jan. 30.
“We know how they wrestle,” said Jensen of the upcoming Stanford match. “They’re very tough, very physical, and they’re good on the mats. We want to have the guys we plug into the lineup to have good performances and wrestle hard. We want to wrestle up to our limit, and we’ll see how well we do.”
Assistant Coach Mauricio Wright recognizes that there is more work that needs to be done as the team faces important final matches of the season.
“Our main focus right now is getting the guys healthy, correcting small but critical errors, and getting a lot of mat time,” said Wright. “We have older guys on the team, but still don’t have that veteran level of experience that you might expect seniors to have.”