Six Gators qualify for national wrestling championships

Gators, Gene Choi, right, engage in a wrestling match with Mesa State's Zak Slotten at the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference wrestling championships at SF State on Feb. 26. Gene Choi would go on to win in double overtime with a score of 11-5. Edward Chow / staff photographer

The SF State Gators wrestling team made it clear that they have what it takes to compete on a national level after hosting the NCAA Division II Super Regionals this weekend with six wrestlers advancing to the national championships.

The Gators’ performance in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Championship was headlined by senior Josh Nolan, who captured the title in the 157-pound weight class.

Nolan’s individual championship, along with national-qualifying performances from fellow Gators Pierre Bondoc, Gene Choi, Naveed Bagheri, Isaiah Jimenez and Matt Thomas, bolstered SF State to fourth place overall in the regional championship with 97 total points.

Nolan’s nail biting 3-2 victory over Western State’s Justin Morris was determined by an escape in the second period and a tactful takedown in the third. Although Nolan ended with the results he wanted, he acknowledged his relief once triumph was his.

SF State wrestler Joshua Nolan smiles during a press conference after the 2011 NCAA Division II Super Regional 4/Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Wrestling Championships at the SF State gymnasium on Sunday, Feb. 27. Nolan won the 157-pound weight class championship. Eric Soracco / staff photographer

“I was getting a little nervous. The match was not going like I planned,” Nolan said. “I wanted to get out there and score more points, but once I got that takedown I felt like I could finish the match and get the win.”

With Nolan’s victory, the Gators delivered a regional champion to nationals for the third consecutive year, following teammate junior Naveed Bagheri’s victories in both 2009 and 2010.

Bagheri, who was not allowed to compete in the final match of the regionals due to injury, was limited to second place but still plans to contend for a national title.

The team has had to deal with injuries, and junior Matt Thomas is no exception. Despite suffering various injuries, Thomas secured fourth place in the 149-pound weight class, defeating Colorado Mines’ Jesse Snider in a major 18-7 decision in the consolation semifinals but falling short in the third-place match against Kenny Jordan of Adams State College in a 12-3 loss.

Senior Bondoc’s two wins in the consolation round landed him in fourth place in the 125-pound weight class, securing a spot at nationals for his first time ever. After emerging victorious from a 19-6 decision over Mesa State College’s Daniel Romero, Bondoc rode out a very close 2-0 win over Jerry Huff of Adams State.

“It was really close,” Bondoc said of his nerve-racking final victory. “He almost got a reversal. He lifted my leg almost above my head, but I just wanted it too much.”

Bondoc, who was in good spirits after the final bouts, credited the athletic trainers for preparing him for the acrobatics he would face in that final match.

“I thank our trainers for helping me stretch out,” Bondoc said. “Earlier in the morning, our trainer was stretching me out and had my leg in that same position. I was thinking, ‘what am I gonna need this for today?’ But I’m glad we worked on it.”

Senior Choi will also join his teammates as a national contender, finishing third in the 174-pound weight class. Choi bested Colorado Mines’ Brandon Sheldon with an 8-3 decision and dominated Trent Zempel of Chandron State in a major 10-0 decision.

Sophomore Isaiah Jimenez also placed third, securing two victories in the consolation round in the 165-pound weight class.

SF State wrestler Isaiah Jimenez releases his emotions after a win on his way to claim 3rd place in the 165-pound weight class during the NCAA Division II Super Regional Tournament at SF State Feb. 27, 2011. Jon Weiand / staff photographer

Head coach Lars Jensen, who acknowledged his gratification with the team’s successes, explained that he and his wrestlers would press on to nationals with confidence.

“We’re going to get the guys healthy and we have only about seven practices left, so we don’t have much time,” Jensen said. “In the next couple of days, we’re going to try to mend all our injuries, heal all our wounds and get healthy again.”

Jensen explained that in addition to maintaining weight and preparing for the physical aspect of national competition, he strives to get his wrestlers in the right frame of mind to compete.

“It’s more mental than anything else,” Jensen said. “Anybody could beat anybody. It doesn’t matter what you placed in the tournament now.”

SF State will travel to Kearney, Neb., to compete for in the NCAA Division II National Championships on March 11-12.

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