Nearly every facet of the University’s wrestling program is rooted in tradition. The Gator team was created in 1939 and Lars Jensen is in his 29th year as head coach.
The team looks to add to its winning legacy this season, even after seven players graduated last semester.
“This year’s going to be more of a growing year, but we’re definitely going to be strong,” said sophomore Andrew Reggi. “We’re still kinda young but we’re just getting better every day.”
The NCAA Division II Wrestling Coaches Association ranked the team 19th in the nation in its preseason poll, announced online Oct. 26.
“It feels good, considering we graduated a lot of people last year,” said junior Zach Jimenez. “We have a good, young team so I think that we can definitely go up higher. You always want to be in the top eight.”
Zach’s brother, sophomore Isaiah Jimenez, agreed.
“We have a lot of new guys so it should be a fun year. We’ve got a lot of good new recruits, so we’ll see how everyone does,” Isaiah said.
Isaiah has already done well; he had a 25-16 record last season and led the team with a whopping 83 takedowns. The team will especially need his leadership this season since it’s without another top performer, Naveed Bagheri.
Bagheri, a senior, led the team with his 32-8 record and had 63 takedowns last season but is “redshirting” this season, meaning he can practice but not compete, so he can focus on academics and train for the 2012 season, according to coach Lars Jensen.
According to an online NCAA article, the Gators have finished among the top 25 at the Division II national championships 19 times since 1990. The players are determined to continue the team’s success.
“I want to win a national title this year,” Isaiah said. “I qualified last year, and my match was lost in the last seconds and I still remember the exact feeling, so (I’ve had that) drive me all summer.”
That loss, and Isaiah’s determination, are already serving him well. He was ranked sixth in the nation in 165 pounds weight class, also in a preseason Division II poll. His thoughts, however, are just on the season ahead — on regionals and nationals, specifically, and his teammates feel the same.
“Regionals. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most, and home meets are always exciting,” Reggi said. “I always like coming out to home meets.”
It’s an advantage for these athletes that the sport begins halfway through the semester, allowing them to appropriately split their focus between wrestling and classes.
“Our preseason practices are just a lot of wrestling, drilling, so as soon as the season starts we’re already in pretty good shape,” Isaiah said.
His brother Zach, however, is ready for the season to begin.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “You kind of get tired of wrestling everyone in the room so it’s nice to see some new faces.”
With the coaching track record Jensen has, it’s easy to see why they’re so excited for the season. In 25 of the 29 years he’s been coaching the team has produced at least one All-American player. He doesn’t expect this season to be any different.
“Goals for the year would be to finish in the top 20, have multiple All-Americans, and send four or five kids to nationals,” Jensen said. “Another typical season.”