Gators’ battle for All-American status comes up short

The wrestling program ended its season Friday with two national qualifiers competing in the Division II National Championships in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Junior Sam Alnassiri went 1-2, grabbing the 12th spot in his weight class, while Fern Giron lost both of his matches.

Neither wrestler won enough matches to become an All-American, which was the goal for both Gators, but head coach Lars Jensen was proud of how they performed.

“It was a very competitive tournament,” Jensen said. “I thought we competed OK. I think we were more competitive than last year, but we just didn’t win the right matches.”

Giron wrestled first against the eventual 133-pound national champion, Nick Roberts of University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, and lost 8-4.

“Coming off the mat I was a little bit nervous because I was wrestling the No. 2 in the nation,” Giron said. Giron didn’t let the feeling affect him as he jumped out to a 3-2 lead at the end of the first period.

Wrestlers have the option to start on bottom, on top or in a neutral position at the beginning of either the second or third period, and Giron was confident he could handle Roberts in the neutral position. After talking to his coaches, they decided he would start on the bottom to hopefully get a quick escape to score a point.

“I went bottom and he rode me,” Giron said. “He turned me twice before I could escape.”

Roberts was able stretch the lead and get the win while sending Giron to the consolation bracket.

In the heavyweight division, Alnassiri faced Mike Kennedy of Newberry College and had a heartbreaking 3-2 loss.

“I knew if I got a takedown I’d win the match,” Alnassiri said. “When I went to go do one of my moves that I usually do a lot, I kind of slipped and then he scored off that.”

That slip was costly as Kennedy was able to score two points and take the lead. Alnassiri was never able to take the lead back.

Both wrestlers were in a win-or-go home situation after the first round.

Giron’s first consolation match was against seventh-ranked Jordan Simpson of Newberry College.

“After that first match, I felt great,” Giron said. “I had just lost to the guy I knew who was going to win it. I knew I could compete at that level with anybody in the nation.”

Simpson got an early lead on Giron in the first period and created an insurmountable lead, ending Giron’s promising first season with a 7-2 loss.

Like Giron, one more loss would send Alnassiri home, but he wasn’t ready to make that trip.

“I forgot about it,” Alnassiri said. “I had another match, so it was time to go. I had to win this one or else I’m done.”

Alnassiri rebounded from his first-round loss with a 4-2 decision over Logan Bowman of Wheeling Jesuit University. One more win would guarantee Alnassiri All-American honors but his next match was against Jacob Mitchell of Colorado State University – Pueblo. The two faced each other three times this season, including at nationals.

After facing Mitchell so many times, Alnassiri had a plan.

“He gasses, so we were trying to push the pace,” Alnassiri said. “I felt like I was keeping it on him, but I messed up and he caught me for big points and I basically lost by the margin of points he got me by.”

Alnassiri lost the match 10-4.

Jensen was disappointed there were no All-Americans from SF State for the second season in a row, but was proud of how the wrestlers did at nationals.

“(Giron) had a tough draw,” Jensen said. “Right of the bat he had the eventual champion. But a true freshman going to the national tournament, he’s got three more years left. Him and (Alnassiri) got the taste in their mouth to get better.”

The Gators ended the tournament 41st out of 48 teams.