What a difference a few months can make.
After being unsure of the state of their wrestling team coming into 2018, SF State wrestlers are capitalizing on a revitalized program.
“Starting the season we were all scared, like, ‘Oh, the program might get dropped,’ until now — we’re 25th in the nation,” said redshirt senior Sam Alnassiri, a 2018 Second Team All-RMAC heavyweight. The ranking is the Gators’ first top-25 placement since 2014.
Alnassiri noted that when he came to campus in 2014, he was part of a substantial group of underclassmen who were challenging the upperclassmen for mat time, making for a highly competitive team. He said the past two or three years have been difficult, culminating in 2017 when the team had no national qualifier.
“From last year, what I observed, there were a lot of kids here but nobody was really motivated,” Alnassiri said.
Head coach Jason Welch sees a lot of self-driven attitudes from his wrestlers this season. “They’re showing up with a goal in mind, not just showing up,” Welch said.
Welch is in the early stages of his first year on the job, and Alnassiri is impressed with the quick turnaround.
“He came in late, we didn’t have the summer with him, so it’s crazy to see the progress and improvement we’ve been making,” Alnassiri said.
He mentioned Welch’s status as an accomplished high school and collegiate wrestler as a morale booster, but he highlighted Welch’s ability to delegate responsibility as a key reason for the better wrestling.
“We went from two coaches to five in a matter of a year,” Alnassiri said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is serious. They’re making moves.’”
The larger coaching staff and their varying expertise, allows each wrestler to get more precise training. Alnassiri is appreciative that Welch brought in someone like Orry Elor, an accomplished heavyweight who Alnassiri can go all-out with in practice.
“We have a coach for every different style,” said redshirt sophomore Nate Cervantez, a member of the All-RMAC First Team.
Welch has also built familiarity with many of his wrestlers from running wrestling camps in California for the past few years. Cervantez said he was shocked and relieved when he heard Welch would be hired.
“I know Jason on a personal note. I met him when I was younger,” said Cervantez. “He knows my uncle, and a lot of people I wrestled with in the past. I knew we were gonna be in good hands.”
The youth of the coaching staff is a factor that Alnassiri and Cervantez agreed is important as well.
“All the other coaches, like Orry, Ryan (Loder), we can connect a lot with them,” Cervantez said.
“He understand us a little bit more,” Alnassiri said.
Welch is proud of his fairly young roster, which contains only two other seniors aside from Alnassiri.
SF State has taken down seventh-ranked Colorado State Pueblo, ninth-ranked California Baptist and 23rd-ranked Lindenwood en route to their new ranking. “We’re ahead of where I hoped to be,” Welch said.
Although the team has seen swift benefits from their work, Welch said the key is to peak at the right time.
“You’re not gonna get better or worse within the next couple of weeks,” he said. “It’s all about who’s feeling good in that moment.”