The SF State Gators wrestling squad captured a momentous victory Thursday with a 24-9 decision over Menlo College in its last home match of the season.
Immediate victories in the first four bouts impelled the Gators to a 15-0 lead, from which the Menlo Oaks would not be able to recover.
The Gators had an explosive start in their last battle in the main gymnasium and the excitement was felt as much on the mat as it was by the boisterous crowd.
“As a team, we were pumped for it together,” said 141-pound junior Naveed Bagheri. “We put in the time this week. We were amped on this match, and it showed.”
After sophomore Isaiah Jimenez’s successful 9-4 decision in the first bout, it was senior Gene Choi who commanded the attention of the gymnasium in an impressive performance in the last home match of his career against Menlo’s 174-pound Greg Alvarez.
Choi controlled much of the bout, and entered the match with a confidence that would propel him to victory.
“I felt like I dominated the guy,” Choi said. “I kind of knew going in to the match that I was going to win. Just from weigh-ins, I looked at the guy and kind of sized him up.”
Choi recorded a reversal and 2-point near fall in the second period before pinning his opponent, earning a 9-0 lead for the Gators early on.
The 184-pound Zach Jimenez garnered another victory for the Gators with a 6-1 decision, following a stirring match-up between junior Karam Basra and Menlo’s Ali Bannout in the 197-pound weight class. With the score tied 5-5 in the third period, Basra snagged an escape in the final seconds, igniting the crowd and riding the score out to a final 7-5 decision.
The Gators began to struggle, dropping the next three matches in the heavyweight 125 and 133 weight classes.
Head coach Lars Jensen later noted his frustration with some of the Gators’ shortcomings in the less-successful matches.
“We have to improve some basic mat positioning,” Jensen said. “There were matches we could’ve won, but we need to be a little more focused next time. Strategy wise, we need to be a little smarter in our positions.”
Despite small mistakes, the Gators bounced back, winning the final three bouts.
Bagheri claimed his second victory of the season against Menlo wrestler Christian Martinez, a returning NAIA All-American. Bagheri’s two 2-point near falls in the third period would help him achieve an 8-2 decision.
The next two matches that would find the Gators in favor belonged to junior Matt Thomas, who at 149 pounds, claimed a major decision 17-8, and 157-pound senior Joshua Nolan, with an 8-1 decision to end the meet.
“I think we could’ve won nine of the ten matches really,” said Coach Jensen of the team’s final results. “I felt we did all right. We’ve had some guys that were banged up and injured, but we wrestled up to our capability.”
Upon the mention that his team had now beat two local teams, Division I Stanford and now Menlo College, Jensen joked that his Gators were “the kings of the Bay Area.”
The Gators’ six senior wrestlers, who were honored prior to the start of the match, were able to walk away triumphant with their last home game a victory. As a senior, Choi described the moment as bittersweet.
“It feels great and I’ve been waiting for it,” Choi said of the final matches of his wrestling career. “I’m waiting for it to end, but I am going to hate it once it’s over.”
The season wasn’t quite over yet, though, and the Gators faced their toughest opponent to date, Division I Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, on Sunday, Feb. 13. It was a loss of 34-3.
Bagheri acknowledged that although the last meet before conference finals was likely to be the toughest, he felt that it would prove useful for the team as preparation.
“It’s going to be a good indicator of where we are, and it gives us a little bit of confidence knowing that you’re not going to be wrestling someone as tough in the conference finals,” Bagheri said. “I think it’s a really good match to end on, regardless of how the team does.”