Fighting for a top spot in the nation is only half the battle – becoming an All-American is the ultimate goal.
Coming off a frustrating 2011-12 season with a 5-9 record, the SF State’s wrestling team is looking to reestablish itself after finishing with no All-Americans for the first time in four years.
“Last year we slipped a little bit,” head coach Lars Jensen said. “We did OK dual meet-wise, but we only sent three kids to nationals.”
Athletes receive All-American status if they place in the top eight in the nation at NCAA championships.
Under the guidance of Jensen, SF State’s wrestling team returns with three veteran wrestlers earning top ranks in a preseason poll by the NCAA Division II Wrestling Coaches Association.
SF State ranked 17th as a team, improving two spots from last season’s No. 19 preseason ranking.
Wrestlers are then divided into 11 weight classes: 125, 133, 141, 149, 157, 165, 174, 184, 197 and the heavyweight category of 285 pounds.
Seniors Isaiah Jimenez and Naveed Bagheri both placed in the top 10 of their respective weight classes with junior Dylan Phillipy leading the group with a No. 5 ranking at 149 pounds.
With three top wrestlers going into this season, Jensen can look forward to a promising year with four to five athletes vying for national titles.
After redshirting last year, veteran Bagheri is returning for his final season on the team with hopes of becoming a national champion, a goal he set for himself when he came to SF State.
“I’ve been wrestling my whole life, so it’s kind of one of those things where it’s all coming down to this year,” Bagheri said. “Just knowing it’s my last one gets me more excited and more focused. This is the last hurrah.”
Bagheri previously earned All-American titles in 2009 and 2011, qualified for nationals three times and is a three-time conference champion. He is currently ninth in school history with 83 victories.
Jensen feels Bagheri is capable of having a great season.
“His goal this year is to be national champion,” Jensen said. “If he has a real good season this year, he’ll probably be second all time in wins here for the Gators. He’s our top guy.”
Adding to the quest for becoming national champions this season is the addition of new assistant coach Jeff Silveira. For the past three seasons Silveira has worked with the SF State wrestling team as a volunteer assistant.
San Jose native Silveira is excited for the opportunity to continue working with Jensen and contributing to the program.
“It turned out to be the best thing because the assistant position opened up here and this is the place where I want to be if I had the choice, at SF State,” Silveira said. “It all worked out for the best.”
Silveira brings 16 years of experience from coaching junior high and high school students and spent the last eight years concentrating on community college athletes.
“In the wrestling community you kind of get to know each other so I’ve known them and their parents for a good five, six sometimes eight years,” Silveira said. “I’ve known the seniors for all four years, some cases five years. Some of the wrestlers were in high school when I was recruiting at the community college level.”
Jimenez has known Silveira since his junior year in high school and describes his coaching style as effective and impactful.
“Great motivator,” Jimenez said. “He’s good with words and he can tell you what you need to hear before a match to get you psyched and get you ready to wrestle at your best level. I love having him around inside the wrestling room.”
Silveira plans on utilizing his established relationships to bring out the best in his athletes and guide them to championships.
“I think this could be one of those years that something special could happen with all the seniors we have and some of the supporting class of sophomores and juniors,” Silveira said. “It’s one of those teams that comes around every three or four years, just a real tough team. If everything works out right we can be a top 10 team at NCAA national championships.”
Taking on one of the toughest Division II schedules, the wrestling team will face the No. 14 team, Colorado’s Adams State University on the road, as well as Division I schools Cal State Bakersfield and Stanford University.
Rookie transfer Calvin Nicholls from Arizona State University is ready to get the season underway. Nicholls is familiar with Jensen after attending SF State’s wrestling clinic as a high school senior.
Nicholls loves the intensity at practices and the laid-back atmosphere outside the mat room at SF State.
“When I was at Arizona, everybody was so serious and no fun, just wrestling,” Nicholls said. “I love how everybody here can come to the mat room and joke around before practice but when practice starts, everything is serious and right when practice ends everybody is joking around again and having fun.”
The Gators will open their 2012-13 season with the annual alumni meet Nov. 3. Matches are set to begin at 11 a.m. in the Gymnasium.