Wrestlers fight extreme altitude for a spot in national championships

Head coach Lars Jensen tells his SF State wrestlers one thing before every match: “Walk in there like you own the place.”

Three gator wrestlers did exactly that in the NCAA Division II Super West Region/RMAC Championships in Grand Junction, Colo. March 1 and 2.

Isaiah Hurtado, Zach Jimenez and Andrew Reggi will move forward to the NCAA Division II National Championships in Cleveland, Ohio March 14, where the ultimate title in college wrestling will be crowned — National Champion.

Graduating senior Hurtado wants to end his collegiate wrestling career strong as an All-American. He finished a perfect 3-0 for the tournament to win the West Region title in the 133 weight class.

“I want to make the most of my final weeks, because after (champs), my wrestling career is over,” Hurtado said.

Senior Jimenez finished in third place at this past weekend’s Super Region. He previously qualified for the National Championships as a freshman in 2010, so the return to nationals this month will be a step closer to achieving the daily reminder he keeps tacked on his bedroom wall.

“On my wall at the beginning of the season I wrote ‘Goal for year: 184 National Champ’,” Jimenez said. “It’s about getting the job done. Staying calm and relaxed.”

The wrestlers weren’t just battling opponents this past weekend, they were also battling the elevation in Colorado at 4,500 feet.

“It’s tough competing at that elevation, we’re not used to it,” Jensen said. “Some kids might have been affected from it. We should (have) had four to five qualifiers.”

Redshirt junior Andrew Reggi said he expected to win, even after going into double-overtime both days he competed. He eventually won the double tie-breaker due to his eight additional seconds of riding time over his opponent to claim third place and a spot in nationals.

“I was tired but I pushed through. I wanted to make it to champs,” Reggi said. “I went to wrestle well and wrestle tough.”

To lighten up the long travel times and exhausting duals, head coach Jensen resorts to odd methods for keeping his team mentally focused and sharp.

He hides their wrestling gear for them to find — shoes and all. It gives much needed laughter to an otherwise serious and brutal sport.

“I knew (Jensen) was the one who hides my stuff, because coach kept asking, ‘Hey where are your shoes?’” Reggi said.

As a head coach, Jensen had a 16 year streak of having at least one of SF State’s wrestlers being named an All-American from 1989 to 2005 by placing in the top eight at nationals.

The Gators will train hard as the NCAA Division II National Championships are fast approaching, and for Hurtado and Jimenez, it will be one final chance to walk away with a title in their last career tournament.

“It is bittersweet, but in the long run, I’m happy with what I’ve done,” Hurtado said. “I probably won’t continue with wrestling…it’s a lot of sacrifice and I am looking forward to my career now.”