Throughout the past two decades, any news regarding the addition or subtraction of a school's wrestling program has often been negative -- just last year, Boston University joined the long list of casualties.
One of the hardest hit regions has been the West Coast, specifically the state of California, which has lost 85 programs across all divisions, including 15 from Division I.
Last August, Fresno State President Joseph Castro spoke of a January announcement. On Monday, the second day of February, Castro, in a television interview, spoke five words that Bulldog fans have been waiting to hear for a long time: “We’re going to reinstate wrestling.”
He continued, “Of any issue that I heard about during my first year as president, this one was by far the most important to the people. And it would come in unexpected places. Like I might be on a farm, talking about agriculture. Some farms, Ag leaders come up to me and say 'I hope you bring back wrestling.’”In 33 NCAA championship appearances, the Bulldogs’ best finish was eighth in 1993. From 1983 to 2006 -- the year the Fresno State program was dropped -- at least one Bulldog wrestler competed in the big show.
The most notable Bulldog is easily Stephen Abas, a three-time NCAA champion at 125 pounds who compiled 144-4 career record in college and won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
If and when Fresno State returns to the mat, where will they go? By the conclusion of a three- or five-year plan, there's no telling what a conference landscape will look like.
Maybe the Pac-12? The six-team league currently features Oregon State, Stanford, Boise State, Arizona State, Cal State Bakersfield and Cal Poly. The last two California schools to drop programs are Cal State Fullerton (2011) and UC-Davis ('10).
Maybe the six-team Western Wrestling Conference with Wyoming, Air Force, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Utah Valley, and Northern Colorado? It will not be the 12-team Mountain West where Air Force, Boise State, and Wyoming compete in other sports.
There is chatter of the four-team Big 12 hooking up with the WWC for an NCAA qualifying tournament. These are questions and things to ponder for Fresno State first-year athletic director Jim Bartko, whose previous employment was at Oregon, a school that discontinued its wrestling program after the 2007-08 season.
Former Division II powerhouse North Dakota State had a strong weekend in Colorado and Wyoming. Last weekend, the Bison, members of DI since 2006, and their roster of 31 underclassmen and just two seniors, beat Wyoming and Air Force to improve to 7-3 after a 1-3 start this season.
Redshirt-freshmen Mitch Bengtson (141) and Clay Ream (149) opened the dual against the Cowboys with back-to-back pins.
Another of those youngsters, 125-pound sophomore Josh Rodriguez, picked up a 9-7 overtime victory against Wyoming senior All-American Tyler Cox two days after beating Air Force’s talented Josh Martinez.
Rodriguez (15-5) is ranked 13th this week, one of three Bison among the top 20: Junior 184-pounder Hayden Zilmer (26-4) is No. 8 and senior heavyweight Evan Knutson (19-6) is No. 17.
“We’re getting better every week,” said Kish, whose squad is No. 24 in this week’s USA Today/NWCA Division I Coaches Poll. “We are a different team than we were in November and December.”
Fargo will host the West Regional on March 7.
No time to celebrate, sulk
Top-ranked Iowa solidified its claim to No. 1 with a 23-12 win at Minnesota last Friday night sparked by Nick Moore’s pin to open the dual at 165 pounds.
The Hawkeyes (11-0) won five of the first six bouts and led 20-3. Head coach Tom Brands and his squad get little time to celebrate with a trip to University Park, Pennsylvania and a meeting with the reigning NCAA champion Nittany Lions this Sunday.
Undefeated senior 174-pounder Mike Evans (19-0) got the best of one of his rivals, UM’s Logan Storley, last week. Another old foe, PSU’s Matt Brown, is on tap this week for Evans.
Evans and Brown met in the 2014 NCAA quarterfinals with Evans winning in the first overtime tiebreaker. It will be the sixth time the two have met collegiately.
The Penn State-Pittsburgh dual last season set an NCAA wrestling record for attendance with 15,996. The Bryce Jordan Center could host a similar number on Sunday.
“We’ve got to be ready because of the frenzy they have created out there,” said Brands of PSU.
For the Gophers, coming off their first loss this season, it’s a trip to Columbus to face No. 4 Ohio State on Friday night.
• King’s Point, New York is the site of the 21st All-Academy Championships this Saturday. Merchant Marine Academy, a member of Division III, welcomes Army, Navy, Air Force, The Citadel, VMI and DIII Norwich and Coast Guard. Navy won its sixth consecutive and 12th overall All-Academy title last February.
• Iowa State junior 133-pounder Earl Hall, an All-American at 125 pounds last March, continued his strong season this past Sunday with a first-period pin of then second-ranked Cody Brewer of Oklahoma. Hall, ranked fifth, is 21-4 with nine consecutive wins.
• Oregon State (9-0) takes a 12-match win streak into this weekend’s duals with Cal Poly and Boise State in Corvallis. The No. 19 Beavers have won three consecutive Pac-12 titles and host the annual conference meet March 1.
• Oklahoma, ninth at the 2014 NCAA championships, enter this weekend’s duals with Wyoming and Oklahoma State at 6-7. The Sooners have not finished a season under .500 since 1991, when they were 5-14.
• The Heffernan wrestling tree has a new branch at Central Michigan. Illinois head coach Jim Heffernan was an NCAA champion for Iowa in 1986. John Heffernan, also an Iowa Hawkeye, was a Big Ten champion and fourth-place finisher at the 1988 NCAA championships. Both competed for St. Edward High in Ohio. John’s son, Colin, also a St. Edward product, is currently 20-9 and ranked No. 20 at 149 pounds for the Chippewas.