Mustang heavyweight and 2023 NCAA qualifier Trevor Tinker came to Cal Poly with something to prove.
Despite being a high school state placewinner his senior year, Tinker jokes that he wasn’t heavily recruited and that it "took some convincing” for Cal Poly head coach Jon Sioredas to let him join the team out of high school. Tinker was newer to the sport, having just started wrestling in high school, and Sioredas wasn’t immediately sold on the 6-foot-7 big man. But Tinker ultimately won him over through persistence, and he joined the Cal Poly team as a walk-on and a practice partner, someone expected to help those around him get better rather than be the star himself.
Congratulations to Senior Scholar and Champion Trevor Tinker who has officially committed to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to wrestle and is majoring in Kinesiology! #goldblooded #Classof2020 @NHSRenaissance @NHS_ASB @CVUSD_Supt_DrS @NorthviewWrest1 @NHSYearbook2 pic.twitter.com/GXWp3iXPtW— Northview Vikings (@NHSVikings) May 14, 2020
Flash forward three years though, and it’s Tinker — that same once-overlooked athlete — stepping on to the mat with the 2023 Pac-12 regular season title and a dual meet win on the line for the Mustangs and transforming himself into the definition of a star for his team. Cal Poly led Oregon State 16-15 going into Tinker’s match on that February afternoon, so a win would seal the deal but a loss would end the team’s undefeated conference season. Tinker explains that earlier in his career the pressure might have overwhelmed him, but not that day. In front of the Mustang faithful, Tinker topped Oregon State’s J.J. Dixon 8-2 to seal the victory for himself and his team.
It’s a moment that the Missouri native remembers as the highlight of his career so far, and one that shows how living by Cal Poly's core values of growth, attitude, effort and respect can lead to greatness for athletes. Here’s what you need to know about the leadership and improvement of Tinker and the rest of Sioredas’ Cal Poly squad, a young and hungry team that will be ready to scrap come November.
The rise of the Mustangs
The year before Sioredas took over the program in 2016, the Mustangs finished sixth in the conference and did not qualify any athletes for the national tournament. Last year, under Sioredas’s leadership, the Mustangs sent five athletes to nationals, finished 27th as a team and put one wrestler, Bernie Truax, on the podium.
The process of transitioning this team into a competitive program again was a slow-going “steady climb," according to Sioredas, as he recounts how Cal Poly lost every single dual the Mustangs wrestled in his second and third year as head coach. He qualified several wrestlers for nationals over the course of those years, but, as a team, Cal Poly struggled. Sioredas remembers this “defeated” experience vividly. It was a major juncture for him as a leader, and he seized on this moment as a time to reevaluate and institute a new strategic plan.
This new plan, one that would carry Cal Poly wrestling into its next phase, included a Mustang Wrestling Foundation, increased fundraising efforts and the development of a Regional Training Center. These were “methodical” moves, Sioredas said, but they worked.
In 2020, Cal Poly 197-pounder Tom Lane earned NWCA Honorable Mention All-American honors for his No. 13 seed at the canceled NCAA tournament and became the first Division I Cal Poly wrestler to earn any kind of All-American honors in eight years. The following year, 174-pounder Bernie Truax finished fourth at the national tournament in the first of what would be three podium finishes for Truax as a Mustang. Wisconsin transfer Evan Wick also notched a third-place finish in 2022 before transitioning into a coaching role with the program. Add these successes together with the growth of the Regional Training Center at the school that now boasts a roster that includes athletes like Wick and two-time NCAA champion Nick Suriano, and Cal Poly is finding its footing in a serious way.
“I've been here seven years now, and when I take a step back and take the 30,000-foot view and really see the transformation of this program to where it is now, a perennial top 25 program, producing All-Americans annually, and putting together strong dual meet teams, and now having several guys that are having an opportunity to make more Olympic teams, it's pretty darn cool,” Sioredas said.
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The seasoned Cal Poly coach is competitive and wants more, but he’s quick to say that winning isn’t even his number one goal.
“The most rewarding [thing] is seeing the guys graduate, start their careers and start their families,” he said. “That's what it's really about at the end of the day.”
A “pursuit of personal growth”
Trevor Tinker bought into this mindset of personal development and improvement early. In fact, this holistic approach is one of the things that drew him to want to wrestle for Sioredas and be part of the Cal Poly program in general.
“We just have a really good team culture, I think that's the biggest thing,” Tinker said. “The main thing we focus on now is…growth…It's not about winning, it's not about losing, like your record doesn't matter. Ultimately, [it's] just a pursuit of personal growth, on and off the mat, and if you do the right things, and you just focus on getting better every day, the results will take care of themselves.”
Growth is one of the four core values that guide the Cal Poly wrestling program, and it’s the one that Tinker resonates with the most, though he’s quick to say that all of the program’s values matter, and he appreciates all of them. His willingness to not only live out these values on the mat but to guide others through this learning process has helped him emerge as a leader for the Mustang, alongside teammates Legend Lamer, Kendall La Rosa and Jarad Priest.
Sioredas and the coaching staff meet twice a week with Tinker and the rest of this athlete leadership foursome to assess the culture and ensure unity, and Sioredas said hehas been impressed by the impact of this group on the young, up-and-coming stars on the team, specifically 125-pounder Dom Mendez and 133-pounder Zeth Romney. Both athletes were identified by Sioredas, Tinker and Lamer as guys who represent the values Cal Poly stands for and are ready to make their mark.
“They're really tough young guys,” Lamer said. “I'm excited to watch them come out this year and scrap.”
Mendez, a two-time California state placewinner, and Romney, a three-time California state placewinner, could see dual action as soon as Nov. 3 when Cal Poly makes its season debut against Rutgers at home. Though the full schedule has not been released yet, Sioredas flagged the Rutgers dual as a big one to watch, while Lamer, now a redshirt junior, is looking forward to traveling to Corvallis to compete against Oregon State alongside his brother, Cal Poly 149-pounder Chance. The team will also compete at Cliff Keen Las Vegas and Midlands in the fall semester.
Cal Poly may not be a fully-funded program, but don’t expect that to slow the Mustangs down this year. This is a team that is competing for Top-25 recognition through a specific model of training, one focused on growth, respect, attitude and effort. The group works hard and wants to win, but the focus remains on fulfilling personal goals and developing as individuals.
“Our purpose [is] just] essentially…helping create remarkable men for life after wrestling,” Sioredas said. “[The] secondary benefit is winning wrestling matches…so it's a little bit different way of doing things, but we've had a lot of success doing it that way.”