Third-year head coach Brendan Buckley was an integral part in organizing the Cal Poly wrestling team’s first-ever outdoor match to be held in the University Union Plaza on Thursday.
Jefferson P. Nolan
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In 2011, wrestling coach Brendan Buckley received a phone call from Cal Poly Athletics Director Don Oberhelman.
The then-head wrestling coach at Columbia University rarely thought of San Luis Obispo until that call, but when a job offer came, Buckley’s memory raced back to his senior year in college.
Sporting a red and blue singlet, Buckley had traveled to San Luis Obispo with the Fresno State wrestling team.
The year was 1997. Buckley was an All-American in his senior year, and the 142-pound athlete dominated his match with a 14-3 victory.
That year, the Bulldogs finished the season ranked No. 10 in the nation.
The trip to San Luis Obispo was a quick one — the team was in the middle of the season when they traveled to compete against the Mustangs.
However, Buckley distinctly recalled climbing Morro Rock with his brother, and the two dined at the Madonna Inn for lunch.
“When I got the coaching position at Cal Poly, it was definitely nostalgic,” Buckley said. “Back then (in 1997), I was a senior and a captain. We were right in the midst of the postseason, so it was a quick trip.”
After he graduated from Fresno State, Buckley simply asked himself what made him happiest.
Undoubtedly, the answer was wrestling. It was always wrestling.
Buckley pursued a career in coaching, landing stints at UC Davis, Virginia and Columbia University.
It was during his stint as chief assistant coach at UC Davis that Buckley witnessed his first outdoor wrestling match. It was January, and for the Long Island native, it seemed remarkable that the weather was conducive for an outdoor competition.
“There are places on the East Coast where it’s winter, it’s snowing and it’s cold,” Buckley said. “For us to have this weather over 80 degrees … to be able to have an outdoor wrestling match in almost February is something special.”
And on Thursday, Buckley has arranged to implement the idea he saw so many years ago when he coached the Aggies.
The Cal Poly wrestling squad will host Oregon State in the University Union Plaza, marking the first outdoor wrestling match in program history.
Sophomore wrestler Devon Lotito appreciates the uniqueness of an outdoor match in the middle of winter. In is hometown of Bethelehem, Penn., Lotito’s family is shoveling snow this time of year.
“It never gets warm enough to do anything like that (in Pennsylvania),” Lotito said. “They actually just had a big snowstorm. It’ll be cool to be out in the sun, and it could possibly help get more recognition for the program. We have a decent fan base that comes pretty consistently, but it would be nice to have it opened up a bit more and have some more students come to our matches.”
Cal Poly’s wrestling program has seen the likes of almost 50 All-Americans and, of course, its most famous alumni: former UFC champ Chuck Liddell.
Buckley’s arrival to Cal Poly also marked a new outlook for the wrestling program — one that is centered on academics and fostering a positive representation of the university.
Assistant coach Mitch Monteiro began coaching at Cal Poly the same year Buckley took the reigns, and he supports Buckley’s new focus for the team.
“It’s a building process,” Monteiro said. “It’s the whole package of being the student-athlete. We started over from scratch with the team and brought in a new look and a new mentality with Cal Poly wrestling … Making sure our guys are doing well in the classroom and also being role models in the community.”
In Buckley’s inaugural year at Cal Poly, three-time All-American Boris Novachkov and All-American Ryan DesRoches led the team to a 6-7 overall dual meet record — including a 3-2 mark in Pac-12 duals.
“They were incredibly talented, but after that, we had to start from scratch,” Buckley said. “It takes a couple of years to get that ball moving. That’s where we are. We have a lot of talent, and we’re incredibly young. We’ve had more than our fare share of injuries, but that’s simply the nature of our sport.”
After a disappointing 2-11 record last season, expectations were set high for the 2013-14 campaign. That is, until the injuries began to pile up.
To Buckley, it’s safe to assume that injuries will occur in such a combative sport.
In Cal Poly’s first week of competition, they dominated Cal State Bakersfield, winning 8 of 10 bouts.
But after sustaining injuries, Buckley has yet to arrange that same lineup.
That is, until this Thursday.
“This Thursday will mark the first time this year that I think we’re starting to get pretty close to that lineup again,” Buckley said. “Obviously we want that success, but we’re building for the future, and we’re trying to do it the right way. Sometimes it’s a little more slow and steady. We’re well on our way.”