Dom Demas (pictured) was one of five Mustangs to compete in the NCAA Championships. Miles Berman | Mustang News, 2023

With a frenzy of rowdy wrestling fans on hand, Cal Poly’s journey to a national placing began at the NCAA Wrestling Championships on Thursday, March 16 inside the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

After a long day of competition from the five Mustangs in the tournament, redshirt junior Bernie Truax and sixth-year Dom Demas were the two Cal Poly wrestlers to advance to the second day of the championships.

“Fortunately for these guys we got a pretty darn young team so many of these guys are going to have more opportunities,” head coach Jon Sioredas said. “It’s important that we learn from it and we grow and we get better.”

As a last-minute entry, Demas wrestled with nothing to lose. The two-time All-American needed to win in the opening “pigtail” bout to keep his hopes of another top-four finish alive.

Demas shot out of a cannon, flipping and spinning his way around Utah Valley’s Isaiah Delgado, scoring a triad of first-period takedowns. Adding a second-period takedown, Demas was primed to advance, leading 8-2.

Smelling blood in the water, Demas looked to end his match before the final buzzer. A pair of near falls ignited the Mustang’s supporters, before another takedown sealed the technical fall victory, officially advancing Demas into the 32-wrestler field.

Immediately following, redshirt sophomore Antonio Lorenzo took his chance at a major upset against No. 3 Liam Cronin of Nebraska. The pesky 125-pounder secured a first-round takedown but trailed 3-2 after one period.

Lorenzo (pictured) represented the Mustangs at 125 pounds in the NCAA Championships. Miles Berman | Mustang News, 2023

Cronin’s aggressiveness was too much for Lorenzo to handle, as the Husker added two takedowns over the final two periods to defeat the Mustang, 9-4, and send him to a preliminary consolation bout.

In his first visit to the NCAA Championships, graduate Ethan Rotondo drew Cornell’s Vito Arujau, the No. 3 seed, in the first round of the 133-pound bracket. Arujau’s high-octane attack was the difference maker in a 12-6 decision favoring the two-time All-American.

Rotondo dropped into a wrestleback, or consolation, prelim following the loss.

Following a one-hour hiatus from the mat, Demas returned for his first-round meeting with No. 1 Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell. Through two periods, despite allowing a single takedown, Demas suffered over three minutes of riding time.

The gritty Diakomihalis used a takedown and an additional minute of riding time to put Demas away, 6-1. 

With no Mustangs in the 157, 165, 174 and 184-pound fields, the stage was set for Truax to make a statement as the No. 2 seed at 197 pounds.

The two-time All-American is no stranger to the big stage, and exhibited that experience with a quick first-period takedown, leading 2-0 after one.

With a suffocating defensive strategy, Truax accumulated enough riding time by the second period for a bonus. Combined with another takedown and escape, the Pac-12 champion shut out West Virginia’s Austin Cooley, 8-0, to advance to the second round.

As the final Mustang to compete, redshirt freshman Trevor Tinker stepped to the mat against Air Force’s Wyatt Hendrickson, the No. 2 seed.

Hendrickson recorded an early takedown, and seconds later pinned Tinker for the second time this season. With the loss, Cal Poly’s heavyweight moved to the consolation bracket.

After the opening session, Truax was the standalone Mustang left in championship contention.

Following a three-hour intermission, Rotondo set his eyes on battling back into contention. Tasked with a preliminary consolation bout, the scrappy 133-pounder went to work against North Dakota State’s McGwire Midkiff.

Seeming like a man on a mission, Rotondo wasted no time, using his quickness for two takedowns to take a 4-1 lead after the first period. Shifting to defense in the second, Rotondo withstood Midkiff’s offensive surge, bouncing on one leg to avoid a takedown.

In the final period, Rotondo nailed the coffin shut, using a takedown and an escape to win 7-2 and enter the consolation rounds.

Concurrently, Lorenzo’s chance at contention laid in the hands of a prelim wrestleback match with South Dakota State’s Tanner Jordan. The duo latched in a scoreless stalemate after one period.

Jordan completed an early period escape in the second, followed by a takedown at the end of the period. Failing to score a point in the third, Lorenzo’s tournament run and season came to a close. He finished the season 8-10 overall including a Pac-12 third-place finish.

After a quick turnaround, Rotondo found himself in the consolation first round against Campbell’s Domenic Zaccone. In a tightly-contested first period, Zaccone recorded a takedown for a 2-1 advantage.

The toll of a third bout in one day began to show for Rotondo, giving up a near fall and takedown in the final two periods to suffer a tournament-ending 9-1 loss. Rotondo ended his season 13-14.

Demas then stepped to the mat for his third match of the day, looking to earn his second win. Needing an upset, Demas bulldozed Rider’s Quinn Kinner to snag a 2-1 lead after one period.

Kinner countered with an escape in the second period, notching the score at two apiece.

In the face of exhaustion, Demas dug deep. During the win-or-go-home third period, a surge of energy fueled Demas as he swept Kinner’s leg to take him to the ground. A near fall ensued, and shortly after, a takedown. 

By a final decision of 8-2, Demas punched his ticket to day two after starting the day as the last seed in the field.

With national championship aspirations, a spot in the quarterfinals was on the line for Truax. Facing off against Oklahoma State’s Luker Surber, Truax silenced the Cowboy faithful with a takedown and two-point near fall out of the gate, taking a 4-1 advantage after a period.

Surber looked to attack in the second, as he attempted a takedown after an escape, but Truax instinctively broke into the splits to defensively stalemate without surrendering a point. Truax captured a late-period takedown to extend his lead to 6-2.

Truax’s defensive stronghold continued in the third. Offensively, he added another takedown, securing an 8-2 win and clinching a spot in the quarterfinals.

“Bernie Truax is looking wonderful into the quarterfinals, he’s wrestling the best I’ve seen him wrestle,” Sioredas said.

Hoping to bounce back after his opening bout, Tinker and Oklahoma’s Josh Heindselman battled back and forth, leading to Tinker trailing 5-3 heading to the final period.

Tinker (left) saw his season come to an end on Thursday. Miles Berman | Mustang News, 2023

Offensively, Heindselman took over in the third, putting Tinker away 12-5 to end his season. 

“Overall definitely pleased with our effort for sure,” Sioredas said. “We got a couple of guys coming to day two and still got our work cut out.”

As the lone Cal Poly wrestlers still alive, Truax and Demas will continue their pursuit of national placement on Friday, March 17 at 9 a.m. PST.

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