Credit: Luka Wick | Courtesy

From 1965-1975, the Cal Poly wrestling program won eight national championships at the NCAA Division II level. The Mustangs also had two individual national champions, Tom Kline in 1968 and Mark DiGirolamo in 1975. Since this era of Mustang wrestling, the program has been in a dry spell since its elevation to Division I, not being able to break through at the right time.

“Where we started was pretty much ground zero when I first showed up,” wrestling head coach Jon Sioredas said. “We knew it was going to be a lot of energy, effort and time, and that’s what you’re starting to see now.”

In his first season at the helm in 2016, Sioredas led the Mustangs to a 6-10 dual record, the most dual victories Cal Poly had seen in five years highlighted by wins over Indiana and West Virginia. 

“My role has changed a little bit,” Sioredas said. “I used to be more of a disciplinarian, and now I can have these guys’ backs and make sure they have what they need to achieve some very big goals.”

This season, Cal Poly wrestling has accomplished feats that have not been seen in San Luis Obispo since their heyday in the 1960s and 70s. With all of the success this year’s squad has seen, these are just the building blocks for a new collegiate wrestling dynasty. The Mustangs opened as the 20th-ranked team in the country by InterMat. This was the first time Cal Poly had been nationally ranked since the 2011-12 season, when they finished at No. 18.

With a dual record of 4-3, the Mustangs finished their dual competitions with a winning record for the first time since the 2010-11 season. 

“This has certainly been some of the most fun I have had in a very, very long time,” Sioredas said. “We’ve got a group of guys that love each other, train at a high level and do things right off the mat, and that makes our job so much fun and so much easier.”

The newest edition of Cal Poly’s squad houses six nationally-ranked wrestlers. The Mustangs last had this many ranked wrestlers in 1983, when the team finished No. 9 in the country. Leading the way is 165-pound redshirt senior Evan Wick, who has wins over the No. 3, No. 4 and No. 6 wrestlers in the nation.

As a sixth-year wrestler, Wick has provided five years of experience to the young Mustang roster, consisting mainly of freshmen and sophomores. Aside from Wick, the rest of the starting roster will be returning for Cal Poly next season, spearheaded by redshirt sophomore Bernie Truax and redshirt freshman Legend Lamer.

This season Truax moved from the 174-pound class to 184 pounds, putting up a 13-1 record. He became an All-American in 2020 after he finished fourth at the NCAA Championships, joining Wick as a former All-American. For the first time since the 2006-07 season, the Mustangs began the season with two former All-Americans in their starting roster. 

“It’s not so much about winning all the time,” Truax said about this year’s team. “Having the whole team together, having a good time and knowing we’re getting better, that’s what is making it fun.”

Alongside Truax, Lamer also qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 2020 season. He is the 16th-ranked wrestler in the 149-pound division, tallying a 13-4 record this season. Lamer credits his success this season to the ongoing collaborations between him and his teammates.

“Our bond is so close,” Lamer said. “We have so much respect for each other and it makes it easier to grow from one another as wrestlers and as people.”

The other ranked Mustangs are 13th-ranked redshirt sophomore Adam Kemp, 28th-ranked redshirt freshman Antonio Lorenzo and 32nd-ranked redshirt sophomore Lawrence Saenz. The combination of success and meaningful experience led Cal Poly to win four of its seven dual meets, marking the first time Cal Poly finished with a winning dual record since the 2010-11 season. Truax believes the trust with his teammates and coaches has allowed the Mustangs to see their hard work pay off.

“I don’t think there’s a single place with a better environment than what we have at Cal Poly,” Truax said. 

The Mustangs have been recognized as the 10th-best tournament team in the nation, an accolade the program has not seen since the 1982-83 team was also ranked No. 10. Cal Poly’s highest team Division I ranking came in 1971, when the Mustangs were No. 3.

At the Pac 12 Championships, Wick brought home a first-place finish, ending the season with a perfect 18-0 record. Lamer, Truax and Kemp all finished in second, qualifying them for the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re always pretty rowdy to begin with, but there’s a little something extra there knowing that we are in the conversation in terms of outcomes,” Sioredas said.

Cal Poly sent five wrestlers to the NCAA Tournament, with Lorenzo earning an at-large bid. Wick earned his fourth All-American honor, placing third in his final collegiate season. Truax finished in fourth, claiming his second consecutive All-American title. The Mustangs finished 22nd overall.

Looking to the future, Cal Poly’s most recent crop of recruits is sure to turn some heads. Headlined by a couple of top-100 recruits, Sioredas mentioned a current No. 1 college wrestler is in talks of potentially transferring. The mindset around the Mustang program is to not rebuild in offseasons, but to reload to better outcomes than the previous season.

“Honestly, I feel like we’re just getting started,” Sioredas said. “What you’re seeing isn’t going away, as a matter of fact it’s only growing.”

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