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Though it took the better part of three months, the Cal Poly wrestling team, in earning its first dual-meet win of the season, at least made it worth the wait.
The Mustangs (1-7) put on a show for the home crowd at the Mott Athletics Center Saturday afternoon against Brown (0-1) in a meet that included two pins by the Mustangs for two early wins, another win by senior Dominic Kastl and a massive decision for freshman Nicholas Fiegener in the 184 bout over the No. 16 wrestler in the nation, Brown’s Ophir Bernstein.
“We’re improving,” head coach Brendan Buckley said. “We’ve spent a lot of time in certain areas lately trying to improve, and you’re seeing it equate to points scored for us. We feel our team’s getting better and our guys have bought in. Technically we’re better and we’re wrestling tougher.”
The win comes a day after the Mustangs’ near-upset of No. 20 Wyoming Friday night, a dual meet they lost 23-15.
“We were right there [against Wyoming],” Buckley said. “They’re known as being a tough scrappy physical team and the vast majority of our guys matched that intensity, so that was good to see.”
The Mustangs had two opportunities to get pins in Friday’s meet, including one from J.T. Goodwin in the second-to-last match of the night, but just missed both of them. Pins in either of the bouts would have likely put Cal Poly on top for good.
Saturday, the Mustangs’ success began with two straight pins in the 141 and 149 bouts by freshman Colton Schilling and then by sophomore Jacob Leon.
“It always creates momentum,” Buckley said of the pins. “It’s exciting when you’re the next man up and your workout partner just got a pin before you. It’s motivation.”
Kastl later turned in another impressive performance to improve his season record to 7-3. This time, he showed off some of his resiliency to earn the win, overcoming a takedown late in the second period by Brown senior Ricky McDonald to get a takedown of his own for a 5-3 decision.
“I always want to go up in the first,” Kastl said. “I’m better when I’m up, but my mentality was, ‘I’m gonna make this the hardest match this kid’s ever wrestled.’ So I never did feel out of it, and I knew it was going to come down to one more takedown because no one’s going to hold me down that long. But the kid was tough.”
Kastl is the No. 20 wrestler in the nation, one of the few seniors on this young Cal Poly team and one of the only ones with national-level experience.
“That’s why he’s the emotional leader of the team,” Buckley said. “He’s worked really hard and he’s focused on making the most of this last opportunity he has as a senior.”
The most thrilling performance of the dual meet came a match later, when Fiegener took the mat to face Bernstein in the 184.
“My teammate told me he’s an All-American, so when I was out there I felt like I couldn’t lose,” Fiegener said. “I had to get that one. He felt funky, but I definitely feel I could beat him again.”
Fiegener was tied with Bernstein going into the third period when Buckley pulled him aside the mat.
“He told me, ‘more motion,’” Fiegener continued. “The kid wanted to scramble so I just tried to stick with the fundamentals in the third.”
It worked. Fiegener got the takedown he needed to earn the decision, improving upon a rookie campaign as a true freshman in which he has built upon performances meet after meet, culminating in the win against the heralded Brown senior.
“Just seeing him steadily getting better and better is great,” Buckley said. “He does the right things. He’s coachable, he works hard, his conditioning has improved dramatically. It’s what you want to see.”
The Mustangs will look ahead to their next meet on Friday, Jan. 16 at 7 p.m., when they will host Air Force and hope to build on Saturday’s win.
“We’re coming on,” Kastl said. “We’ve had a saying at the beginning of the year that this is our year. Last year’s done and we’ve been really carrying it through. We’re the most underrated team in the NCAA we think. No one knows about us, but we’re starting to find our moves. Big points at the right time going into Pac-12s.”