After a four-month-long season, Stanford wrestling opened the playoffs last weekend at the Pac-10 Championship in Davis, Calif. Despite its underwhelming conference record, the Cardinal (10-8-1, 2-4-1 Pac-10) looked to finish among the conference’s elite programs.
Instead, Stanford finished sixth out of eight teams in the final standings. With 87 team points, the Card trailed its next closest competitor, Cal State Bakersfield, by 10 points and ended the tournament 40 points behind conference champion Oregon State.
“We never got hot,” said head coach Jason Borrelli. “Wrestling in a tournament like that, you feed off of everyone’s energy. We never had a couple of guys win some big matches, where we could really derive some energy and get it going.”
“For us, we might have a big win, then a guy would lose,” he continued. “We just couldn’t get hot and we couldn’t get cycling where the energy was really going amongst our team.”
Though Stanford was unable to mount a strong team effort, several Cardinal wrestlers met with significant individual success.
Redshirt sophomore Nick Amuchastegui took home his first Pac-10 title in the 165-pound weight class, becoming the 12th conference champion in Stanford’s history. He took the title with victories over Clayton Schulke of Cal State Fullerton, Kyle Deberry of Arizona State and second-seeded Dan Brascetta of Oregon State. The final match was very closely contested, with Amuchastegui pulling out a 2-1 decision over Brascetta.
Another strong performance came from freshman Ryan Mango, who placed third in the 125-pound weight class. Despite losing by a technical fall in his semifinal match against eventual champion Anthony Robles of Arizona State, the fifth-seeded Mango bounced back to take third place. He won three matches against higher-seeded opponents, including two wins over fourth-seeded Andre Gonzalez of Cal State Fullerton.
“I definitely knew I was capable,” Mango said. “I had wrestled all of the guys in the tournament, so I knew what I had to do. I felt good going into the tournament and I felt like I could place as high as I did.”
While Mango was able to exceed expectations, redshirt junior Zack Giesen decidedly fell short of his. Giesen had been seeded second in the 184-pound weight class and was expected to make the final. Instead, he fell in the semifinals to Michael Larsen of Cal State Bakersfield, whom he had already defeated twice earlier in the season. He ended up finishing in third place.
“[Larsen] ran from him a lot and we didn’t get the calls we were looking for from the official that would dictate the pace of the match,” Borrelli said. “If the official warns the kid for stalling, then he has to wrestle. [Larsen] never got called, and that forced Zack into a lot of positions he didn’t need to be in and he ended up losing.”
Two other wrestlers highlighted by Borrelli were 133-pound redshirt junior Justin Paulsen and 157-pound redshirt junior Lucas Espericueta. While the fourth-seeded Espericueta finished fifth, his results were considered fairly strong as he was coming off an injury that had kept him off the mat for almost two months.
“He’s coming off of such a long layoff because of his injury,” Borrelli said. “It’s hard to know exactly what you’re going to get. He hasn’t wrestled or been in that live environment in a long time.”
The Cardinal was able to win two automatic qualifications to the NCAA Tournament in Omaha, Neb., which will take place on Mar.18-20. Two wrestlers, Mango and Amuchastegui, have already earned automatic qualification for the tournament.
“I personally want to be an All-American–to place in the top eight,” Mango said. “I definitely feel like it’s a reachable goal, but I have to put together just as good of a tournament, if not better, than I did at Pac-10s.”
According to Borrelli, three Cardinal wrestlers have a strong chance to earn at-large bids to the tournament–Giesen, Paulsen and Espericueta. After other conference tournaments around the country complete competition, the NCAA will select which wrestlers will achieve at-large entries.
Given Giesen’s top-15 national ranking, it is highly likely that he will earn a berth. While Paulsen and Espericueta are squarely on the bubble, Borrelli remains confident that they will secure at-large spots.
“It’s going to be close, but I think they have a fairly good chance of getting in,” he said.