Gators ranked 16th in preseason wrestling poll
October 26, 2010 1:11 AM
Their season doesn't start for nearly two weeks, but SF State's wrestlers got a sense of the expectations facing them when the team was ranked nationally in the preseason NCAA Division II poll released on Oct. 21.
The Gators were ranked 16th as a team, while sophomore Zach Jimenez and junior Naveed Bagheri were ranked seventh and eighth, respectively, in their weight classes.
While the team generally acknowledges preseason accolades as positives, head coach Lars Jensen knows it's where the Gators finish that will matter most.
"It's nice to have our guys ranked and have our team ranked," said Jensen, who will enter his 28th season at the helm of the program this year. "It looks good, but it's basically all potential. When we won the national title in 1997, the highest we were ranked was sixth, so it doesn't mean a lot."
Bagheri, who is moving up in weight class to 141 pounds, was a national qualifier in each of the last two seasons at the 133-pound class. He was ranked third nationally last season when he won 22 straight matches en route to a 24-4 overall record.
"I'll take the eighth ranking right now and show people come March," Bagheri said. "People aren't going to be gunning for me as much. If anything, I'll be a dark horse because I'm moving up a weight class too. Now that I'm a junior, I can't make a mistake and blame it on being young, I've been (to nationals) twice and there are no excuses this year."
While Bagheri seems to have embraced the ranking as a form of motivation, Jimenez tries to shut it out.
"I don't like to let that stuff get to my head," Jimenez said. "I look at it once then put it in the back of my mind."
The sophomore is ranked seventh in the 184-pound class after a freshman season where he finished second at the Division II Super Regional 4/Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference meet as an unseeded participant. After a disappointing appearance at nationals, Jimenez is looking to regain the form he showed at the Super Regional.
"He thought it was going to be easy going to nationals after he beat all of those seeds (in the Super Regional)," Jensen said. "He thought he was just going to walk through it. It was a rude awakening for him, but he knows what his expectations are this year."
Because of the lack of Division II wrestling programs on the west coast, SF State participates as an affiliate member of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, but mostly competes as an independent, playing schools at the NCAA Division I and Division III levels. As a result, the Gators face a considerably tougher schedule than most other Division II squads.
"The other Division II schools know that, going into nationals, we might have a guy with a .500 record who's really tough," Jensen said. "I've had guys with losing records become All-Americans because of the schedule we have."
Preseason hopes are reasonably high because of the returning talent and the Gators are likely get a lift from "home mat" advantage when they host the Super Regional this season.
"Because we host the Regional, it's even more of a motivational tool," Jensen said. "We're going to put the best team on the mat we can."
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