Nov. 9, 2006
DAVIS, Calif. -
As if serving as an indicator of high expectations, the UC Davis wrestling team opens its 2006-07 season on Sunday at Oklahoma State, a program that has won the last four NCAA titles and a No. 2 preseason ranking by both USA Today/Intermat/National Wrestling Coaches Association and The Wrestling Mall.
Sunday's matchup represents the first time the Aggies have faced the defending NCAA Division I champion in a dual competition. The Cowboys also stand as the strongest and most decorated dual opponent in UC Davis program history - a stable of foes that includes Iowa in 2005 and Iowa State last season. Last year's title was OSU's 34th overall, a tradition that dates back to the inaugural championship in 1928.
On the Aggie side of the ring, sixth-year head coach Lennie Zalesky fields a lineup rich in experience. Consider that five Aggies won 20 or more bouts, the highest total in program history. Two individuals won Pac-10 Conference titles, tripling the program's all-time total of champions. Four wrestlers earned berths to the national tournament.
The best news yet for Zalesky is that they are all back for 2006-07.
Seniors Derek Moore and Ken Cook each went untouched through the championship bracket at last year's Pac-10 meet at Stanford. Moore won the 141-pound title with an 8-1 win over Cal Poly's Dave Roberts, then Cook posted a major-decision victory over Oregon State's Jeremy Lawson at 174 pounds. Omar Gaitan (133) and Tyler Bernacchi (184) also earned wild-card berths into the NCAA tournament, placing fourth in their respective weight classes.
The Aggies will face the nation's top program in recent years on Sunday in Stillwater, Okla.
"We are excited to wrestle Oklahoma State, a team rich with success and wrestling tradition over the past 50 years," said Zalesky. "To have our guys wrestle John Smith and the Cowboys there in Stillwater is a dream come true for these Californian natives that grew up reading about John and the wrestlers from Oklahoma State. I doubt the chance to open up our season with the 4-time defending NCAA champions will ever come again.
"I look forward to a good performance by our team as they have historically risen to the level of their competition," he added.
The Aggies have two former Pac-10 place-winners at the lightest weight class. Sophomore Marcos Orozco, who finished sixth at the conference tourney last year, represented UC Davis at 125s in all 17 duals last season. He is joined by junior Francisco "Pancho" Manriquez, the regular starter in 2005 who also finished sixth at the Pac-10s.
Senior Omar Gaitan, ranked No. 20 by Amateur Wrestling News in this year's preseason, emerged as a junior last season after combining for a 17-13 record in his first two seasons in the program. Gaitan went 25-13 overall in 2006, including a 12-4 mark in duals, then won the conference's fourth-place match against top-seeded Justin Pearch of Oregon. Joining the veteran at 133s are redshirt freshmen Bryan Osuna and Shawn Brendle. Each was a three-time California state place-winner as prep athletes two years ago.
Moore, who enters his senior season with a No. 7 preseason ranking by The Wrestling Mall, would like nothing more than to earn a D-I All-America standing in his final year. Despite drawing No. 1-seeded Travis Lee of Cornell in each of his first two trips to nationals, Moore battled back to within one match of an All-America award both times. Last season, Moore again advanced to within one round from such honors and was leading UNC-Greensboro's Kevin Artis before a knee injury ended his run. Moore is joined in the weight class by Nexi Delgado, who won a pair of major decisions en route to a third-place finish at the California Collegiate Invitational last February. Redshirt freshman Vincent Durant and 2006 CIF state runner-up Jeff Marval will also challenge at 141s.
Two veteran Aggies will battle for starting position at the 149-pound class. Jeff Bristol finished third in the Pac-10 Conference and earned his first trip to the NCAA tournament as a sophomore in 2005. He held a 10-1 record last year before various injuries cut his season short. Senior Shawn Haratani competed in 11 bouts in 2005-06, earning a dual win against Portland State to cap his year. Both are considered the early-season leaders at 149s, although redshirt freshmen Kevin Cunningham, Drew Maraglia and Haseeb Sadat will vie for action as well.
Sophomore Jon Clark represented the Aggies for the majority of last season, finishing with a 12-15 overall record. He battled several ranked opponents to overtime bouts, including a triple-overtime matchup against Oregon State's Tony Hook in February. Clark's primary competition at 157s will be Alex Darkhovsky, a former Southern Section champion who went 4-2 as an unattached competitor at last year's California Open in Fullerton.
With the loss to graduation of two-time conference place-winner Frank Richmond, a pair of young Aggies will battle for the starting spot at this weight class. Dustin Noack overcame a slow start to his freshman season in 2005-06, picking up three wins down the stretch. Among his victories was a 1:44 pin against Chris Feist of Portland State, and a 12-3 major over Oregon's Jeremy McLaughlin in conference dual action. Battling Noack is redshirt freshman Kyle Dubs, who placed second at the CIF state championships for Vacaville HS in 2005.
Like his teammate Moore, No. 4-ranked Cook came within one victory of All-America status in 2006. Last year, the former Iowa State Cyclone won four bouts by fall and 12 major decisions, leading the Aggies in the latter category. Battling Cook at 174s is Jeff Prentice, who starred in three sports for Durham HS. Prentice twice finished among the top three at the Northern Section masters tourney.
Tyler Bernacchi, ranked No. 15 in the preseason by The Wrestling Mall, competed in all 17 dual matches last season, posting a 20-19 overall record in his redshirt freshman year. He earned a wild-card berth to the NCAA Championships after picking up an 8-4 win over third-seeded Ryan Halsey of Cal Poly in the Pac-10 Conference consolation semifinals. His primary competition comes from transfer Michael Fernandes, who placed fifth in the NorCal Championships for Chabot College last spring.
Senior Eliot Kelly also competed in all 17 dual matches, winning 11. Among his more dramatic victories were a 12-second pin against Virginia Tech's Matt Wood and a 17-2 technical fall over Joe Curran of Iowa State. Kelly went 22-15 overall to rank among the Aggie leaders, and placed sixth at the Pac-10 Championships. Pushing Kelly is freshman Abe Otrambo, who went 43-2 and finished third in the state as a senior at Loara HS.
Broc Maffia returns for his second full season after starting 12 duals as a junior in 2005-06. According to Zalesky, Maffia has put 20 quality pounds on his frame and looks to lead UC Davis at heavyweight for his final season. Battling for the starting spot is freshman Ricky Alcala of Arvin HS. Alcala went 42-6 as a senior, won the valley championships then placed third at the CIF state competition.
Oklahoma State boasts six wrestlers who rank in Intermat's preseason top 15, including two-time defending NCAA champion Johnny Hendricks, who leads the national class at 165 pounds. Action at historic Iba-Gallagher Arena begins at 2 p.m. Central.