Troy Steiner gets it, he really does.
All the decorative bunting looked great Tuesday night on the deck of the USS Midway. All the prematch ceremonies were wonderful before his Fresno State wrestling team made its Big 12 debut against Air Force. The sonic-booming, double-jet flyover before warmups? Fourth of July stuff, at Thanksgiving.
But, at some point, it’s not enough for the Bulldogs program to simply be back after 11 years in the elimination bin.
If these Bulldogs are to be Steiner’s Bulldogs, they are going to have to start winning matches, because Steiner can only take so many 24-12 losses such as Tuesday’s to the Falcons before his spleen splinters.
He wants to win, and he wants to win three dual meets ago.
You’ve got to find a way to start winning now.
Fresno State wrestling coach Troy Steiner
“I’m thankful to be in this position,” said Steiner, hired last year to recreate a historic wrestling operation out of fresh Valley clay. “I’m thankful for bringing back the program, and the (home) crowd we had the other night, and being in this event. I am.
“But it comes down to focusing on what we’re doing on the mat.”
Steiner has to do the PR work, because wrestling doesn’t sell itself in today’s sports market. If that means flying to San Diego on a practice day to do television interviews, and entertaining boosters for dinner, Steiner has done it all without suplexing a single person over the deck of an aircraft carrier.
Steiner knows, though, that the most lasting sales pitch is winning, both big and big enough. Thus, with a 1-3 start to this head coaching deal, he’s still wrestling with the idea of Fresno State fans congratulating him after a loss.
“It’s tough,” he said. “I know we’re just at a starting point, but you can’t just say next year, or next week. There may not be a next week. You’ve got to find a way to start winning now.”
That’s not easy with a lineup of six freshmen, three sophomores and a senior transfer. Three of those rookies were in high school five months ago.
Even still, the Bulldogs were only losing 12-9 halfway through Tuesday’s match among the retired fighter jets. Flip the two opening matches – 1-point losses each – and the Bulldogs are leading at the break, knowing closer A.J. Nevills would serve as the decisive anchor at heavyweight.
Instead, it was the Bulldogs building character in defeat while the Falcons built a new cabinet for the Battle on the Midway trophy. All of this almost is more than enough to leave Steiner a bothered mess.
After four dual meets, it’s starting to bother his wrestlers, too.
“We’re a young team,” Nevills said. “We’re going to make mistakes, but we need to step up and learn from those mistakes, and learn how to win those close matches.”
They’ll have no better choice, if they’re long on wrestling at Fresno State.
Not with Steiner at the wheel of the team van. Not with his twin brother, Terry of NCAA wrestling fame, watching on the USS Midway deck. And most certainly not with his former coach Dan Gable, only the greatest wrestling coach in the history of ever, watching from Tuesday’s sideline.
If Steiner has his way soon, Bulldogs fans will stop celebrating the return of Fresno State wrestling, and start to celebrate the return of Fresno State winning at wrestling.
Battle on the Midway
AIR FORCE 24, FRESNO STATE 12
125: Tony DeCesare (AFA) dec. Sean Williams (FS), 3-2 | AF 3, FS 0
133: Issac Jimenez (AFA) dec. Trevor Williams (FS), 6-5, SV1 | AF 6, FS 0
141: Alec Opsal (AFA) pinned Chris De Loza (FS), 3:54 | AF 12, FS 0
149: Khristian Olivas (FS) tech. fall Jacoby Ward (AFA), 18-3 | AF 12, FS 6
157: Greg Gaxiola (FS) maj. dec. Dane Robbins (AFA), 15-6 | AF 12, FS 9
165: Alex Lopouchanski (AFA) dec. Isaiah Hokit (FS), 7-2 | AF 15, FS 9
174: Michael Billingsley (AFA) dec. Dominic Kincaid (FS), 4-1 | AF 18, FS 9
184: Zen Ikehara (AF) dec. Angel Solis (FS), 4-2 | AF 21, FS 9
197: Anthony McLaughlin (AF) dec. Richie Brandt (FS), 8-2 | AF 24, FS 9
285: AJ Nevills (FS) dec. Matt Wagner (AF), 7-2 | AF 24, FS 12
Women’s Junior/Cadet: Hannah Taylor (Canada) def. Grace Figueroa (USA), 6-5
Women’s Freestyle Senior: Jacarra Winchester (USA) def. Emily Schaefer (Canada), 14-8
Men’s Freestyle Junior/Cadet: Ryan Franco (USA-CA) def. Dominik Serrano (USA-COL), 12-2
Men’s Freestyle Senior: Joe Colon (USA) def. Steven Takahashi (Canada), 10-0
Greco-Roman Junior/Cadet: Peyton Omania (USA) def. Mexico, 8-7
Greco-Roman Senior: Robby Smith (USA) def. Korey Jarvis (Canada), 10-0
Fresno State wrestling schedule
11 at San Francisco State, W, 35-12
11 vs. Nebraska-Kearney, L, 19-17, at San Francisco
17 vs. Illinois, L, 33-10
19 at Roadrunner Open, all day, Bakersfield
21 vs. Air Force, L, 24-12
1-2 at Cliff Keen Invitational, all day, Las Vegas
8 vs. Bakersfield, 7 p.m.
10 at Minnesota, 11 a.m., Minneapolis, Minn.
17 at Reno Tournament of Champions, all day
4 vs. Cal Poly, 7 p.m.
12-13 at Virginia Duals, all day, Hampton, Va.
19 vs. Utah Valley, 7 p.m.
26 at Northern Colorado, 6 p.m., Greeley, Colo.
27 at Wyoming, TBA, Laramie, Wyo.
3 vs. Stanford, 7 p.m.
5 at Oregon State, 7 p.m., Corvallis, Ore.
9 at Iowa State, 5 p.m., Ames, Iowa
18 vs. Oklahoma State, 1 p.m.
3-4 at Big 12 Championships, all day, Tulsa, Okla.
15-17 at NCAA Championships, all day, Cleveland