Fresno State’s reboot of its wrestling program is a winner, even when it’s not. Nothing that happens today when the Bulldogs host No. 4-ranked Oklahoma State in their home finale will change the smashing nature of its successful return to the circle.
To think, some of you questioned Joey from Hanford when he ended wrestling’s 11-year banishment to the graveyard.
No one cares about Fresno State wrestling, some said when Dr. Joseph Castro – that would be Joey – overruled the previous regime’s decision to off wrestling.
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Tell that to the average of 4,613 fans who came to watch the Bulldogs play at the Save Mart Center the past four months. Show up big at the Save Mart Center today, and you’ll put the Bulldogs in the national top-five for attendance and smithereen the school’s all-time record.
“It’s beyond my wildest dreams,” retired Bulldogs coach Dennis DeLiddo said. “I knew people would show up big for the first few matches, but I figured it would have gone down after a while. What do I know?”
The best wrestlers won’t stay home to wrestle for Fresno State, some swore when coach Troy Steiner strapped on his recruiting boots.
Explain that to their two nationally ranked wrestlers out of Clovis, Khristian Olivas and AJ Nevills.
“Sometimes it’s hard to see it, and the wins never come fast enough, but I think the guys have come a long ways,” Steiner said.
Fresno State can’t afford to subsidize yet another non-revenue sport when its athletic budget is taking on more water than it can bail.
Prove that to the bookkeepers who admit the sport is all but funded by local boosters at a marginal cost to the university.
“It’s paying for itself,” DeLiddo said.
It doesn’t matter that the Bulldogs are 4-15 on the official docket. What did you expect from a first-year program throwing a load of rookies into the path of six ranked teams and a Big 12 Conference schedule?
The Bulldogs drew 6,840 to the home opener against Illinois, the third-largest crowd in West Coast wrestling history. They got this close to winning at name-brand Iowa State on Feb. 9, and stomped Cal Poly in the Battle of Ag Departments.
They put on a great show, free flying shirts and all. They draw just 1,100 less than the men’s basketball team, but when it comes to event energy, it’s wrestling by major decision.
Fresno State football wants a livelier crowd? Tell all these wrestling freaks that 197-pound starter Josh Hokit plays running back for you on Saturdays in the fall.
Bulldogs wrestling is everything Fresno State athletics used to be. Grassroots in the roster. Fanatical in the stands. Loaded in the schedule.
They are a throwback to the student section at Beiden Field in the ’90s, the bucket seats at Selland Arena in the Jerry Tarkanian days, the aluminum benches at Bulldog Stadium in the fu Manchu era.
Want to remember what it used to be like at Fresno State? See you at 1 p.m. today at the Save Mart Center.
1. My wife and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary this month, which speaks to her inability to find where the suitcases are hidden. It all began on a date at Selland Arena. Fresno Falcons vs. San Diego Gulls. We second Marek Warzsawski’s motion to bring ice hockey back to downtown Fresno.
2. Every time we’re done with the Fresno State men’s basketball team, they soar. Every time we declare renewed faith in those Bulldogs, they plunge. We hereby declare Rodney Terry’s charges over and done with, which is to say, see you gents in mid-March.
3. The U.S. Winter Olympic team won eight medals through the first half of the South Korea Games. Sweet mother of the Flying Tomato, can you imagine if we hadn’t invented skateboarding on snow? Next time, make all events compete on a halfpipe stage so we have a fighting chance.