Pac-12 Wrestling: Coaching Conundrum Pt.4
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Pac-12 Wrestling: Coaching Conundrum Pt.4

The CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners.

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Pac-12 Wrestling: Coaching Conundrum Pt.4
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The Roadrunners of Bakersfield come off one of their best seasons in the recent past, interestingly enough under the departing Mike Mendoza. Mendoza, a 1999 graduate and three-time NCAA Qualifier for the Roadrunners, spent 14 seasons with CSU Bakersfield. Mendoza joined the staff for the 2002-2003 season as the head assistant coach until he took over the helm on September 1st, 2010 from TJ Kerr to become the third-ever Bakersfield head coach, a post he held through the 2015-2016 season. In May of this year, Mendoza resigned from his post to accept an in-conference opening as the head coach of the Boise State Broncos, making CSU Bakersfield the third opening in California at the D1 level this off-season.

A Son of California Returns

(Bryce Hammond, a graduated senior, 3x Pac-12 Champion and 2014 All-American, was a stalwart for the Roadrunners.)

For a short spell, Assistant Coach Jeff Silveira, who joined CSUB for the 2015-2016 season, was named the Interim Head Coach for the Runners pending a national search for a head coach. Half a month later, on July 6th, Manny Rivera was announced by CSUB Athletic Director Kenneth Siegfried as the fourth-ever head coach of the CSU Bakersfield wrestling program.

Manny Rivera was an assistant coach at North Dakota State University since the 2011-2012 season, working under 1st-time Head Coach and former teammate Roger Kish. As a competitor, Rivera was a 2003 California state 3rd-place and NHSCA Senior National Champion at 125lbs for Rosemead High School (Southern Section). He continued competing as a collegian for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, graduating in 2008 as a team captain, 3x NCAA Qualifier, NCAA Round of 12 as part of the Gophers’ 2007 National Championship team, and 2008 All-American (7th at 141lbs). CSU Bakersfield will be Rivera’s first chance at leading his own program.

A Wrestling Town

(40th Anniversary tribute to CSUB Wrestling produced by Folly Films in 2013)

The “Cal State Bakersfield” wrestling team (as it was known in the past) started as an NCAA Division 2 program, winning eight national titles starting in 1976 to 1987. In 1978 and 1984, CSUB placed 2nd; in 1986, 3rd. Besides the first year of competition for the Roadrunners, 1973, CSUB never placed lower than the top-9 in D2. The program joined the Pac-10/12 and Division 1 wrestling in 1988, peaking with a 3rd-place team finish under Coach T.J. Kerr in 1996. The 1996 team also captured the Pac-10 Conference title, as did the 1999 team. Not to mention the laundry list of D1 and D2 All-Americans that includes 2x NCAA D1 Heavyweight champion and 1999 World Freestyle Champion, Stephen Neal, among multiple Olympians and World Team members. It is this success in which the Roadrunner tradition is founded upon.

While the record books are rich with the exploits of the past, the present has not been quite as illustrious. It may be a service, then, that Mendoza left the program when he did. Mendoza, who coached to an even 37-37 dual meet record in five season, managed to keep the checkbooks balanced for the program while also building a team that Bakersfield expected. In 2016, Mendoza’s effort shined through with a team that put together a solid season, despite faltering at the national tournament. The 2015-2016 Runners were considered the “best team” Mendoza had during his tenure even before the start of the season, by Mendoza himself and senior All-American Bryce Hammond. Starting the season with four nationally-ranked wrestlers, the CSUB Runners made noise when they began going back-and-forth with other ranked wrestlers at the early-season Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational and the mid-season Midlands Championships. The Roadrunners were formidable in-conference, capturing the regular (dual) season title with a 4-1 record (where their only loss was a 18-21 one-swing-match loss to Arizona State at the end of the season) in the Pac-12, a 3rd-place team finish at the conference tournament (the best finish at the Pac-12 tournament for Mendoza, and best since 2009 for CSUB), and five NCAA qualifiers (another tenure-best for Mendoza, the most qualifiers previously in a given year was two). Despite having none of the five qualifiers reach All-American status, the 2016 team still had the best finish (36th-place) since 2010 (35th).

Hitting the Ground Running

On ep. 270 of ShortTime with Jason Bryant, around the 24-minute mark, Manny Rivera noted that the 2015-2016 performance “shows that [CSUB] can be competitive.” Rivera also referenced the strong alumni support for and the tradition of CSU Bakersfield wrestling, institutions that have kept the program alive during the 2000s, a decade that saw the loss of both a large portion of California D1 programs as well as Pac-12 programs. In fact, CSUB wrestling was slated to be amongst the dropped collegiate programs until overwhelming community support saved wrestling and three other sports. During this era, CSU Bakersfield banked on its rich history, a bet that has continued to pay off as the community support for the program has not waned. In addition, administrative support has been steady as well, since the community has proven it can fund the four programs itself.

Athletic Director Siegfried, in light of Mendoza’s departure, said, “[t]here are a number of key community members who have made significant investments in the future and stability of our wrestling program. For that, we thank them and look forward to continuing to work with them throughout this transition. [Mendoza] has established not only a winning tradition but has provided us with a road map that will keep the wrestling program sustainable. We know the community will continue to support this program’s great tradition.” (My emphasis)

With tradition and momentum on his side, Rivera seems in good position to keep the Runners on their road up. Rivera also boasts a completely California-bred team (including Sac Joaquin Section product and California state runner-up Lorenzo De La Riva, who is coming off a redshirt campaign). I expect few, if any, to transfer due to the coaching change. I also expect the loyal coaching staff to remain as well. The aforementioned Assistant Coach Jeff Silveira completed his first season with CSUB last year. Hopefully CSUB alum (4x NCAA Qualifier and an All-American) Efren Ceballos will return for what will be his 10th-season with the program as a Volunteer Assistant Coach. Another CSUB alum in Brian Cobb (an MMA veteran) will hopefully return for his 8th-season as the Director of Operations. The legendary Stephen Neal is likely to remain the Alumni Relations Coordinator for California State University, Bakersfield.

Fundraising will be a constant struggle, but it comes with the territory in college wrestling. Recruiting will be another area of importance, but Rivera, in his conversation with Jason Bryant, noted the hot-bed of talent that is the state of California (which he managed to extract from while selling recruits on Fargo, North Dakota). He will likely garner the benefits of the recruiting wall that has developed around Bakersfield High School for CSUB. Are you excited for the possibilities? I am.

Want more from the D1 landscape?

Pac-12 Wrestling: Renaissance

Coaching Conundrum Part 1: Fresno State

Coaching Conundrum Part 2: Boise State

Coaching Conundrum Part 3: Cal Poly SLO

D1 Wrestling: Update on Fresno State & Boise State

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