College

Wednesday, Nov 07 2012 11:26 PM

CSUB wrestling preview: 'Runners look to close gap in conference

BY JEFF EVANS Californian staff writer jevans@bakersfield.com

Cal State Bakersfield's season-opening wrestling matches tonight will bring back memories of the 1970s and 1980s.

The Roadrunners will play host to Drexel University (Pa.) at 6:30 p.m. and then Cal Poly, at 8.

The nostalgia comes into play with where the matches are being held: In CSUB's old gym, which hosted Roadrunner wrestling matches from the early 1970s until the Icardo Center (then named the Activities Center) opened in 1989.

Three current CSUB wrestlers' fathers competed in the old gym: Rodney Balch and Ray Hammond for the Roadrunners, and Mike Box for Chico State. Their sons are senior Andrew Balch (165 pounds) and two freshmen from Bakersfield High, Timmy Box (141) and Bryce Hammond (174).

The Icardo Center is not available tonight because of a non-athletics event set up by CSUB President Horace Mitchell.

But the bigger picture for the CSUB wrestling team is showing improvement from last season.

Third-year coach Mike Mendoza and his wrestlers have coined a team phrase this season: "Close the gap." That is, close the gap on the rest of their Pacific-12 competition.

"It's about where we want to be this year and in the future," Mendoza said.

CSUB was 2-7 in dual meets, 0-5 in Pac-12 dual meets and finished sixth at the Pac-12 Championships last season.

"It was challenging," Mendoza said. "We wrestled a lot of top teams and didn't fare too well. We had a young team."

Mendoza said this year's squad is stronger.

"We have an upgraded team with some transfers and some guys who redshirted who are now competing," he said. "And the ones who return have improved. I see a lot of potential with our team."

Senior 125-pounder Tyler Iwamura, an NCAA Tournament qualifier the last two seasons, is ranked No. 19 in a preseason poll. He was 23-11 last season.

Also ranked is Bryce Hammond, who sat out last season as a redshirt. He is ranked No. 25 at 174, Mendoza said.

Mendoza said Timmy Box, who also redshirted last season, has looked good in practice. Heavyweight Sam Cervantes, a transfer from Palomar College, is healthy after missing last season's junior college state meet with a fractured kneecap.

Mendoza said part of the CSUB lineup is still undetermined, particularly at 133, 149 and 165 where he said there's good depth and the Roadrunners are two-deep.

Hammond, Box and two others from Bakersfield High competing at CSUB this season -- sophomore Adam Fierro (165) and freshman Ian Nickell (133) -- each won their weight classes at Sunday's San Francisco State Under-21 Open, with Hammond named the Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament after recording two pins and a technical fall.

"There wasn't a lot of top competition there but they looked really good," Mendoza said.

The goal is the same as every season, Mendoza said: Show steady improvement.

"This team is capable of doing very well," Mendoza said. "If we can improve after every competition, we'll get good pretty quick."

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