For a USC wrestling team that did not exist a year ago, the 2013 season has been full of milestones.
To begin the season, the Trojans were officially recognized by the National Collegiate Wrestling Association, allowing them to compete at the National Junior College Athletic Association, NCAA, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and National Collegiate Wrestling Association levels.
And in its first year competing at a higher level, the team made history by sending two wrestlers to nationals, one of whom became the first NCWA All-American winner from USC.
At the beginning of the month, the Trojans sent six wrestlers to Riverside, Calif. to compete in the West Coast Conference Championships. The team fared well, placing fourth overall among teams from the WCC, which includes Sacramento State, UC Santa Barbara, Utah, Utah State and 2013 NCWA champion, Cal Baptist.
Four of the six Trojans who competed in the tournament qualified for nationals: freshman Nick Cegelski at the 149-pound weight class, sophomore Armand Farrokh at 157, freshman Dennis Ruan at 197 and freshman Kevin Kang at 285.
Though all four made history by becoming the first USC wrestlers to ever compete in the postseason, USC was only able to send Cegelski and Farrokh to the national championships in Allen, Texas, because of budget constraints.
“For Nick and I to be going alone to Texas as the first two national competitors in USC history was a daunting thought, but it felt amazing,” Farrokh said. “I finally felt that I had some attachment to USC and that I was representing the Trojan family.”
Cegelski and Farrokh led USC to 45th place out of 90 teams at the NCWA Championships. Farrokh had an explosive start to open up the tournament, pinning his first opponent, Moises Lopez of the University of Texas-Pan American, in just one minute and 32 seconds to advance to the next round. Next, he fell in a hard-fought match to Danny Apgar of Northwest Missouri State. In the consolation round, Farrokh was defeated by Hunter Allen of Mercer.
Cegelski also had an impressive tournament, placing sixth out of 38 wrestlers in his weight class and earning NCWA All-American honors, to become the first Trojan in history to do so. In the first round, Cegelski defeated Mason Macfarlane of Eastern Washington University 5-2. Then, he was defeated 3-2 in overtime by Peter Crawford of Liberty University. Cegelski bounced back in the consolation rounds by overtaking Evan Burchette of Mercer 7-1, then Vincent Camps of Slippery Rock 4-2. Next, he bested Max Becks of Central Florida 11-9 to clinch All-American status. He went on to win a 6-5 overtime decision over Air Force Prep’s Gerald McGinty before falling to Jesse Freise of Lindenwood and Kyle Spruill of The Apprentice School.
“A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me I’d be wrestling, let alone be gaining All-American status in the NCWA nationals,” Cegelski said. “My accomplishment is a result of thousands of hours of incredibly hard work by my coaches, my teammates, the team managers and my parents. At the end of the day, I could not be prouder to represent USC to the abilities I did.”
The team’s success might surprise some people, as it seems the odds were stacked against the Trojans this season. Though some of the schools they competed against have full varsity programs that practice daily under a full-time coaching staff, the Trojans are only allowed to practice on mats two days a week because of Recreation Club Council restrictions for club teams. Additionally, the wrestlers themselves are responsible for scheduling their matches and arranging for transportation and lodging. Unlike athletes from varsity programs, USC’s wrestlers are not able to focus on wrestling all the time.
The Trojans overcame these obstacles this season and hope to continue to make progress in the upcoming seasons and eventually become a premier NCWA team.
“It’s easy to be timid and think that we could never be anything but a club, but that’s not the route we’ve taken,” USC head coach Wes Fulkerson said. “We’re building and we want to be able to compete with the best.”