Seven years ago, Jon Sioredas took over as head coach of the Cal Poly Mustangs wrestling program and while currently, they are one of the top mid-major programs in the country, it certainly wasn’t that way to start out.
“Not a lot of people know how challenging it was,” Sioredas admitted. “My second and third year, we didn't win a single match. We didn't win a single duel. You've heard of teams going undefeated? We were defeated.”
Even two-time All-American redshirt junior, Bernie Truax, had to trust in his coach’s plan after the shaky start.
“When I first got here, we were not a great program, it was really rough,” Truax laughed
Sioredas and his staff kept to their plan.
That plan was built on three pillars over a five-year span that has since been updated now in year seven. Those pillars, student-athlete development, recruiting and fundraising, have boosted the stock of a program that sent half their roster to the NCAA Championships last year with six of those wrestlers nationally ranked.
Truax was one of those nationally ranked wrestlers that reached the NCAA semifinals last season.
“There's obviously the nerves and a little bit of pressure that comes with that,” Truax admitted. “But there's also the excitement and just being thankful for the opportunity to compete against the best guys because that's what makes the sport fun.”
While Truax has been with the program since it’s early days, recruiting has also played a big factor in the surging roster, especially in the past two seasons with current assistant coach Evan Wick joining the program last year in his final year of eligibility after four years at Wisconsin. As a coveted multiple time All-American, he gravitated towards Cal Poly and ultimately finished his career with another All-American honor.
Wick enjoyed his time so much on the mat, as a wrestler, he came back as a coach to help the next crop of wrestlers enjoy and succeed like he did. It also helped that his younger brother, Luka, is a redshirt freshman on the team.
“The beginning of our year this year wasn't so great,” Wick said after Cal Poly at one point lost three straight duals to ranked opponents earlier in the season. “Now we're having guys stand out and do phenomenal things and that's something that drew me here and something that keeps me here.”
Wick is not the only piece to the puzzle that saw value in Cal Poly’s approach to making a winning environment fun. All-American and five-year wrestler at the University of Oklahoma, Dom Demas, transferred this past offseason to Cal Poly. While initially, Demas wasn’t aware of their national prominence, it didn’t take much to sell the experienced transfer on what the team and school had to offer.
“I got a call and [Sioredas] called me up and told me pretty much before I even told them what I wanted to do,” Demas said of his recruiting call. “Then I heard about how good the program was and how they're on the rise and I just I wanted to be part of that.”
Whether it’s home grown pieces like Truax or already well-established Division I wrestlers like Wick and Demas looking for a new home, the love for wrestling from both the players and coaching staff sets them apart and its showed over the past handful of seasons.
Last year, the program reached a pinnacle ranking Top-10 in the country while going back-to-back years in the Top-25. Add to an ever-growing list of All-American honors and student-athletes reaching the bright lights of the NCAA Championships, it would be easy to be complacent with such accomplishments but for Sioredas and his group, there’s always more to be done.
“I guess it's nice being at the Championships and its sold out. [There's] a crowd of 16,000 and we got multiple guys in the semifinals, but that's not the reason why we do it,” Sioredas mentioned.
For the wrestlers like Truax, it’s been a full circle ride.
“Seeing from when we were the worst to now where we're a top 25 program, it's been really cool.”