Back in June Lennie Zalesky took over at Cal Baptist. Coach Zalesky took the time to speak with TOM.
TOM: You were named head coach at Cal Baptist back in June. When did you start training with the team? What have you been focusing on up until now? (Strength, technique, etc.)
LZ: We started conditioning and strength training shortly after school started in September. We have started our regular season on the 10th and have been focusing on technique mostly, with conditioning and strength training being part of it as well.
TOM: The CBU team was established in 2009, and has only had one coach in John Petty. Coming in, what do you think are some of the existing strengths of the program? Do you foresee any obstacles or things that need to change in order to reach your goals?
LZ: I think one the strengths of the program is the school itself. It is only one of very few in the nation that offers wrestling in a Christian private school setting, having the number of majors (100+ and growing), being ranked in the top, ranked by US NEWS Best Colleges 2011, and very supportive of their athletic programs. This type of school appeals to a lot of athletes because of the uniqueness of the university. Certainly the support by the university is a big help. Also, there are regionally just a lot of wrestlers looking for a college in which to wrestle. We feel we can soon be a contender for the DII National Title.
I think Arsen’s and my coaching experience is a strength as well.
TOM: The team is coming off of NCWA national tournament and dual championships last season. Do you think this year’s team has the potential to repeat, and how much of a challenge do you think this will be?
LZ: I think it has the potential. However, this year’s field may be as strong as any. Many teams that are transitioning from NAIA to DII like us are going to be at this tournament. Some of these NAIA teams have been some of the strongest in the NAIA level.
TOM: It’s been said that the team will move to Division II in 2013. What does this mean for the program, and what are your long-term goals?
LZ: It is an exciting move for our university to move to D II. Long term goals will be to win that tournament. I think by moving to DII that this will create more interest from the California wrestling community.
TOM: Many former Iowa wrestlers have gone into coaching, and most of them have been very successful. What do you think it is about the Iowa program that breeds good coaches? Do you think this can be directly attributed to Gable’s influence?
LZ: I think Gable’s and the University of Iowa’s influence is surely a contributing factor. Many of the Iowa wrestlers were good students of the sport and are good teachers of the sport as well and should be in coaching. To be a part of that team would surely be one of the most exciting ventures in a young man’s life. I believe many of us would like to recreate a similar program to share it with the community and young wrestlers who enroll in their institutions. It was life changing to be part of that program. It is hard to find that type of enthusiasm in a lot of jobs so between the interest and experience in the sport, trying to build a comparable program of their own, and just a love of all that the sport encompasses, it does not surprise me that so many are coaching.
TOM: How have you adapted the ‘Iowa style’ and philosophy into your coaching?
LZ: Well the nut can’t fall too far from the tree but I have been influenced quite a bit with the way the Russians train throughout the year as well. Ideally, to get the wrestler to wrestle at the Iowa pace with the most efficient technique is my goal for each wrestler.
TOM: It was recently announced that Arsen Aleksanyan will be taking a role as an assistant coach. How do you think the program will benefit from his leadership?
LZ: Arsen is truly amazing in many areas. He runs a practice; warm-ups, technique as well as I have ever seen any college coach. He is a great student of the sport. Additionally, he is well connected to the California wrestling community and has a good eye for talent. I will also give him unofficially the number one ranking in humor and practical jokes in the coaching circles. He is fun to be around and his personal skills in many aspects are a true asset to the team.
TOM: Who else comprises your coaching staff? Will you bring in anyone new?
LZ: We will be looking to add a full-time 2nd assistant down the road. This is a position that we will have to fund raise for. Right now we have Sam Fragoza there, former wrestler for Fresno State and Cal Baptist, who is doing a tremendous job while he pursues his Master’s Degree and work on his singing and acting career. Also a very humorous individual.
TOM: Many colleges, especially in California, have had trouble staying afloat due to financial and other issues. Cal Baptist seems to be doing well despite the hard times. What can you attribute this to? Has money been an issue at all thus far?
LZ: Money is not an issue here. The school has grown from 1000 to a 5600 this year in a little over 12 years. They are building several multi-million dollar buildings on campus right now. One will be a new sports arena and workout facility for the entire student body.
I contribute this to the growth and uniqueness of the school to the factors I mentioned in the previous answer. You do have the credit the President and administration with offering degrees like Engineering and other impacted majors across California that I feel have greatly helped the interest in Cal Baptist. It is the only Christian University on the west coach that offers engineering and unique in many other majors as well.
TOM: I hear that you will be holding a series of camps next summer. What level(s) of ability and age group(s) are these camps intended to help?
LZ: We will be working to establish summer camps, night school camps, competition camps appealing to all ages and all styles.
TOM: How much emphasis do you plan on putting into freestyle and Greco in the off season? Will you be preparing guys for the senior level?
LZ: We are working with USA Wrestling to establish a training site here. Additionally, we are planning on holding camps and clinics here in those styles as well.
TOM: The mixed martial arts-wrestling connection has been a hot topic as of late. Do you think MMA is good for the sport, or do you think it hinders our potential at the senior level?
LZ: I do think it is taking away good wrestlers from the sport. The money is very alluring. I think it may have rejuvenated an interest in the wrestling area since they are coming out and saying that wrestling is the most advantageous skill to have in MMA. On the other side, there are very supportive wrestling fans that like to distance themselves from MMA and do not like seeing some of our greater talent go into the business.
TOM: How do you think high school wrestling has changed since you coached at this level? What kind of challenges do we need to overcome as a nation in order to improve our system, if anything?
LZ: I think there is so much more available in the lines of being able to learn technique from various sources, camps, clinics, Flowrestling, YouTube, etc. The other side of the coin is that lower level coaches are looking to see what college coaches are doing and implementing a very similar schedule. While I believe high school wrestlers can be close to the same schedule, I think it’s harmful to 4-8th grade wrestlers. I don’t believe their bodies or minds are ready for that type or training.
I would like to see a template made for coaches of what is appropriate for their age level. I get the feeling form parents and various coaches they don’t really understand that different age levels take different training and time commitments.
I would like to see more education at that level in diet and weight loss as well and to see a system where many of our former successful college wrestlers could be encouraged to help in their community at the lower level.
TOM: For the high school student-athletes that are interested in wrestling in college, why should they consider Cal Baptist?
LZ: See the answer for number 2.