photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com
San Francisco State University
Head coach Jason Welch third season
Previous Team Previews
One of the most surprising teams in Cleveland was San Francisco State University. The Gators brought two athletes to the national tournament and returned home to the Bay with two pieces of All-American hardware. This season coach Jason Welch’s team will return an All-American as well as a 2017-18 national qualifier to the lineup. More than that, there will be three Division I transfers taking the mat for the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference squad. Welch enters his third season with his best lineup so far, a strong recruiting class, combined with experienced athletes sets up his team for a promising season. The three-time All-American from Northwestern is joined on staff by UNI All-American Ryan Loder. They are also assisted on the staff by Dom Kastl. The two-time national qualifier for Cal Poly is a California native like Loder.
High school wrestling in the California Republic is awash with talent that can be overlooked by teams away from the west coast. San Francisco State’s lineup has a west coast feel to it. Seven starters for the Gators this season will be homegrown talent and one of the fastest ways for a Division II program to grow is to capture quality athletes locally. When you sprinkle in a Division I transfer from a program like Rutgers, you have a recipe for success. This team even has a built-in leader in senior Max Schneider. An experienced and well-traveled athlete who has competed on some of the biggest international stages can help this young lineup reach its potential. Nate Cervantez also returns after and the dynamic lightweight will try to get back to the national tournament a second time. There is also returning All-American Justin Pichedwatana, who really found his stride at the end of the season, qualifying for the national championship and notching a couple of huge wins there on his way to a 7th-place finish.
Depending on how the weight class shuffle works out between 149 and 174, this team could qualify four or five athletes for the national tournament. They will be a much better dual team than a season ago and they will have a strong tournament lineup as well. Look below as we see how the Gators follow up on a season that saw them finish with two All-Americans and a top-20 team total.
125: Tony Margiotta (R-FR) Walnut Creek, CA
San Francisco State University is going to have a distinctly West Coast flavor this coming season and it starts right away at 125 pounds for the Gators. Tony Margiotta is coming off a redshirt season where he saw limited competition. He competed at the California Collegiate Open where he finished 3-2 with both losses to Division I athletes. The young man from Las Lomas High School was a California state qualifier and almost certainly is going to be a career lightweight. Gone is Brandon Vu who was not able to repeat the success of his 2017-18 season that saw him qualify for the national tournament. This will be Margiotta’s weight this year and a chance for him to start it off on the right foot. There is a chance at this weight in Super Regional VI to be the third qualifier and I expect him to challenge for it.
133: Nate Cervantez (Sr) Pittsburg, CA
Jordan Gurrola was a two-time national qualifier who found his way onto the podium in Cleveland and very nearly derailed eventual champion Tyler Warner’s tournament in the first round. He has graduated after spending what seems like a decade in the Gator wrestling room. In his place is another senior, Nate Cervantez has waited his turn and will once again be the starter at 133. When he has been in the lineup, he has been electric. As a redshirt freshman he led the team in takedowns, the next season Gurrola was a national qualifier, and last year he was ranked for a bit at 125. Now he’s back at 133 and ready to roll. This weight class just keeps loading up nationally and in Super Regional VI. Cervantez has averaged over 20 wins a season when he starts and when paired with 141 transfer Alex Felix provides a catalyst to the lineup early on. I expect Margiotta to be competitive, I predict Cervantez to challenge for a spot in his Super Regional final.
141: Alex Felix (R-Fr) Gilroy, CA
Three wrestlers will start for coach Jason Welch this season who began their careers someplace other than San Francisco State. Alex Felix has returned to his home state of California where he was a four-time state placer and a 2018 finalist. His redshirt season at Ohio State University last season saw him win eight of his nine matches with seven of those victories against fellow DI athletes. A year older, wiser, and stronger could set him up for big things at this weight. I do not need to remind you that last season’s national champion at 141 in Division II was an Ohio State transfer. This is a weight class that nationally looks to be a battle royale for All-American status. Felix won 175 matches in college and was a highly rated recruit. If he had chosen San Francisco State University right out of high school, it would have been national news. His transfer has flown under the radar and that could spell big trouble for #D2Wrestle athletes who have no idea what he is capable of. This weight looks to be strong in Super Regional VI and whichever three athletes can make it through to nationals could all be All-Americans. Standing at 5’8” there is room for Felix to grow and with his length, he could be the perfect style of wrestler coach Welch to help mold into a collegiate phenom.
149: Mason Boutain (R-Jr) Benicia, CA
There are some weight changes coming for the Gators this season and it starts with Mason Boutain at 149. Last season the redshirt junior competed at 157 where he went 10-5 and was unable to notch a victory at the regional tournament. Two seasons ago he won 22 matches and was the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference champion at the weight. It remains to be seen if he can be effective at 149, he is listed at 5’10” on the roster and is very lean. This weight will be absolutely ridiculous in this regional with five or six different wrestlers who could finish in the top three. During a hot streak last season, Boutain won the Clackamas Open and went 11-3 leading up to the regional tournament. His day ended quickly and neither wrestler he lost to found their way to the national tournament. Only time will tell if the move down a weight class will help him remain more consistent.
157: #10 @165 Maxamillian Schneider (Sr) Chicago, IL
The only thing older than Maxamillian Schneider in collegiate wrestling is the Hodge Trophy. Schneider is the only member of the AARP who still has college eligibility. Rumor has it that Schneider learned his double leg from watching Abraham throwdown with the angel. Truthfully I have nothing but respect for Max Schneider, and that is because my parents taught me to be respectful of my elders. All kidding aside, Schneider has one of the most distinguished international careers that you probably know nothing about. The guy has an Olympic Youth Gold medal in Judo. He helped train members of the 2016 Olympic wrestling team. He has competed across the globe representing the United States of America. Last season he joined Jason Welch at San Francisco State University and put together a 12-4 season as a 25-year-old redshirt junior. The Super Regional tournament was tough for Schneider as he finished 2-2 and missed out on qualifying for the national championship. He returns as a 26-year-old redshirt senior at a weight class he last wrestled in 2014. I have no concerns about how he will handle the weight cut, he is the closest thing to a professional there is in college and he will do just fine. Returning national champion Matt Malcom is moving up to 165 which opens up a qualifying spot at this weight and Schneider will be a favorite to take it. I do think it will be interesting to see how they manage his matches, will we see him limited action or will Max wrestle 20 plus matches this year? Keep in mind that he was a college freshman in 2012, there is old man strength in those bones, but there might also be some joint pain.
165: Kurtis Clem (R-Jr) Chico, CA
The weight class shuffle continues at 165, Max Schneider moving down means that a spot opens for Kurtis Clem to drop from the 174 class. Clem is about to enter his third season as a starter at his third weight class. Clem will be looking to finally gain some confidence in college and build a complete season. He doubled his wins from his first to the second year as a starter and if he can show similar growth, he will help be a spark in the second half of the Gator lineup. Last season, Kurtis was able to win the Menlo Open and finish as runner-up at the California Collegiate Open, but managed just a 7-8 record in San Francisco State University duals. Another tall, lanky wrestler for coach Welch makes me wonder if he has a type of athlete he is searching for.
174: Tyee Ducharme (Fr) Vacaville, CA
I am wondering if the catalyst behind all the weight changes was Max Schneider or Tyee Ducharme. The true freshman will start for the Gators after a seventh-place finish last season at the California state tournament. Part of a very strong class that coach Welch assembled, Ducharme will be one of only two true freshmen to start this season for the Gators. He will have a very good training partner in the room in fellow freshman Troy Mantanona. I am not certain what fans can expect from him; remember that last season only one true freshman was an All-American and less than five even qualified for the national tournament. This is a very open weight class in Super Regional VI, but it will all depend on what type of learning curve there is for Ducharme. There are sure to be growing pains for the young wrestler, but his skillset will make up for any experience problems he may have.
184: #5 Justin Pichedwatana (R-Jr) Lakewood, CA
Last season Justin Pichedwatana finished his year winning 8 out of 11 bouts in the postseason. That put him on the podium as an All-American with a seventh-place finish. The redshirt junior has won over 50 matches the last two seasons and could go down as one of the winningest athletes in San Francisco State University history if he can keep up the pace. Only four athletes have broken through the century mark in the fifty-plus year history of San Francisco State University. Leading up to the postseason, I would not have pegged PIchedwatana as an All-American. Still, he caught fire at the right time and shined on the biggest stages. His losses in those two tournaments were to national champion Michael Pixley, All-American Brock Biddle (Pitt-Johnstown), and 26 match winner Nolan Crone (Mesa). He was impressive in Cleveland, he defeated Chance Helmick, Aidan Pasiuk (Ashland), and ZeBrandon Gant. He is the top-returner at this weight in Super Regional VI and is a top-five wrestler at the weight to start this season.
197: Kevin Mulligan (R-Jr) Nyack, NY
Talk about an absolute steal! Jason Welch has a two-time New Jersey state champion coming all the way from the east coast to not so sunny California. Kevin Mulligan is leaving New Jersey for California and frankly who can blame him. But seriously, Mulligan will join the Gators after sitting for a year due to NCAA transfer rules. He won thirty matches his freshman year to show that the national ranking hype was real. As a redshirt freshman, he won another 13 bouts in opens and as a spot starter for the Scarlet Knights. Lured by the amazing scenery and occasionally sunny weather, as well as the incredible coaching staff, Mulligan joins an excellent lineup that gets even better with him in it. He will be in a very tough weight class in his regional, but he has the skillset to be one of the best. Besides those two state championships, Kevin was also a two-time Fargo All-American. Adding a Division I athlete as a transfer is always big for a Division II program and Jason Welch will have two that he can put in his lineup for the next two seasons.
Hwt: Justin Ramos (Fr) Folsom, CA
When I think of Folsom, I think of Johnny Cash. For the Gators this season, when they think of Folsom they will be thinking of their incoming freshman big man Justin Ramos. Ramos turned in an exception senior season finishing third at the California State Tournament. That means he was the third-best heavy in the state of California, I love their one class system. He was the first state placer in Vista Del Lago High School history and now he looks to become the first All-American heavy for San Francisco State since Steve Franklin finished sixth in 2010. He brings a strong Greco background and was also a 2017 Fargo All-American for California. This should be a very competitive weight at Super Regionals after returning finalist Jarrod Hinrich (Kearney), but it may be too much to hope that Ramos is able to punch his ticket this season. I do expect him to be a solid addition as he takes over spot that did not have a single win against Division II athletes last season. Any production would be a boon this team.