The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Sports - BY DAVID WHITE Spe­cial to The Bee David White: [email protected]­global.net, @by­david­white


Fresno State wrestling is back.

Not back as in back as a pro­gram; that hap­pened in 2017 when the Bull­dogs ended 11 years of of­f­cam­pus hous­ing.

We mean back, as in a vi­able wrestling pro­gram with Top 25 value. We mean, they are back back.

That much is cer­tain af­ter Fri­day’s 23-10 win at No. 23 Utah Val­ley. The Bull­dogs hadn’t beaten a Top 25 team since they went the way of the tem­po­rary ghost in 2006 (see pro­gram elim­i­nated, un­til it wasn’t).

How’s that for set­ting the stage for to­day’s 2 p.m. home­com­ing against South Dakota State? The Bull­dogs are about to be 3-3 in the Big 12 Con­fer­ence in just their sopho­more sea­son back wrestling in The Gro­cery Store.

Beat a Top 25 team, and you have what it takes to be a Top 25 team. See how that works, Wavers?

“It was a good team win,” said Bull­dogs coach Troy Steiner, say­ing noth­ing about noth­ing be­cause he leaves the brinkman­ship and sales pitch to for­mer coach Den­nis DeLiddo.

All Steiner does is take a van of com­mon wrestlers with the un­com­mon tena­cious­ness of a toothy wolver­ine and coach them to wins that bet­ter wrestlers would never win.

God’s gifts to us don’t make his start­ing line­ups. There’s not a sin­gle twotime state cham­pion in the First 10. Half of them never did take a first in Cal­i­for­nia.

Think about that. A team filled with no-time and one-time state cham­pi­ons, knock­ing off a Top 25 team in away sin­glets.

Strap on the head­gear, here we go.

Steiner has taken Fresno State full­back Josh Hokit and whipped him into Iowa wrestling shape quicker than a three­count. Hokit (14-3) is 16th-ranked in the na­tion, and just mag­net-backed No. 11 Tan­ner Orn­dorff to the mat Fri­day.

This, one week af­ter beat­ing the No. 4 wrestler at 197 pounds and pick­ing up Big 12 wrestler of the week hon­ors.

Given non-state cham­pion Khris­tian Oli­vas, Steiner has whis­tled him into a No. 15 na­tional rank­ing at 149 pounds. He re­cruited Jack­son He­mauer out of Wis­con­sin, and has molded the fresh­man into the 21st-rated 184-pound kid in the coun­try.

Even heavy­weight AJ Nevills is get­ting bet­ter, when he was al­ready bet­ter enough. He just beat No. 10 Tate Orn­dorff 5-1.

Steiner and the Bull­dogs are win­ning, which means Fresno State is win­ning.

He is win­ning the re­cruit­ing bat­tle in the Cen­tral Val­ley, the rich­est three coun­ties of wrestling in ‘Mer­ica. Fri­day’s start­ing 10 had kids who grew up in Selma, Le­moore, Wasco and Clo­vis.

They are win­ning the ticket counter, with last year’s top-five na­tional at­ten­dance (4,566 jeans in the tubs). They’re run­ning 2,500 in three home dates so far, which still kills the old North Gym days.

Yeah, one and a half sea­sons af­ter com­ing back, they’re back for re­als now.

The Bull­dogs have bot­tle-rock­eted from 2-8 in the Big 12 last sea­son to 3-3 so far. That’s a show worth watch­ing.

Some say this still isn’t worth the money in a sports de­part­ment that loses money by the barge load. We saw ap­ply your­self to a front head­lock and squeeze un­til you’re navy in the face.

Wrestling is giv­ing Fresno State a team that makes grades, wins matches, signs lo­cal and works blue col­lar. They’ve given Old Man DeLiddo the right to hap­pi­ness when his 49ers refuse. They’re giv­ing Fresno State its money’s worth.

Best of all? Wrestling is giv­ing all those sucked-up kids from Wasco and Selma and Clo­vis a chance to earn a schol­ar­ship with­out hav­ing to move to Cham­paign, Ill., for the win­ter.

“I re­ally like our in­ten­sity,” Steiner said.

And, we re­ally like his.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA Fresno Bee file

Fresno State’s Khris­tian Oli­vas, right, wres­tles against Cal State Bak­ers­field’s Kalani Tonge in a match last sea­son. David White says the Bull­dogs’ win over No. 23 Utah Val­ley on Fri­day sends a mes­sage that the pro­gram is back.

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