Since the early 1980s, the sport of wrestling has seen a significant decline in the number of programs offered at the collegiate level; more specifically at the NCAA Division I level. In the state of California, the impact was huge. Not only did we see a major decline at the D1 and D2 levels, the number of programs at the community college level was cut virtually in half. It was not for a lack of interest at the kids and high school levels, which has seen a significant increase over the last several decades, but due to the implementation of Title IX (more specifically proportionality) and other factors that I rather not go into detail in this article. The good news, the sport has seen a significant increase of programs nationwide in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) division. To date, California has fielded programs at Menlo College, Simpson College, Cal Baptist University (now NCAA Division II), and there is talk about fielding more programs in the near future. To our surprise, Life Pacific College in San Dimas announced that they will offer wrestling and begin competition during the 2018-’19 season. Taking the helm at Life Pacific is former Cal Baptist Assistant Coach Arsen Aleksanyan. Well known in the California wrestling circles, Aleksanyan has an impressive resume, both as a competitor and coach. Coming to the United States from the country of Armenia during his early days in high school, he competed for the legendary John Azevedo at Calvary Chapel High School in Santa Ana. While at Calvary, he placed 4th at the prestigious CIF State Championships in 1998 and added a community college state title in 1999 while competing for Moorpark College, where he was chosen the Outstanding Wrestler. In addition, Aleksanyan then went on to compete for Michigan State in the Big 10 and was the team captain his senior season. Earning three All-American honors at the Cadet and Junior Nationals, Aleksanyan was a team member of the Armenian World Team in 1995 (Cadet) and 1998 (Junior) respectively.
After college, Aleksanyan took the helm at his alma mater, Calvary Chapel from 2006 to 2010. While at Calvary, he coached 16 CIF Champions, 8 Masters Champions, and 6 CIF State Champions. In addition, he coached the Church Boyz to five consecutive top 10 finishes at state and won CIF Southern Section twice. After Calvary, he transitioned to the collegiate level and coached at Cal Baptist from 2012 to 2017. While at Cal Baptist, he coached 20 All-Americans, 2 National Champions, and 3 NCAA finalists. Aleksanyan graduated from Michigan State University with Bachelor of Science degrees in Political Science and Human Resources.
I had the opportunity to discuss wrestling with Coach Aleksanyan and his plans for the newly established Life Pacific College program. Below is my Q&A with Coach Aleksanyan.
ARSEN ALEKSANYAN PROFILE
Michigan State: BS Degrees – Political Science and Human Resources
Team Captain Senior Season (Michigan State)
California Community College State Champion/OW – 1999 (Moorpark College)
Junior College All-American – 1999 (Moorpark College)
4th CIF State Championships – 1998 (Calvary Chapel High School)
3rd Cadet Greco-Roman Nationals – 1995 (All-American)
4th Junior Greco-Roman Nationals – 1998 (All-American)
8th Junior Freestyle Nationals – 1998 (All-American)
Member of Armenian World Team in 1995 (Cadet) and 1998 (Junior)
Colorado Springs – 4 summers (trained with National Greco-Roman team)
Calvary Chapel High School – 2006 – 2010
5 consecutive top 10 finishes at CIF State Championships
5 top 3 finishes at CIF Southern Section Masters (2 Team Championships)
16 CIF individual champions – 8 Master’s Champions – 6 State Champions.
California Baptist University – 2012 – 2017 (Assistant Coach)
20 All-Americans – 2 National Champion – 3 NCAA Finalist
NWCA National Team title (transition from NAIA to DII)
Q&A WITH ARSEN ALEKSANYAN
TCW: How long have you coached the sport of wrestling?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: I began coaching in 1996 when I assisted John Azevedo coach Team Thunder, Calvary Chapel’s kids club team.
TCW: Who was your biggest influence in the sport?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: My father was an Armenian National Champion in wrestling. Growing up, he and I bonded over wrestling.
TCW: Besides your father, who else was a big influence during your wrestling career?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: Coach John Acevedo at Calvary Chapel High School was a huge influence in my life while competing in high School. While at Moorpark College, Paul Keysaw encouraged me to compete at a higher level and learn to be accountable for my actions and preparation in the sport. A special thank you to the coaching staff at Michigan State University, more specifically Head Coach Tom Minkel and assistant coach Roger Chandler. I also want to extend a special thank you to Dave Dean for recruiting me to Michigan State and supporting me throughout my entire college experience. Their coaching and mentoring made a significant impact in my life and how I coach today.
TCW: What do you enjoy most about coaching?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: I enjoy the competition. It’s great that I can still compete in some way, well beyond my wrestling career. I also really enjoy getting to know each wrestler on my team and understanding what motivates them as individuals.
TCW: When were you first approached about applying for the head coaching position at Life Pacific College (LPC)?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: In September the president of the NWCA, Mike Moyer, contacted me about the position. Then in November, I learned that LPC was opening up the position full time and I was asked to apply for the job.
TCW: What was attractive about the opportunity to take on the Head Coaching position at Life Pacific College?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: The LPC president, Jim Adams and the Athletic Director, Tim Cook made great impressions on me with how much support they were offering the team. Further, LPC seemed like a great fit in general since my experience has been in small Christian schools. Finally, the location is great given the high level of high school wrestling in the area.
TCW: What is the timeline for Life Pacific? When will you first compete in the NAIA?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: Our first NAIA men’s wrestling season will begin in September 2018, and we’re expected to start a women’s club team in 2019.
TCW: What are your plans from this point until the beginning of the 2018 season?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: I’ll mostly be recruiting for the upcoming season, so you’ll see a lot of me around at local wrestling tournaments. Please don’t be afraid to stop over and say hello to me, especially if you’re interested in wresting for me. I’ll also be running a few group and private wresting clinics, so if you’re interested please contact me at 714-865-1483.
TCW: When it comes to recruiting, what type of student athlete are you looking for in a wrestler?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: I’m looking for hard working, good students who love the sport of wrestling.
TCW: What are your short and long-term goals for the program?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: In the short term, I’m looking to build out a full roster of wrestlers who perform well in the classroom and enjoy being on the mat. In the long run, I’m here to coach NAIA Champions.
TCW: In your opinion, what can the California Wrestling Community do to grow support of College Wrestling?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: The California wrestling community must be more supportive of their local college teams by attending home matches and local wrestling camps. It’s important we celebrate our local college wrestlers like we do our local high school wrestlers when they succeed, but also when they don’t meet our expectations. In the past, we Southern California wrestling fans would get upset when a school would close their wrestling program without having supported the team at all. If we’re going to care about our local teams, then we also have to show up for our local teams.
TCW: What do you foresee happening with college level wrestling in California in the next several years?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: During my meeting with Mike Moyer, the LPC President and the LPC AD, they mentioned three other Southern California universities with a strong desire to start a wrestling program. However, it’s difficult for them to know if there’s a demand for college wresting here. I hope we see strong interest from local wrestlers for our new program at LPC, and I hope this provides a good indicator for other schools looking to follow our lead and start wrestling programs. This type of competition will be great for the sport here in Southern California.
TCW: Considering you have experienced several season ending injuries in the sport of wrestling (e.g., knee), how has this experience affected your coaching style and philosophy?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: It’s easy for me to be empathetic toward injured athletes given my experience with injuries. A good coach knows empathy is their most valuable tool. An empathetic coach knows when to push, and when not to push an athlete that’s struggling with
an injury, an academic issue, or a personal issue.