“BEGINNING OF A TRADITION“
The history of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) wrestling championships date back to 1958. It was not until 1965 that a wrestler from California earned the status of All-American when South Torrance’s Bob Anderson placed 4th in the 167-pound weight group for Adams State in Colorado. For several years, Adams State was a pipeline for California wrestlers continuing their mat career at the NAIA collegiate level. For instance, in 1967, Dom Carollo of Redondo High School became the first California wrestler to win an NAIA Championship at heavyweight while Ron Hampton, Rich Tamble, and Don Apodaca followed suit with All-American honors in 1968 and 1969, respectively. By decades end, Mike Fischer of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA) along with Al Beagle of Caltech became the first wrestlers to earn All-American honors from a program based out of California. Throughout the 1970s, other California programs, such as U.S. International, California Lutheran, and Vanguard University, joined BIOLA in the production of All-Americans. With the discontinuation of several of these programs later in the decade, BIOLA continued this streak well into the mid-1980s until they too dropped their program in the late 1980s.
During the 1990s, the opportunity to compete for a NAIA program in California was fundamentally non-existent. Basically extinct! Although several wrestlers from California placed at the NAIA Nationals, it was for programs out of state. Fortunately, this reality changed at the beginning of the new Millennium with the launching of a new program at Menlo College in Atherton, located in the San Francisco Bay Area. In only the second season James Guizar won a national title for Menlo in 2002, and from that point forward, the Oaks have consistently produced All-Americans each year, as well as earning seven top 10 team finishes at the NAIA Championships. During the mid to late 2000s, Cal Baptist University (in the process of transitioning to Division I) and Simpson College in Redding added new programs and more recently, Life Pacific College in San Dimas, continued this growing trend by fielding a team in 2018. To our surprise, a year later Vanguard University of Costa Mesa re-established its program after a forty plus year hiatus.
Last year I had the distinct opportunity to interview and discuss the launching of the new program at Life Pacific with Head Coach Arsen Aleksanyan and his Assistant Coach Brady Bersano. Both Aleksanyan and Bersano delved into this opportunity with a great deal of experience, personal accomplishments, and a mutual desire to develop the Life Pacific program into a national level program. From day one, the goals and expectations were communicated to all members of the program. The team motto, “BEGINNING OF A TRADITION,” set a solid foundation for future teams to follow and build upon. In short order, Alexander Nunez (125s) and Gerardo Hernandez (174s) each won conference titles, while Anthony Vargas (133s) and Aaron Mora (149s) also earned conference medals and qualified to the NAIA National Championships. Rising to the occasion, Nunez earned Outstanding Wrestler honors at the Cascade Collegiate Conference, as well as becoming the first Life Pacific wrestler to earn All-American honors at the NAIA National Championships.
More recently, I meet up with Coach Aleksanyan in my hometown of Livermore, California in the Bay Area, where we discussed the challenges of his new program, the first-year accomplishments, its transition from a “College” to “University” status, and the future. Below is my Part II Q&A with Coach Aleksanyan.
ARSEN ALEKSANYAN PROFILE
Michigan State: BS Degrees – Political Science and Human Resources
Team Captain Senior Season (Michigan State)
Calif. Community College State Champion/OW – 1999 (Moorpark College)
Junior College All-American – 1999 (Moorpark College)
4th CIF State Championships – 1998 (Calvary Chapel HS)
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)
Q&A WITH COACH ARSEN ALEKSANYAN
TWC: Reflecting back on the inaugural season for Life Pacific College in 2018-’19, please describe the highlights of your program’s success.
COACH ALEKSANYAN: We finished the season with one All-American wrestler, four NAIA national championship tournament qualifiers and two conference champions including the most outstanding wrestler of the conference tournament. Overall we finished 28th in the country out of 63 schools.
TCW: What were the greatest challenges starting a new program at Life Pacific? What did you learn from this experience and what are your plans entering the 2019-’20 season?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: I’d say our biggest challenges were fairly typical of a new athletic program. Both the wrestlers and I had a very steep learning curve. Learning the styles and personalities of a new, very young team consisting only of underclassmen, I had to create a culture, get buy in from the wrestlers and even remove a few of them who were not a good fit. Kicking kids off the team is never easy. Moving forward into our second year is really exciting for me, especially considering we’re returning four national qualifiers. We have an established culture with high standards and a strong, more experienced group of wrestlers who love competing for Life Pacific University. Everyone on the team is totally on board.
TCW: A large percentage of your recruits come from the state of California. Do you plan to keep a majority of your recruit local or are you open to more recruits from out of state?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: I’m not opposed to recruiting out of state wrestlers…California produces many of the best wrestlers in the United States, but has only a handful of in-state college wrestling opportunities. As it is, so many talented wrestlers from California are leaving the state to attend college…it’s great to be offering them a great in-state option here in California.
TCW: During your coaching tenure at Cal Baptist University, you had the opportunity to coach and mentor Division II All-American and finalist Brady Bersano. Having brought Brady onto your coaching staff in the inaugural season, please describe what he has contributed to the program and the impact he has had on the wrestlers.
COACH ALEKSANYAN: It’s been great. The most important thing on any coaching staff is trust and loyalty. I absolutely trust Brady’s decisions and his loyalty to the team. Brady and I complement each other really well. Having wrestled at one of the best and most well known wrestling programs in California, Clovis HS, he has a very high level understanding of all aspects of the sport and a lot of connections. Perhaps most importantly, Brady’s technique on the mat is top notch.
TCW: More recently, Vanguard University in Costa Mesa revived a program that once existed during the 1970s. To date, the state of California has NAIA wrestling programs at Menlo College, Simpson College, Life Pacific, and now Vanguard University. Is there discussion about fielding more NAIA programs in the near future?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: Last summer I spent some time with Vanguard’s Athletic Director at a convention in Kansas City. I was excited to hear that they were considering starting wrestling program and since starting we have been spending lots of time collaborating with each other and building our programs. Further, I have been working very closely with Mike Moyer, the Executive Director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association, to help grow NAIA level wrestling in CA. I know two other Universities are looking to start wrestling next year.
TCW: Not too long after launching the men’s program at Life Pacific, Menlo College All-American Javier Gonzalez was hired to lead the newly established women’s program. Having both a men’s and women’s program at Life Pacific, what does this mean for the future of the program?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: I’m very excited to have Javier join our team. He’s been doing a great job recruiting and it’s been a joy to mentor him and watch him grow into a head coach. A women’s program means twice as many wrestlers on campus and twice as many people at our home matches. I really hope our women’s program leads other schools in CA and the broader US to adopt women’s wrestling. I have to congratulate Menlo College as they are leading the way as the WCWA and NAIA National Champions this year! They paved the way for two new programs to launch wrestling in CA. As Life Pacific University And Simpson University start having success with women’s wrestling it will only encourage other Universities to start programs.
TCW: Since taking the helm at Life Pacific, you have established a series of wrestling camps that take place at the college and abroad. Please explain.
COACH ALEKSANYAN: My traveling camps have been very successful. This summer alone, I have done 9 different camps already. The way my camps are ran is very simple. A high school team, club team, or a camp that is already established hires me either for one or up to 5 days to run a clinic. This format has worked very well thus far and has built a lot of bridges with the wrestling community. To sum it up, I really enjoy getting to meet new kids. A big part of my camp is to explain to the kids and the parents the ins and outs of the college experience. In short, what it really takes to wrestle at the collegiate level, not just at Life Pacific…any college. For example, I cover the following topics:
- What college coaches are looking for in a student/athlete
- What kind of GPA they should have prior to entering college?
- How to get recognized by a college coach(es)
- ASAT and ACT scores
- Deadline for financial aid, etc.
It is this form of dialogue that answers a majority of parent’s and student/athlete’s questions or areas high school coaches don’t have the answers to or where to find the answers. My experience with this form of dialogue has been very positive thus far…Many parents have shown a great deal of appreciation for this type of information.
At Life Pacific, we do both a girls and boys camp every summer. Last summer, I started the LPUcamps. We had over 50 kids at each camp so far. Our boys camp is coming at the end of this month. During our LPU camps, we invite our admission team to give a small lecture to our campers. They explain how to apply for our school, financial aid… as well as all the items mentioned above. On a final note, Seniors get a gift from the university and a folder that outlines all this information.
TCW: Where does your team currently train? I understand that a new wrestling room is in the future.
COACH ALEKSANYAN: Currently, we are training at San Dimas High School. HUGE shot out to them for letting us use their room. Moving forward, we got the approval for a generous budget to lease out a facility. In addition, the University has made an offer on a property. Moreover, we are waiting impatiently to get the approval on our stand-alone wrestling room. It’s only a half mile away from the University.
TCW: What can the wrestling community do to help the newly established programs in your area?
COACH ALEKSANYAN: One of the best ways would be going to our home wrestling matches. Also, they can encourage their High School wrestlers to stay in CA when it comes time to pick a college. Finally, it really helps our college wrestling programs when young wrestlers attend college wrestling camps in CA. It helps us raise money, build our brand and develop the next generation of CA college wrestlers. I know I speak for all the college coaches in CA that we do want to have strong relationships with high school coaches. Please contact us if you have a wrestlers that’s interested in wrestling in college. I’m always willing to help any high school program in any way that I can.
If interested in continuing your academic and athletic career at Life Pacific University, contact the following coaches:
Men’s Program – Head Coach Arsen Aleksanyan
PHONE: 714-865-1483/ EMAIL: email@example.com
Women’s Program – Head Coach Javier Gonzalez
PHONE: 1 (909) 331-2449 / EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org