Q&A with Cal Baptist’s Assistant Coach, Derek Moore of Shasta, CA by Al Fontes

Al Fontes – TCW State Editor


Life is a journey! In short, we only get one shot at it. From our humbled beginnings until the end, we as individuals are faced with continuous challenges, as well as life-altering events that can make or break us. In some cases these life-altering events are planned while others are unplanned. At times, it’s the unplanned events that change our fate in life for the better, but often not realized for many years later. We have to strive to live life to the fullest and do our best to meet our life goals despite any setbacks. Just never give up! The sport of wrestling is much like life. One individual that has really impressed me with his life journey is Derek Moore of Shasta, California. Against all odds, he not only won the 2007 NCAA Division I National Championships his senior year, he also went undefeated and earned the Outstanding Wrestler Award. This milestone did not happen without a humble beginning and many obstacles leading up to this great lifetime achievement.

At an early age, Derek participated in the sport of gymnastics at a local gymnasium in his hometown of Shasta. He truly enjoyed gymnastics and the challenges it provided. Unfortunately, without much notice the gymnasium closed its doors to the public. This did not sit very well with Derek, leaving a void in his young life. Not too long after the closure, Derek was invited by a good friend to join him on the wrestling team at Parsons Middle School. Unbeknownst to him at the time, this unexpected life-altering change would set him on a course to become one of California’s best collegiate wrestlers in the state’s history. His first crack at wrestling did not go very well, but despite the struggles, he was hooked. In his early development, he did not understand the concept of the rigors of wrestling, but always put his best into everything he does and wrestling was certainly no exception.

Not too long after being introduced to wrestling, Derek established himself among the top lightweights in the state of California when he entered Shasta High School and by his sophomore season in 2000, he won the CIF Northern Section Championship at 103s and placed 7th at the prestigious CIF State Championships. He then continued his upward climb by winning two more CIF Northern Section titles and another state medal (5th at 119s) in 2002. In addition to his accomplishments at Shasta, Derek also earned three Cadet All-American honors at Fargo in both freestyle and Greco-Roman, reaching the finals each time. Coming up short in his first two national title attempts, Derek began to desire a championship title (aka, winning a Fargo Stop Sign) even more by his third finals appearance.

2007 NCAA Champions – Derek Moore (bottom center)

Despite placing twice at the CIF State Championships and earning three All-American honors, Derek did not receive any scholarship offers. This did not deter him from competing at the collegiate level. Academically he was an exceptional student and entered the University of California at Davis as a walk-on and joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) to pay his way. ROTC training required approximately three hours of ROTC training each week in addition to his demanding academic schedule and wrestling regimen. In short order he qualified to the NCAA Division I Championships his freshman season and just missed earning All-American honors after losing in the round of 12. The following season, Derek made another trip to the NCAA Championships, experiencing déjà vu in round 1 when he lost to Cornell’s Travis Lee. Once again, he battled back in the consolation brackets and lost by 1 point in the round of 12 to advance to the All-American rounds. Qualifying to the NCAA for the third straight year, Derek entered the championships ranked #8 in the nation, but due to an injury, he defaulted from the competition. Not one to give up or let obstacles get in the way of his goals, Derek entered the NCAA Championships his senior season undefeated and ranked #2 nationally. Determined to win a national title, Derek wrestled very tough in the preliminary rounds and dominated the number one seed Ryan Lang of Northwestern in the finals by technical fall to not only win an NCAA title, but the Outstanding Wrestler Award in the process. By the tournament’s end, Derek understood very well that the road to achieving his dream of winning an NCAA title would have only come to fruition by conquering the dreams of his opponents.

“Trust the process…continue to push, so you may place yourself in a position to accomplish your dream.”  Derek Moore

In 2007, Derek graduated from UC Davis with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry and molecular biology. Upon graduation, Derek joined the United States Army as a field artillery officer and served for six years. As a soldier-athlete, he represented the Army in World and Olympic level competition and qualified for the 2012 freestyle Olympic trials at 60 kilograms. In addition, he spent four years training at the Olympic Training Center with the Army’s World Class Athletic Program. After competition, Derek took his wrestling experience to the coaching ranks and spent four seasons as an assistant coach helping rebuild the program at Sacred Heart University. During his tenure, Sacred Heart earned two All-Academic finishes in the top 10 and had four wrestlers earn top-eight individual finishes at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Championships. While at Sacred Heart University, Derek received his Master’s degree in Business Administration in May of 2016.

More recently, Derek reunited with Head Coach Lennie Zelesky at Cal Baptist, who he wrestled under at UC Davis from 2003 to 2007. As a new assistant coach at Cal Baptist, Derek’s outstanding work ethic and commitment to excellence will only elevate this program to new heights as they enter the Division I level after several years in Division II and NAIA.

In summary, Derek is the epitome of perseverance. He not only started out from a humble background, he overcame many obstacles to achieve the rare prize of winning an NCAA Division I National Championship and Outstanding Wrestler Award. This did not happen by accident, it was a matter or trusting a process and pushing the limits and placing himself in a position to succeed…In essence, FOLLOWING HIS DREAMS.




NCAA Division I National Champion (2007)

NCAA Championships Outstanding Wrestler (2007)

NCAA Division I Qualifier (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007)

Pacific-10 Conference Champion (2006, 2007)

Pacific-10 Wrestler of the Year (2007)

Pac-12 Conference All-Century Team (2016)

California Wrestling Hall-of-Fame Inductee (2016)

2x CIF State Medalist – 7th, 5th Place (Shasta HS, N)

3x Cadet All-American – Freestyle/Greco-Roman





TCW: How did you first get involved in the sport of wrestling?

COACH DEREK MOORE: I started wrestling in the 6th grade.  All through elementary school I competed around the state in gymnastics. However, before my 5th grade year my gym closed forcing me to train at the only other gym in town.  After a year at the new gym I sensed the coach did not believe in me or my ability to succeed, so I was ready for a change.  I had also just transitioned from private to public school and craved new friends.  One of the first kids I met was another 6th grader named Amby.  He was on the Parsons middle school wrestling team and invited me to give it a try.  I had no clue what wrestling was (outside of WWF), but loved trying new things and wanted Amby to be my friend, so I stayed after school to attend my first practice.  I wrestled for the first couple of weeks in my socks before my mom realized I was going to stick it out, and bought me a pair of ASICS wrestling shoes from the local Big 5.  I was not very good, but I was hooked!

TCW: Who was your biggest influence in the sport?

COACH DEREK MOOREIt would be impossible for me to narrow it down to just one person.  So many people have poured into me over the years at different times in my career.  My coaches were most influential in developing me technically, strategically and mentally.  Coach Darren Stevens at Shasta High School in Redding, Coach Lennie Zalesky at UC Davis and Coach Bill Zadick and Brandon Slay at the Olympic Training Center.  Competitively, I was someone who loved to perform.  My teammates, coaches, family and friends gave me my competitive drive for each match.  I wrestled the way I did because I did not want to let them down.  I had and still have an amazing support network.  However, if you ask me to give credit for my success, I give it to God.  Before every match, I would pray a short prayer of protection and performance.  He has been with me every step of the way.  The Lord has blessed me with gifts and opportunities far beyond what I deserve, and I am eternally grateful.

TCW: How long have you coached the sport of wrestling?

COACH DEREK MOORE: This is my 6th year of college coaching.  After serving 6 years as a US Army officer, I started coaching at Division I Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut with Head Coach Andy Lausier.  Being an under resourced program, it was a challenge rebuilding the program, but also very rewarding.  This is my second season with the Lancers here in Riverside, California.  I am crazy excited about what we are building here!

TCW: What do you enjoy most about coaching?

COACH DEREK MOOREWhat I enjoy most about coaching is helping young men create a lifestyle and mindset that will help them find success in any endeavor, for the rest of their lives.  As all coaches know, wrestling teaches so much more than takedowns and turns.  I was blessed with amazing mentors who used wrestling concepts to create successful life habits.  I enjoy passing on those concepts and watching boys turn into young men, on and off the mat.

Derek (top center) was inducted into the 2016 California Wrestling Hall-of-Fame (photo credit – John Sachs)

TCW: What was attractive about the opportunity to take on the Assistant Coaching position at Cal Baptist University?

COACH DEREK MOORE: There were three major attractions for me joining the staff here at CBU.  For starters, it gave me the opportunity to come back to my home state of California where my family is growing (10 nieces and nephews) and almost as important, I will never have to shovel snow from my driveway to get to work!  Second, I saw the vision and support of the CBU administration.  They expect to become an elite athletic department across all sports, not only in California but across the nation.  The third and biggest factor in drawing me to CBU, was the strong integration of faith across every experience on campus.  During my interview process I attended an athletic department staff meeting where the Athletic Director, Micah Parker prayed for the students and coaches before and after the meeting.  I knew right then I would become a Lancer and this was where the Lord wanted me to coach.

2007 NCAA Champion/OW

TCW: Did you ever think that you would be coaching with your college coach, Lennie Zelesky? What does this mean to you?

COACH DEREK MOORE: I believe individuals are naturally attracted to that which they know, so I always hoped of coming back to UC Davis and coaching with Coach Zalesky.  Those plans were eliminated after UC Davis dropped the program in 2011.  However, I still kept in touch with Coach Zalesky and he was one of my first phone calls when I finally decided I would leave the military and get into coaching.  He expressed strong interest in having me join him at CBU but realized it was not the right time and selflessly encouraged me to pursue another opportunity.  God has always had his hand in my life and after 4 years in Connecticut helping rebuild DI Sacred Heart University, I found myself in the office next to Coach Zalesky.  There are less than 80 Division I wrestling programs in the nation and for me to be able to coach at one, in my home state, with my college mentor is an unbelievable unique opportunity, of which I am incredibly grateful. 

TCWWhat are your short and long-term goals for the program?

COACH DEREK MOORE: As a team that is more a question for Head Coach Lennie Zalesky.  However, I have a personal goal of developing and coaching a Division I NCAA Champion, and I know that will happen here at California Baptist University.  Coach Zalesky took me from 5th in the California state wrestling tournament in 2002 to undefeated DI NCAA Champion in 2007.  We have the blueprint necessary to achieve incredible success.  We are now looking for the right young men willing to sacrifice and chase down that dream.

TCW: I think many people look at a private school like CBU as far too expensive to afford.  Does the cost of tuition at CBU make it difficult to recruit?

COACH DEREK MOORE: College is expensive, no argument there.  However, what CBU and California do well is offer great scholarship and needs based aid opportunities.  A student who qualifies per their GPA and parental income can earn up to $15,179 a year from federal and state needs based aid.  CBU also offers another $4,000 to those who qualify for needs based aid.  In addition, we have academic aid ranging from $7,500(3.0GPA) to $13,500(4.0GPA), dependent on SAT/ACT score.  Between these three buckets of funds a student has potential to earn up to $32,679 which will cover 99% of the cost of full time enrollment, $32,942(not including room and board).  I encourage all wrestlers to put time in on academics, submit their FAFSA and ask their counselors for local scholarship opportunities.

TCW: First, thank you for your service in the United States Army. It’s my understanding that in addition to the very demanding academic load you carried at UC Davis (biochemistry and molecular biology), you also participated in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). Please explain how you managed this very demanding academic/military/wrestling schedule?

COACH DEREK MOOREServing in the Army was truly my pleasure.  Although it was initially my golden ticket to pay for college, applying for an ROTC scholarship and joining the military ended up being one the best decision of my life.  I graduated with $0 in debt and had a great paying job that developed in me leadership skills which set me apart from others when I exited the military.  It is a blessing now as I mentor two of my current wrestlers who are utilizing ROTC to pay for their college education and wrestling.  Balancing ROTC, UC Davis academics and the pursuit of an NCAA title was challenging.  At the same time it provided me with structure and commitments which minimized the social pressures of college life and molded my time management skills.  I have to give a great deal of credit to the support I received from my friends and family.  I was incredibly fortunate to fall into a group of amazing friends who did not pressure me to waste time but respected my commitment and encouraged me in my journey for success.  Jim Rohn has a quote that I believe in strongly, “You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”.  I was surrounded by great people.

Derek with CBU Staff – 3rd Place Team, 2018 NCAA Division II Championships (photo – Cal Baptist Athletics)

TCW: In your opinion, what can the California Wrestling Community do to grow support of College Wrestling?

COACH DEREK MOOREThere are two major ways the California wrestling community can support college wrestling.  First and most important is for parents and coaches to emphasize the importance of academics, especially in all four years of high school.  It is disheartening as a college coach to identify an athlete we want to recruit but are unable to after we receive his transcripts and realize he has not developed the proper study habits to succeed in the classroom.  I read an article last month explaining how 50% of colleges will not recruit a high school athlete under a 3.0 GPA.  In addition, there is exponentially more available money in academic scholarship compared to athletic scholarship.  As I mentioned, CBU offers up to $13,500 in academic scholarship for all incoming students based on their GPA and SAT/ACT score.  Second, I would like to encourage the wrestling community to become a fan of your closest college wrestling program and attend all their home dual matches.  This shows athletic directors how big and important this sport is in California.  It is also a great way to expose your wrestlers to the next level and get them excited about the potential to go to college.




Lennie Zalesky – Head Coach

Lennie Zalesky was named the California Baptist University wrestling head coach coach in June 2011. The Lancers have enjoyed tremendous success in NCAA Division II and the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference since they completed their transition in 2013-14. CBU looks to carry that over as it transitions to NCAA Division I in 2018-19.

In seven seasons, Zalesky led CBU to a 62-41-1, 16-7 in RMAC record and four top-three national finishes. He has coached his wrestlers to a total of 30 All-American awards and seven individual national championships, including three at the NCAA level. The Lancers also won a program-best 13 duals in the 2014-15 season.

This past year, the Lancers enjoyed a program-best year in many ways. CBU won the RMAC Championship for the second time, the Super Region IV Championship for the second year in a row and took third at the NCAA Division II Championship. Daxton Gordon became the third Lancer in program history to win an individual championship, winning in overtime at 149-pounds. CBU qualified six grapplers, with four grabbing All-American finishes.

The Lancers have had an impressive debut in the NCAA since joining fully in 2013-14, with Zalesky at the helm. Twenty-five CBU wrestlers have qualified for the NCAA Division II Championships, with 15 of them earning All-American awards and 12 Super Region IV and 13 RMAC titles in five seasons. In all, CBU has gone 47-26-1, 16-7 in the RMAC and defeated Division I opponents four times since joining the NCAA.

More than athletics, the program has also finished in the top 14 of the Division II All-Academic team standings the past four years, including three top-10 performances. Nolan Kistler won the Elite 90 Award – presented to the wrestler with the highest GPA competing at the NCAA championship site – for the third year in a row in 2018, becoming the first student-athlete to win it three consecutive years at the same sport.

In 2016-17, CBU took third in Division II, won the Super Region IV Championship and took second in the RMAC. The team went 9-8, 3-2 in RMAC duals and shifted into a new gear in the postseason, crowning three RMAC, three region and one national champion, along with a program-high seven NCAA qualifiers and three All-Americans. Jacob Waste won CBU’s second individual NCAA championship at the 197-pound bracket.

In 2015-16, CBU put together a banner year, taking sixth in Division II, winning the RMAC championship and taking second at the Super Regional. The Lancers went 7-3, with a 23-18 win over fourth-ranked Mercyhurst that made them a top-10 team in the rankings most of the year. Five of Zalesky’s wrestlers advanced to nationals and four earned All-American awards, with heavyweight Joe Fagiano winning the program’s first NCAA title.

The Lancers sent two to the national championships, with one picking up All-American honors after winning a Super Regional crown, in 2016. Collectively, CBU finished seventh in a revamped Super Region IV and 30th in Division II overall.

In 2013-14, CBU placed second at its first-ever Division II Super Region IV and Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Championships, with half of its lineup advancing to the NCAA Championships. Three Lancers won regional/conference titles, with three wrestlers going on to earn NCAA All-American status. CBU took 12th place overall nationally in its inaugural campaign in the NCAA.

In the 2012-13 season, Zalesky led the Lancers to a first place finish at the NCWA National Championship, grabbing the second title in program history. CBU had two individual champions at the meet and nine All-Americans. It was CBU’s third tournament victory of the season.

In his first season at the helm, Zalesky led the Lancers to a runner-up finish at the 2012 NCWA National Championship, with six Lancers earning All-American honors and two winning individual titles. The Lancers also got dual meet wins over four NCAA Division II ranked opponents in 2012.

Zalesky came to Riverside after nine years as the head coach at NCAA Division I UC Davis. He was a three-time NCAA All-American and a former assistant coach at powerhouse Iowa and has extensive coaching experience at both the prep and collegiate levels as well as international experience as an athlete.

Zalesky coached nine seasons at UC Davis before the program was dropped prior to the 2010-11 season. In those nine seasons, he coached numerous Pac-10 placers, four conference champions and had 27 athletes qualify for the NCAA Championships. Perhaps his best season came in 2007 when he was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year and also coached the Aggies’ first-ever NCAA Division I National Champion in any sport in Derek Moore (141 pounds), which helped UC Davis finish 22nd at the NCAA National Championships, its best showing ever. Moore was also named Outstanding Wrestler.

In 2009 and 2010, his teams earned a perfect Academic Progress Rate score, ranking as one of the top teams in the nation.

Prior to beginning his coaching career in 1986, Zalesky was a three-time All-American wrestler at Iowa. During his time there, he helped the Hawkeyes to four straight national championships, and he notched a record of 73-2-1 in his last two seasons. He was twice the national runner-up at 142 pounds and won three Big Ten titles.

His first coaching job came at his alma mater where he served under the legendary Dan Gable from 1986-90. He then spent eight seasons as the head wrestling coach at Palmer High School in Palmer, Alaska. In 2010, he was inducted into the Alaska Wrestling Hall of Fame.

He also spent two seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Indiana and then was the dean of students and wrestling coach at Culver Military Academy in Culver, Ind., for two years prior to taking the UC Davis job in the summer of 2001.

After his collegiate wrestling career concluded, Zalesky began competing internationally, winning a handful of tournaments from 1983-86. He won a silver medal in the 1983 Pan American Games, the 1984 World Cup, 1984 Tblisi Tournament in the former Soviet Union and the 1983 Canadian Cup. He also won the Henry Deglane Tournament in Nice, France in 1983 and the Cerro Pelado International Tournament in Cuba in 1986.

Zalesky graduated from Iowa in 1983 with a degree in finance and later earned another bachelor’s in education and Russian language in 1990, also from Iowa. He earned his master’s degree from Indiana in Slavic linguistics and literature in 2000. He was recognized five times in the 1990s for outstanding achievement by the American Council of Teachers of Russian.

In 2018, Zalesky was inducted to two wrestling hall of fame classes: the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame on April 9 and the California Wrestling Hall of Fame on May 5. Along with the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame and the California Wrestling Hall of Fame, Zalesky was also inducted into the Alaska Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2010.

Zalesky and his wife, Maria, have two children (Alie and Jake). Both earned degrees at CBU, with Alie and Jake graduating from the school’s nursing and public relations programs.


Mike Mena – Assistant Coach

Mike Mena joined the California Baptist University wrestling staff in January 2018, bringing a wealth of Division I experience.

Mena brings nearly a decade worth of Big Ten coaching experience from time spent at Indiana University. He coached 15 NCAA DI All-Americans, three NCAA DI Champions, 14 NWCA Academic All-Americans and five teams received Academic All-American team awards. He graduated in 2011 from the NWCA FCA Coaching Leadership Academy and was inducted into the IWCOA Hall of Fame in 2000.

During his collegiate career at the University of Iowa, Mena was a Big Ten Champion and four-time NCAA All-American. All four years at Iowa, the Hawkeyes won the conference championship and won three NCAA National Championships.

He is also a former three-time U.S. National Senior Men’s Freestyle team member and a two-time US Olympic Team Trials Placewinner. Back in high school, Mena was the first four-time undefeated Illinois high school state wrestling champion in Illinois wrestling history.



Daxton Gordon – NCAA Division II National Champion ’18







Joseph Fagiano


149 – Daxton Gordon, National Champion ‘18

165 – Christian Smith, 2nd Place ‘18

174 – Nolan Kistler, 2nd Place ‘18

184 – Nicholas Fiegener, 4th Place ‘18

197 – Jacob Waste, National Champion ‘17

184 – Nicholas Fiegener, 2nd Place ‘17

285 – Joseph Fagiano, National Champion ‘16

157 – Brady Bersano, 2nd Place ‘16

Jacob Waste

165 – Nolan Kistler, 7th Place ‘16

184 – Jacob Waste, 3rd Place ‘16

184 – Jacob Waste, 5th Place ‘15

125 – Bryden Lazaro, 5th Place ‘14

141 – Bradford Gerl, 5th Place ‘14

285 – Jacob Mitchell, 2nd Place ‘14



125 – Taylor Hall, 4th Place ‘13

Zach Merrill

133 – Dakota Thayer, 3rd Place ‘13

141 – Bradford Gerl, National Champion/OW ‘13

141 – Miguel Gallegos, 8th Place ‘13

165 – Anthony Ballinger, 7th Place ‘13

174 – Kenneth Tribble, 7th Place ‘13

184 – Paul Head, 7th Place ‘13

197 – David Dill, 5th Place ‘13

285 – Zach Merrill, National Champion ‘13

Bradford Gerl

125 – Jimmy Martinez, National Champion ‘12

133 – Alex Anunciation, 2nd Place ‘12

141 – Bradford Gerl, 6th Place ‘12

165 – Preston Brown, 4th Place ‘12

285 – Zach Merill, National Champion ‘12

125 – Jimmy Martinez, 2nd Place ‘11

149 – Dylan Cataline, 3rd Place ‘11

157 – Chris Santana, National Champion ‘11

165 – Bronson Gerl, 3rd Place ‘11

Chris Santana

174 – Kenneth Tribble, 6th Place ‘11

184 – CJ Knowland, 5th Place ‘11

235 – Vince Pezzuto, 5th Place ‘11

285 – Alex Evers, 2nd Place ‘11



125 – Chauncey Phillips, 2nd Place ‘10

125 – Sam Fragoza, 8th Place ‘09

165 – Lamar Reed, 4th Place ‘09

174 – CJ Knowland, 8th Place ‘09


Jimmy Martinez – NCWA National Champion ’12


The realization that his dream has come true – By the tournament’s end, Derek understood very well that the road to achieving his dream of winning an NCAA title would have only come to fruition by conquering the dreams of his opponents.