Big 12 welcomes wrestling

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California Baptist University’s wrestling team will compete at the Big 12 conference starting in its 2022-2023 season.

The wrestling team has not been affiliated with an athletic conference since CBU’s move to Division I three years ago. Now its future is confirmed, and the team will compete in one of the most prestigious conferences in the nation.

“(Not having a conference) feels like we are left hanging,” said Lennie Zalesky, head coach of wrestling. “It’s hard on recruiting, and wrestlers do not want to sit out (before getting to compete in a conference).”

Chaz Hallmark, sophomore finance major, said he is relieved that they are now a part of a conference and is excited to compete at Big 12.

Zalesky said the process of getting affiliated with Big 12 involves many phone calls. The process was first initiated by Joey Logan, assistant athletic director for Business Operations, after the news of Fresno State discontinuing its wrestling program.

Ron Prettyman, interim director of Athletics, has strong ties with the Big 12 conference which helped get the ball rolling. Zalesky himself was a wrestler for Iowa State, one of the schools competing at Big 12.

“The timing with COVID-19 also helped with the ball rolling,” Zalesky said. “And now that we can say that we will be competing at Big 12, recruiting is easier.”

Zalesky hopes to bring in newcomers. He said he has been talking to multiple state champions from California, Oregon, and Nevada, as well as two prospects from the Midwest.

The most promising returner is AJ Raya, redshirt junior.

“He got hurt this year, but he only lost to guys that are ranked eighth and ninth in the nation,” Zalesky said.

Big 12 is home to Iowa State, North Dakota State, Northern Colorado, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma University, Oklahoma State, South Dakota State, Utah Valley, West Virginia, Wyoming and Fresno State, though Fresno State is discontinuing its program.

The wrestlers are determined to put in extra work to prepare for the team’s inaugural first season with Big 12.

“Me and the guys work out as much as we can. Sometimes working out up too three times a day,” said Antonio Saldate, junior marketing major. “We know it’s going to take a lot of work to take over the conference, but we will be ready for all the challenges ahead.”

Saldate said he and the team are ready for the high-level competition of the Big 12.

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