Manny Rivera could be forgiven if he feels nostalgic during his team's season-opening road trip.
The Cal State Bakersfield wrestling head coach will return to the site of some of his greatest athletic triumphs when the Roadrunners open the 2019-20 season on the road against his Alma Mater, the University of Minnesota, on Nov. 1.
Competing with a national powerhouse, Rivera was a standout in his time in Minneapolis, earning All-American honors at 141 pounds as a senior in 2008 and helping the Gophers win a national championship in 2007.
Still connected to the program (current Gopher head coach Brandon Eggum and top assistant Luke Becker were both on the staff during his time at UM), Rivera has been looking to return to Minneapolis for some time, and is excited to see years of planning come to fruition.
“I made some of my best friends there," said Rivera, who also served as a graduate assistant for the Gophers from 2009-10. "There’s so much that is really dear to me from Minnesota. Just the connections I made with people and who I was able to become as a wrestler, as a coach.
"It’s always cool to go back and see some old friends and I’m excited to go back and compete against my Alma Mater.”
The reunion tour won't end there. Two days later, the Roadrunners will travel three-and-a-half hours northwest to Fargo to take on North Dakota State.
The Bison, who are coached by Rivera's former Minnesota teammate Roger Kish, hired Rivera as an assistant in 2011. He stayed until accepting the job at CSUB in 2016.
Despite his ties to both programs, Rivera isn't using the Midwest trip as a jaunt down memory lane. While there, he plans to show his former teammates and coaches the same competitive fire that helped him win 113 matches as a collegiate wrestler.
"It’s great to be part of a really great tradition," he said. "But make no mistake...we’re going to be there to fight and to do as well as we can. I’m definitely not going to let those things get in the way of our effort and our fight.
“I think we can come away with two wins. I think if we go out and are able to compete at our best, we can beat both those teams."
To get the desired result, Rivera plans to lean heavily on a strong core of returners that includes a pair of 2019 NCAA qualifiers.
Redshirt senior Russell Rohlfing returns at 149 pounds with hopes of making a fourth-straight trip to the NCAA Duals. Redshirt junior Dominic Ducharme, a first-time NCAA qualifier at 184 last year, is slated to compete at 197 this winter.
Elsewhere, Frontier High School alum Jarrod Snyder returns after going 4-0 in Pac-12 duals last regular season. Rivera also has high hopes for Jacob Thalin, who went 14-15 at 165 a season ago.
While he believes he has more talent top-to-bottom than he did last season, Rivera says several spots are still up for grabs, and expects it will take time for his inexperienced grapplers to show they can handle being the top option in their weight class.
“I think our younger guys are talented, but ultimately need to prove themselves in competition," he said. "That’s what we’re looking forward to, seeing how our new guys will do at the start of the season."
One newcomer expected to make an immediate splash is 133-pound redshirt freshman Chance Rich, who earned All-American honors at the U.S. Open UWW Junior Freestyle Nationals in April.
Rich will have to fill the shoes of Sean Nickell, a three-time NCAA qualifier and two-time Pac-12 champion.