The 2017-18 version of Cal State Bakersfield wrestler Sean Nickell can be condensed into one word: better. He’s feeling better, wrestling at 133 pounds instead of 125 like last season, and wrestling better, according to head coach Manny Rivera, in terms of energy and improved technique.

Considering Nickell won the 125-pound Pac-12 title last season, the expectation for the new and improved iteration of himself is the same — just at 133 pounds instead.

“He’s gotta do it again,” Rivera said.

CSUB will head to the Pac-12 championships on Sunday in Corvallis, Ore. Nickell is vying for his second conference title in a row and several other ranked CSUB wrestlers will attempt to get one of their own.

As a team, CSUB has won the conference championship twice, in 1996 and 1999 when the Pac-12 was still the Pac-10.

Nickell was ranked No. 23 at 133 pounds in the latest NCAA coaches ranking released on Feb. 8. The only Pac-12 wrestler ahead of him is Arizona State’s Ali Naser at No. 14. But the Pac-12 rankings released by the conference on Feb. 14 have Nickell ahead of Naser in the top two spots.

The pair split two previous meetings this season. Naser came out on top in the Cliff Keen Invitational on Dec. 1 with a pin. Nickell got revenge in a dual on Jan. 24 with a 3-0 decision.

Nickell, a redshirt junior, wasn’t prepared for Naser the first time around and had never seen Naser wrestle, Nickell said. In terms of pressure for repeating as a conference champion, Nickell said there was more pressure last year because he had to win to qualify for the NCAA championships.

“An undefeated Pac-12 record, that’s what I’m going for,” Nickell said, referencing the potential of never losing a match during the Pac-12 championships in his career.

At 141 pounds, CSUB’s Russell Rohlfing might have, on paper, the easiest path to a Pac-12 title. Rohlfing was the highest-ranked 141-pound Pac-12 wrestler by the NCAA coaches at No. 26. But he could still face Colton Schilling from Cal Poly, who was put ahead of Rohlfing in the Pac-12 rankings. Schilling pinned Rohlfing earlier in the year.

“I’m going into it with the intention to dominate,” Rohlfing said. “I don’t want there to be any doubt in anyone’s mind that I was the best wrestler on the mat during those matches.”

Then there’s CSUB’s pair of redshirt senior leaders hoping to go out on top. Coleman Hammond, ranked No. 14 at 157 pounds by the NCAA coaches, and Matt Williams, No. 15 at 197 pounds, finished second and third, respectively, at the Pac-12 championships in 2017.

Hammond has placed three times at the Pac-12 championships but never won, like his brother Bryce did twice. Williams has finished second, third and fourth, but never first.

CSUB names new women’s soccer coach

Cal State Bakersfield announced Sebastian Vecchio as the fifth head coach in program history on Tuesday. The former University of Memphis goalie spent his last three years as an assistant coach at Texas Christian University.

Vecchio has 15 years of coaching experience, but CSUB will be his first Division I head coaching job.

“It was very clear that he has the communication skills, experience, energy, and work ethic to help our women's soccer program grow for many years to come," CSUB athletic director Kenneth “Ziggy” Siegfried said in a release.

CSUB conducted a national search after Gary Curneen stepped down to take an assistant position in the National Women’s Soccer League.

CSUB swimming and diving bringing youth into WAC Championships

It’s a week full of conference championships for CSUB as the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams will compete in the Western Athletic Conference championships in Houston, Texas from Wednesday through Saturday.

Sophomore Jayssie Haynes has led the women’s team in an individual record-breaking season. Most recently, Haynes swam the fastest 1,000-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle swims in school history on Jan. 27.

The men have been carried by freshman duo Kris Rogic and Loren Gillilan, as well as senior Lovre Soric.

The Roadrunners were picked second-to-last in the pre-championship WAC coaches polls.

Roadrunners track and field heads to WAC Indoor Championship

Though CSUB’s opened its outdoor track and field season on Saturday, the indoor season is not over. The Roadrunners will be heading to the WAC Indoor Championship held in Boise, Idaho from Thursday through Saturday.

Grand Canyon has won the men’s and women’s indoor titles two years in a row.

Jon Mettus can be reached at 661-395-7389. Follow him on Twitter at @jmettus.

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