Students mix brawn and brains for wrestling success

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

Joe-TraversoRICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University Tri-Cities students Joseph Traverso and Robert Mendoza credit intellectual as well as physical preparation for their recent top finishes at the Northwest Conference Wrestling Championship, which qualified them for the National Collegiate Wrestling Association championships March 10-12.

Traverso placed first in his weight class of 174 pounds and Mendoza placed third in 149 pounds at the Northwest competition. The WSU team, under coach Kevin Poitra, took third against 11 other teams.

Other team members, from WSU Pullman, to earn national championship berths include:
• Jerdon Helgeson, junior, 149 pounds – first place
• Hunter Haney, freshman, 133 pounds – second place
• Zachary Volk, freshman, 157 pounds – second place
• Bailey Poitra, junior, 165 pounds – third place
• Xavier Henderson, junior, 235 pounds – third place
• Jason Nicholson, junior, 174 pounds – fourth place

Training body and mind

Traverso said it was the physical component of the sport that interested him when he first started wrestling in middle school. But the cerebral component kept him interested and competing through college.

“When you wrestle someone, it could be a good match of technicality, endurance and strength. But what it ultimately comes down to is who has the mental capacity to keep going,” he said. “If you can beat someone mentally, you can win the match.”

As with his studies in mechanical engineering, Traverso’s wrestling pursuit – from the work-out routine to nutrition – is calculated for greatest efficiency.

His mechanical engineering academic schedule includes maintaining a 3.98 grade point average, working as a teacher’s assistant and participating in the student mechanical engineers, robotics and rugby clubs. His strength and endurance training at minimum consists of 500 push-ups and 600 flutter kicks with no breaks.

“From competing in wrestling, I have grown stronger mentally,” he said. “I have used it to persevere through my personal and academic challenges.”

Excelling on and off the mat

WSU wrestler Rob Mendoza, in crimson. In photo at the top of the article, WSU wrestler Joe Traverso.

As a business major, Mendoza maintains a busy academic schedule. He participates on the election board for the Associated Students of WSU Tri-Cities. He also dedicates three hours a day in the gym, both on and off the mat.

He lifts weights and runs six miles each day. He practices with wrestling teammates on the mat and specifically tailors his diet to meet the caloric intake required for his wrestling weight class. His diet consists of foods that will fuel his mind and body including oatmeal, peanut butter, seed bread, turkey sandwiches and lots of fruits and vegetables.

“These so called ‘wrestling-approved’ foods also give me natural energy, which enhances my performance in my business studies,” Mendoza said. “Like Olympic wrestler Dan Gable said, ‘Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.’ Wrestling has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and the hard work I put into the sport at practice is also reflected in the classroom.”

National championships

This year’s national championships are Traverso’s second and Mendoza’s first. During his first go, Traverso won two matches and lost two. This year, both students’ goals are the same: make it into the top eight to earn the title of “All-American.”

“We would like to thank the Tri-Cities and Pullman communities for giving us the tools we used to get this far in wrestling and academics,” Traverso said. “Without their support, we wouldn’t have this team or the ability to train.”

The matches from the national tournament will be live streamed March 10-12 on FloWrestling at To view the brackets and the schedule of the tournament, visit