When Dominic Kastl burst on the scene with a Pac-12 wrestling championship as a redshirt freshman two years ago, the
Cal Poly grappler made a promise to himself to back it up with repeat results.
“To me, it’s very, very important,” Kastl said. “I set a personal goal when I was a freshman that said I was going to win it three more times. I’ve kind of messed that up last year getting hurt, but now I’ve got to win it two more times. It’s a personal goal, and I aim to achieve it.”
Heading into Sunday’s Pac-12 Championships at Stanford, Kastl, a junior at 174 pounds, and 133-pound sophomore Devon Lotito, who won a conference title last season, represent the Mustangs’ best chances for championships.
Kastl’s year was dashed by a degenerative back injury last season. It was a chronic case and surgery was unavoidable. He won’t know if he can get that season back through a medical redshirt until the end of his collegiate career, but there’s no denying the injury was crippling.
“It was keeping me from getting into my stance,” Kastl said. “I was just getting nerve pain all the way down to my toes.
“I’ve always had a bad back. It’s always bothered me. I learned to go through it, but that pain was unbearable. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t sit in class. It was the worst time of my life.”
Surgery corrected some spine herniation and relieved a pinched nerve. Kastl came back strong this season. He shrugged off a midseason ankle sprain to finish 15-4 and goes into the conference tournament, a three-round bracket which includes six wrestlers in each weight class, ranked No. 21 in the country.
If the chalk holds up, Kastl, seeded second, will be faced with an irritant that’s dogged him just like his longtime back trouble, Bryce Hammond of CSU Bakersfield.
Ranked 18th in the country and seeded first, Hammond split a pair of low-scoring matches with Kastl this season.
Kastl earned a one-point victory in the conference dual between the teams, then fell to Hammond by a point in a tournament shortly after. The difference was a single takedown in each match.
Those were far from their first meetings. Kastl, from Gilroy, has been grappling with Hammond, a Bakersfield product with multiple state and national titles at youth levels, for years.
“I’ve wrestled that kid for a while, in high school, as little kids,” Kastl said. “We’ve been rivals, and I don’t like losing to him at all.
“I know he’s got me right now” in overall win-loss record,” Kastl added, “so, I’m trying to make that even.”
Lotito also has a rival to overcome.
Stanford’s Ryan Mango is the top seed at 133 pounds. Mango is a two-time All-American and three-time national qualifier but redshirted last season when Lotito made his march to the conference crown.
He’s come back to rank 11th in the country with a 25-3 record. Lotito is 18th in the national polls with a 20-8 record.
In their only previous matchup, Mango earned a 4-3 decision over Lotito, scoring a takedown in the final 30 seconds to break a 2-2 tie in a Feb. 9 dual meet.
Lotito wasn’t discouraged by the loss. The closeness of the previous match means a rematch could go either way, and Lotito is sure he’s in the best form of his life, much improved from last season’s run and surely better than an early season slump this year.
“I’m definitely a lot better from where I was at the start of the season and better from anywhere I’ve been this season and at any time last season,” Lotito said.
“I feel like every year that I wrestle, I’m just going to get better because there’s always something you can improve on.”