Cal Poly Humboldt Welcomes Lennie Zalesky as New Men’s Wrestling Coach

A graphic welcoming Lennie Zalesky as Cal Poly Humboldt's newest wrestling coach that features a photo of Zalesky.
Cal Poly Humboldt Executive Director of Athletics, Dr. Nick Pettit, announced the hiring of Lennie Zalesky as the new Head Men's Wrestling Coach on March 11, 2024.

Last summer, Humboldt announced efforts to add a men's wrestling team as an intercollegiate sport within the athletics department. The team is expected to begin competing in the winter of the 2024-2025 academic year. 

Several Humboldt alumni have contributed to the Wrestling Club to continue building on the club's legacy. Tom Jones ('74, Physical Education) donated $10,000, while Craig Vejvoda (Class of '80, Business Administration) and Virgil Moorehead (Class of '83, Education) each donated $50,000 to the club. Dan Phillips (Class of '91, Business and Computer Information Systems) also contributed $100,000 to the wrestling team. All four donors were former members of the Humboldt wrestling community during their time as students.

Zalesky comes to Humboldt after following head coaching stints at Division I California Baptist University and UC Davis over the past two decades.

"Coach Zalesky is an outstanding fit for our university, athletic department, and community," said Pettit. "His ties to California wrestling, along with his coaching and teaching experience, commitment to academic excellence, and desire to create a championship culture and experience for our student-athletes made him the clear choice for Cal Poly Humboldt."

Zalesky was named the California Baptist University wrestling head coach in June 2011. In 11 seasons, Zalesky led CBU to a 71-70-1 overall record, 17-7 in conference, and four top-three national finishes. He was named the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in 2016 and was also named Division II Coach of the Year in 2017. He has coached his wrestlers to 35 All-American awards and seven national championships, including three at the NCAA level. The Lancers also won a program-best 13 duals in the 2014-15 season. 

As an NCAA Division I member, CBU has produced nine All-American finishes in two seasons at the National Collegiate Open. Zach Schrader was the top finisher of them all, as he won the 2019 heavyweight championship. 

More than athletics, the program has excelled academically, as well. In Division II, the Lancers finished in the top 14 of the All-Academic team standings four times, including three top-10 performances. Nolan Kistler won the Elite 90 Award – presented to the wrestler with the highest GPA competing at the NCAA Championship site – for the third year in a row in 2018 to become the first student-athlete to win it three consecutive years at the same sport.

Zalesky went to CBU after nine years as the head coach at NCAA Division I UC Davis. He was a three-time NCAA All-American and a former assistant coach at powerhouse Iowa. He has extensive coaching experience at both the prep and collegiate levels as well as international experience as an athlete.

Zalesky coached nine seasons at UC Davis before the program was dropped prior to the 2010-11 season. In those nine seasons, he coached numerous Pac-10 placers and four conference champions and had 27 athletes qualify for the NCAA Championships. Perhaps his best season came in 2007 when he was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year and also coached the Aggies' first-ever NCAA Division I National Champion in any sport in Derek Moore (141 pounds), which helped UC Davis finish 22nd at the NCAA National Championships, its best showing ever. Moore was also named Outstanding Wrestler.

In 2009 and 2010, his teams earned a perfect Academic Progress Rate score, ranking as one of the top teams in the nation.

Before beginning his coaching career in 1986, Zalesky was a three-time All-American wrestler at Iowa. During his time there, he helped the Hawkeyes to four straight national championships and a record of 73-2-1 in his last two seasons. He was twice the national runner-up at 142 pounds and won three Big Ten titles.

His first coaching job came at his alma mater, where he served under the legendary Dan Gable from 1986-90. He then spent eight seasons as the head wrestling coach at Palmer High School in Palmer, Alaska. 

He also spent two seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Indiana and then was the dean of students and wrestling coach at Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana, for two years prior to taking the UC Davis job in the summer of 2001.

After his collegiate wrestling career concluded, Zalesky began competing internationally, winning a handful of tournaments from 1983-86. He won a silver medal in the 1983 Pan American Games, the 1984 World Cup, 1984 Tblisi Tournament in the former Soviet Union and the 1983 Canadian Cup. He also won the Henry Deglane Tournament in Nice, France in 1983 and the Cerro Pelado International Tournament in Cuba in 1986.

Zalesky graduated from Iowa in 1983 with a degree in finance and later earned another bachelor's in education and Russian language in 1990, also from Iowa. He earned his master's degree in Slavic linguistics and literature in Indiana in 2000. He was recognized five times in the 1990s for outstanding achievement by the American Council of Teachers of Russian.

In 2018, Zalesky was inducted into two wrestling hall of fame classes: the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame on April 9 and the California Wrestling Hall of Fame on May 5. Along with the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame and the California Wrestling Hall of Fame, Zalesky was also inducted into the Alaska Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2010.

"After a 30-year hiatus of the Cal Poly Humboldt wrestling team, I am excited to begin to lay a foundation for what has the potential to be a very competitive DII Wrestling program," stated Zalesky. "With approximately 50 All-Americans, several national champions, and placing in the top-five teams of the NCAA  tournament multiple times, the success of the past wrestlers and teams is to be admired by any wrestling fan. I am sure the Humboldt wrestling alumni and California wrestling fans are very excited about the reemergence of the wrestling program. I hope to use my 21 years of head coaching experience in California to move the process along a little faster. I look forward to once again working with the California wrestling community to begin to work with the university, the alumni, the community, and the future wrestlers of Cal Poly Humboldt.  I am hopeful of what lies ahead."

Zalesky and his wife, Maria, have two children (Alie and Jake). Both earned degrees at CBU, with Alie and Jake graduating from the school's nursing and public relations programs.