ARCHBISHOP RIORDAN — On Monday, just two weeks after Archbishop Riordan basketball stars Je’Lani Clark and Bryce Monroe signed their National Letters of Intent on Restani Court, another highly-touted Crusader athlete joined the party.
In a signing ceremony of his own, Riordan wrestler Michael Bigler officially committed to Northern State University, a Division II program 1,700 miles away in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
One of the greatest wrestlers in recent memory for the Crusaders, Bigler — seventh on the Crusaders’ all-time wins list — simply smiled as family and teammates crowded around him. Soft-spoken and goal-oriented, Bigler will bring a winning pedigree to the Wolves, who this past fall recorded their first winning season in 10 years.
“I love the campus and the academics there,” Bigler said. “Their coaches are awesome and I connected really well with them. The team was great, it felt like I was apart everything when I visited.”
Bigler — who owns 105 career wins — made headlines earlier this year when he took home a seventh-place medal in the 113-pound division at the CIF Boys State Championship, becoming the first Crusader wrestler to place in state since Zac Contreras in 2013.
Born and raised in Pacifica, Bigler played other sports, but gives credit to his parents, Erica and Steve, for signing him up for wrestling at the young age of seven. In the fifth grade, he traveled to Mexico City to compete against different countries in the Pan American Games for judo.
“I’m happy and sad,” Erica said. “Happy for him to start his life and sad to know I’m not going to be able to see him every day.
“He’s been 100-percent invested since day one. Seven days a week, all year long. He would travel to the East Bay to get practice in on some days.”
When Bigler enrolled at Riordan in the fall of 2016, he was already an established competitor, having competed in matches all over California. Gary Whitehouse — the Crusaders’ head coach at the time — named him to varsity as a freshman. When Riordan alumnus and assistant coach Tony Tran took over for Whitehouse in 2018, he relied heavily on Bigler to lead the team.
“Leadership kind of came naturally to him,” Tran said. “His wins and the way he wrestles is an example to everyone on the team. He’s definitely pushed me to be a better coach. He pushes his ability, his wrestling style and his wins. I have to be a couple of steps ahead of him to anticipate.”
In addition to daily practices, Bigler runs early in the morning around campus, performs drill sessions two to three times a day and mixes in different types of lifting five times a week.
“His work ethic and dedication to his craft is unmatched, simply because he logs more hours in the weight room than I’ve seen out of a high school student,” said strength and conditioning coach Ryan Jones. “He’s in that mat room every day, and not only does he log more hours, he also has a plan and comes to train.”
While Bigler doesn’t say much, his attitude and competitiveness have affected the way the entire program goes about its business.
“I feel like he has a great impact on the culture here,” said senior wrestler Raymond Russell — who was one of Riordan’s leading defenders on the football field as a linebacker this fall. “For him, if he sees it, he’s going to go for it. He’s trying to get better every single day, always working out with wrestlers bigger and smaller.”
One of those other wrestlers is Bigler’s younger brother, Brandon, a sophomore.
“I’m going to miss him,” said Brandon, who was present for his big brother’s ceremony.
While signing his National Letter of Intent gives Bigler a home for next year — making him the 20th Crusader to compete in college — he still has his senior season yet to finish.
“We have big goals,” Tran said. “We want to be the champions, top four in CCS, six guys qualify for state and maybe three state placers.”
As everyone was clearing out after the team posed for a photo, Erica Bigler shouted to the departing guests, “Now let’s win state!”