Broncs wrestle for glory, redemption

Rider 165-pound freshman Ramon Santiago is ranked No. 1 in his weight class in the CAA heading into this weekend’s championship.

By Cristiana Votta 

The good athletes are separated from the great victors as the Broncs head to the CAA Championship in Boston on March 9 in hopes of heading home with an extension of their season.

The CAA Championship is different from any other collegiate sports conference final. Each weight class has seven athletes, one from each of the CAA’s wrestling programs. Seeding is essential because athletes are randomly placed if they are not in the top four. The Broncs anticipate having many of their wrestlers seeded in the top four. The bracket is in a line format so if the first match is won, the wrestler will be sent to the semi-finals and so on.

Through a long-fought season of battles, the Broncs (10-8, 3-3 CAA) have learned from previous matches, and continue to grow as a unit and look to reign as the new CAA champions.

“We learned that we have to work a lot harder in this last stretch of the season leading up to the conference tournament,” 197-pound sophomore Donald McNeil said. “We have also learned that we have to sharpen our skills and make sure we are on point for the conference tournament.”

In a preseason poll held by CAA wrestling, Hofstra (6-15, 4-2 CAA) was ranked mostly likely to win while Rider trailed as the fourth-ranked team. The Broncs also fell in a close 15-17 match to Hofstra on Jan. 16. Hofstra poses the biggest threat as it has won 11 out of the last 12 CAA Championships and is closely followed by highly seeded Binghamton, which won the championship in 2010 and placed second in 2011-12. Rider hasn’t won the CAA Championship in more than 20 years but came in second place in 2004-05.

Each of the teams that Rider could possibly face poses a threat but the team has learned through adversity during the season and feels confident that it is capable of ending on top.

“I would say I have a gut feeling that, individually and as a team, we will walk away with a CAA title,” 149-pound senior Zac Cibula said. “This is because I know what the team and I have put into this season and the way we are capable of performing.”

With the weekend fast approaching, the team takes strides toward preparation and changes up its typical routine while consistently putting in hard work.

“Practices are tough, but shorter,” McNeil said. “We are focused on sharpening our technique and making sure it is as close to perfect as possible. To win the CAA Championship, it’s important to go into the tournament with our bodies feeling fresh and our technique sharp.”

The Broncs have realized the emphasis on getting ahead against tight competition. At this level of play, each athlete needs to be on top of his game in order to come out on top.

“We need to learn to win the close matches,” Cibula said. “There are a lot of good kids at this level so it is going to come down to the person who is willing to put it on the line and figure out a way to win the tight matches.”

Cibula felt that beyond hard work and skill, the team has come together a great amount and the new wrestlers have adapted to the life of a Division I athlete.

“We have a young team, so I think guys are starting to learn the amount of sacrifice and commitment it takes to compete at the Division I level,” Cibula said.

If the team approaches the weekend in full potential, Cibula feels it will have no problem competing with some top-name schools.

“I know our team is capable of winning a CAA title,” he said. “Everybody will need to show up individually for our team to make a run at the title.”

Contact this writer at vottac@theridernews.com

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