By Thomas Albano
While most of the hype in Rider athletics this past week surrounded the Rider-Monmouth ESPN basketball game, the wrestling team had a historic moment of its own.
In the final home meet of the season on Feb. 11, Rider defeated Hofstra 31-7, giving Head Coach Gary Taylor his 427th win on the NCAA Division I level. This ties Taylor, who is in his 38th season as the head coach, with Bobby Douglas (Arizona State, Iowa State) for fourth on the all-time Division I wins list.
Associate Head Coach John Hangey, ’93, was an All-American wrestler under Taylor’s coaching. He felt proud to have helped Taylor reach that milestone.
“I’ve been here for win number 200, 300, 400, and now he’s No. 4,” said Hangey. “So, it feels real special to be a part of something that significant. The guy has just worked his butt off and hasn’t had all of the resources there all the time. It kind of puts a stamp on that program.”
Oregon State’s Dale Thomas leads the all-time win list with 616. Iowa State’s Harold Nichols is second with 492, followed by J. Robinson of Minnesota, who has 439 wins. Robinson is the leader for most wins in NCAA Division I wrestling among active coaches, with Taylor behind him in second.
Taylor became the head coach at Rider in 1978 when he succeeded the wrestling program’s founder, National Wrestling Hall of Famer Barry Burtnett. Since he became the head coach, Taylor has coached 13 All-Americans, including three in the last nine years.
The Broncs (10-9, 4-2 EWL) helped the longtime coach achieve the feat by winning in convincing fashion. In fact, the team won eight out of the 10 bouts that took place that evening.
The night started off with Rider taking six consecutive wins. First, 125-pound senior Zach Valcarce picked up a victory by decision when he defeated Hofstra sophomore Bryan Damon.
“I was trailing for the first two periods, but I was able to fight the whole match and make the kid quit,” Valcarce said. “It was a good way to finish off our home season and to gain confidence moving towards the conference tournament.”
Following this, Robert Deutsch — a 133-pound senior — got a win by forfeit, and senior Paul Kirchner defeated Hofstra redshirt junior Jamel Hudson in a 141-pound bout. Hudson came into this meet ranked 26th in the weight class by the NCAA Coaches Panel, and he qualified for nationals last year.
Sophomore B.J. Clagon, ranked 20th by the panel at 149 pounds, followed up with a decision win.
Chad Walsh, a 157-pound sophomore ranked No. 14, came away with the only bout of the dual meet to be determined by fall, winning seven minutes in. Senior Conor Brennan then won by decision at 165 pounds to put the Broncs up 24-0.
Brennan feels that this meet was a much-needed bounce back for the team, considering its loss against Drexel came in the closing seconds.
“I think the team wrestled extremely tough, especially coming off a hard loss to Drexel,” Brennan said. “I was happy with my performance and all my teammates’.”
Hofstra (5-10, 1-4 EIWA) finally got on the board when redshirt junior Frank Affronti, who was ranked 31st entering the meet, defeated Rider senior Curt Delia in overtime by a score of 7-5 in a 174-pound contest.
Freshman Michale Fagg-Daves won by decision to give the Broncs yet another win, and the lead was extended again when 197-pound junior Ryan Wolfe was victorious in his contest via major decision. Wolfe entered this meet ranked No. 24 in his weight class by the Coaches Panel.
The Pride would earn one more win in the final bout of the night, as junior Mike Hughes took a win over Rider senior Greg Velasco in a heavyweight battle. However, Hofstra could do nothing by that point to prevent a Rider team victory.
Aside from Taylor’s milestone, the match against Hofstra also would be the last time seniors Deutsch, Brennan, Delia, Morris, Valcarce Kirchner, Velasco and Andrew Reca would be at Alumni Gym in a Rider uniform as wrestlers.
While Hofstra leads the all-time series 13-4, the Broncs have gotten the upper hand, winning their past three meetings.
Rider only has a couple of meets remaining in the regular season to give Taylor career win No. 438.
The Broncs will be on the road for their final two meets of this season, taking on Princeton on Feb. 18 and Maryland on Feb. 20.
The EWL Championships will take place in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, on March 5, and the NCAA Championships will be held March 17-19 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.