By Trey Wright
Opening up the 2022-2023 calendar with back-to-back meets in the Midwest, the Rider Wrestling team passed their first tests with flying colors, taking down Mid-American Conference (MAC) opponent Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), and derailing Big Ten titan Purdue.
Slamming down Southern Illinois
Starting off a season on the road is a big challenge for a team with a new core, but the Broncs came, saw and conquered SIUE on Nov. 11, edging out the Cougars 21-19, sealed at 197 with a technical fall from graduate student Ethan Laird.
Junior Tyler Klinsky immediately set the Broncs in the right direction, earning a major decision at 125, and redshirt senior Richie Koehler followed with a 9-7 decision at 133, propelling the Broncs to an early lead.
Rider’s lead was dented by four after a major decision against senior Bryan Miraglia at 141, but the Broncs responded with two straight wins from redshirt junior Quinn Kinner at 149, and sophomore Colton Washleski at 157.
The two teams traded decisions from 165 to 174, with SIUE getting back into contention with a fall against junior Asa Terrell at 184.
However, Laird put the Cougars back in their cage at 197, scoring a technical fall at 4:05 into his bout to stamp Rider’s first 1-0 start since 2019.
“We had some good performances and some not-so-good ones tonight but a win is a win,” said Head Coach John Hangey. “It’s good to have Ethan Laird back in the lineup and seal the deal with his performance. We will need a better overall team performance moving forward.”
Laird has been a key component of Rider wrestling’s winning formula. Last season, he posted a near flawless 11-1 record, and finished third at the World Team Trials.
“The team’s mindset is very focused and confident,” said Laird after the meet. “We know we have a really good team that can make some noise this year, and winning the Keystone Classic and UPenn this weekend will be just another step in the right direction for the team.”
A garbage time effort from SIUE came up just short, with sophomore David Szuba suffering a fall to make the score 21-19 in favor of Rider, extending their streak of winning opening conference meets, stretching back to their first MAC season in 2018.
Big Ten beatdown
Following Rider’s inaugural win of the 2022-23 campaign, the first major obstacle stood upon the Broncs’ horizon: a black and gold Victorian-era freight train named Purdue University, who had previously defeated Rider 33-3 in 2021.
However, the Superman strength from Szuba, and fearless underdog mentality from junior McKenzie Bell, stopped the locomotive dead in its tracks, with further performances from Rider’s wrestlers paving the way to a 23-13 smackdown on Nov. 13.
The meet started off rough, with Purdue taking down Klinsky at 125 to take an early lead, before Koeler tied things up with a sudden victory at 133.
The first highlight of the meet took place with a dark-horse victory from Bell, upsetting No. 11 Parker Filius in a 9-6 decision at 141, setting the stage for a top-tier slugfest between the two schools.
Bell’s upset win over Filius marked the highest-ranked opponent he was able to take down since upsetting No. 4 Allan Hart of Missouri in the 2020-21 MAC Semifinals.
Kinner would extend the lead 10-3 at 149 with a 13-0 major decision, but Purdue came roaring back to tie it 13-13 with two weight classes left in the duel. What followed were two dominating bout victories from Laird and Szuba, with the former taking the lead with a major decision to make the score 17-13.
Szuba closed the case for Rider at 285, with the Brick, New Jersey native scoring a fall 73 seconds into his bout against Hayden Copass, and pinning the Boilermaker to complete the underdog victory for the Broncs.
“It’s definitely a great boost of confidence for the team, it really put in perspective what we can accomplish this season,” said Szuba. “If everyone wrestles the way we all know we can, this Sunday will be a cake walk. Just ready to fire on all cylinders.”
The victory marked Rider’s first win over Purdue since Jan. 3, 2010, the same year the Broncs had six wrestlers qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
“The guys wrestled well today, I felt we carried the pace in most of the matches,” said Hangey after the meet. “We got several big performances, McKenzie beat a nationally ranked kid, Ethan put us in position to close out the match and David did a great job getting the fall to seal the win.”
In their meeting last November, the Boilermakers demolished Rider in a 33-3 effort.
“This is a big growth moment for our team and will help us down the road in other tough matches,” said Hangey.
The Broncs, starting off 2-0 for the first time since 2019, look to keep the momentum rolling going into the first tournament of the season, with the Keystone Classic next on the docket Nov. 20 in Philadelphia.