By Mike Ricchione
As millions around the world watched college basketball to find the next great feel-good story within the sport, the Cinderella story of college wrestling came through Lawrenceville.
On March 19, graduate student Jesse Dellavecchia ended Ryan Deakin of Northwestern’s 30-match winning streak by a pin to get to where no other Rider Bronc has been before: the finals of the NCAA Championship.
Dellavecchia’s performance headlined the wrestling team’s performance at the NCAA Championships March 18-20.
Scoreless after the first period, the top-seeded Deakin took bottom to start the middle frame and soon regretted it.
“[The move] was a crab ride. Something that my dad taught me when I was 5 years old and it’s been my best move since I was a kid,” Dellavecchia said of the maneuver used. “[I’m] just very comfortable there and I fell right into it, [it] just worked out.”
Dellavecchia got Deakin’s shoulder blades to the mat 18 seconds into the second period. Northwestern threw a challenging brick at the end of the match, but lost the challenge.
“I was a little nervous at first because I’ve seen some crazy stuff happen at this tournament,” Dellavecchia said about the review. “Once I realized it could get overturned, I was just trying to get focused again.”
With the victory, Dellavecchia became the first Rider wrestler finalist in program history. No other wrestler had advanced past the semifinals before. Dellavecchia went on to face Iowa State’s David Carr for the title at 157 pounds.
“I feel great, I felt nothing like that beforeit was just amazing and I just feel honored andd I’m so happy to be wrestling here,” Dellavecchia said after his upset victory.
“Jesse deserves this, he has dedicated his life to the sport and has been completely devoted to our program and university from day one on campus,” said Head Coach John Hangey.
Dellavecchia started his career as a 141 pound member of the wrestling team at Binghamton University.
Dellavecchia left the Bearcats and became a member of the Rider wrestling team, since then he has become arguably the school’s most decorated wrestler. With his victory against Deakin, Dellavecchia rewarded the coaches who showed constant faith in him and got him to the pinnacle of collegiate wrestling.
“It’s crazy,” Dellavecchia said. “I have such good coaches and I’m just so happy to have them and theyreally have changed my career and I’m so thankful for that.”
“We are all just really tough people,” Dellavecchia explained. “We’re just tough and we know how to have fun, it’s a really good mixture and it made me love the sport again.
Before the semifinals, Dellavecchia earned a pair of decisions against North Carolina’s Joshua McClure and Oregon State’s Hunter Willits in the first two rounds.
Dellavecchia later earned All-American honors with his quarterfinal victory over Brady Berge of Penn State by injury default. Dellavecchia had just scored a takedown when the match was stopped for an injury.
The title period between Dellavecchia and Carr was scoreless after the opening frame. Carr escaped from starting down in the second period before taking Dellavecchia down for a 3-0 advantage.
From the takedown, no other positions were wrestled as Carr kept applying pressure on top from the takedown and riding Dellavecchia out in the third period for the full two minutes.
Riding time made the final score 4-0 in Carr’s favor.
Senior heavyweight Ethan Laird was seeded inside the top eight but failed to achieve All-American status.
Laird won his first two matches with decisions over Buffalo’s Sam Schuyler and North Carolina State’s Deonte Wilson before losing to eventual finalist Mason Parris of Michigan in the quarterfinals.
Laird had one more chance to make the podium in the blood round but lost to Ohio State’s Tate Orndorff, 7-2.
Redshirt senior Jonathan Tropea, redshirt sophomore Richie Koehler, freshman McKenzie Bell and redshirt sophomore Jake Silverstein didn’t fare well in the tournament, going a combined 0-8 at 125, 133, 141 and 165 pounds respectively.
With 22 points, the Broncs finished 20th as a team, second-highest mark by a Mid-American Conference (MAC) team behind Missouri and second-most by a mid-major school, trailing Northern Iowa by 2.5 points.
Rider ended the season qualifying six wrestlers for the NCAA tournament with one finalist and one wrestler making it to the blood round, which is in the consolation bracket where the winners are All-Americans.
Dellavecchia, Tropea and graduate student Matt Correnti were celebrated during senior night against Drexel on Feb. 11, but their futures are still in the air because this season was a free year because of the extra year of eligibility received from the NCAA.
After a historic finish to their season, whichever Broncs remain on the team will try to capitalize on this momentum and bring another strong season of wrestling to Lawrenceville in the 2021-22 season.