By Brandon Scalea
On sophomore Chad Walsh’s Twitter account, the bold words “future NCAA champion” rest in his bio. He and five other members of the wrestling team moved one step closer to this goal on March 5.
Rider won the Eastern Wrestling League (EWL) title — its first conference championship in 16 years and first since joining the EWL three seasons ago. Overall, it is the team’s 14th conference title in 38 years under Head Coach Gary Taylor.
Along with the team victory, senior Conor Brennan won his third straight EWL title at 165, senior Rob Deutsch his third straight at 133 and junior Ryan Wolfe his second EWL championship at 197.
Deutsch summed up the joy of the huge win rather simply.
“It means everything to us to be a part of this championship team,” he said. “We had the ability to win it last season, but came up just shy.”
Although they took a step back from last season’s tournament in terms of individual victories — five wrestlers won conference championships in 2015 to this year’s three — the Broncs put together a better effort as a team. Only one wrestler failed to finish in the top three of his weight class.
Sophomore B.J. Clagon, who began the season ranked No. 5 nationally, finished as runner-up at 149. He came into the conference championships as the third seed, losing in the final in overtime, 9-7. The champion at 149 was Daniel Neff of Lock Haven, the No. 1 seed and the EWL Tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler.
Walsh, the No. 1 seed at 157, also came up short in the finals — 17-6 to the No. 2 seed, Austin Matthews of Edinboro.
Walsh, Clagon and sophomore heavyweight Mauro Correnti will join Rider’s conference champions — Brennan, Deutsch and Wolfe — at the NCAA Championships held this year at Madison Square Garden on March 17-19.
Deutsch acknowledged the difficulty he and Brennan faced in the journey for three straight individual titles.
“It’s a huge accomplishment, and there’s not too many three-time champions,” he said. “With that being said, I’m very grateful to be a part of that club. It’s definitely harder to defend the title than it is to win it.”
Other notable performances for the Broncs were Correnti, senior 141-lb Paul Kirchner and sophomore 125-lb Zach Valcarce. They each finished third in the tournament.
Correnti, who came in as the third seed, was able to defeat fourth-seeded Matt Moss of George Mason 7-3 in the battle for third place. He came up just short of a chance to wrestle in the finals, being pinned by Cleveland State’s Riley Shaw in the semifinal.
At 141, Kirchner won the battle for third against second-seeded Mike Carlone of Cleveland State, and Valcarce won it at 125 against Ibrahim Bunduka of George Mason.
Also for Rider, sophomore Michale Fagg-Daves was the runner-up at 184. En route to the finals, Fagg-Daves defeated second-seeded Lock Haven’s Tristan Sponseller in the semifinal. He ultimately fell to the No. 1 seed, Victor Avery of Edinboro, in the final.
Five of the six Broncs headed to the NCAAs have been there before, and a top-five finish in their respective weight classes would earn them All-American status. Last season, Clagon became the first freshman in program history to achieve that level.
Deutsch said his team is ready to make some noise up in Manhattan.
“As we head up to the Garden, we have a serious opportunity to put some points on the board for Rider,” he said. “I think everyone who advanced this past week has a chance to be an All-American. So it’s going to be about putting a great weekend together and getting on that podium.”