“Unseeded” is a nasty word. It implies less success, less skill and less proven power. But sometimes “unseeded” can be a blessing, especially when you have the ability to make people notice how unpredictable it can be.
Junior Don Fisch is a good example of how something like that works. He entered the wrestling NCAA Championships on March 15 unseeded as a runner-up from the 141-pound weight class at the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Championships on March 3, and finished the tournament in fifth place for his weight class.
“It took a lot of the pressure off knowing that I was unseeded,” said Fisch. “I really wasn’t expected to do anything in the tournament.”
And from there he proceeded to lead the Broncs to a 30th place overall finish, making room for a little glory of his own on the way.
In the first two rounds he proceeded to demolish No. 5 Dominick Moyer of Nebraska 7-4 and No. 12 Cassio Perro of Illinois 7-5.
“I’m never surprised when Donnie wins,” said Head Coach Gary Taylor. “On any given day when his confidence is up and his head is screwed on tight and everything is going his way, he’s as good as they come.”
The next day, Fisch continued his spectacular performance by delivering a 10-4 drubbing to No. 4 Manuel Rivera of Minnesota.
By defeating Rivera, Fisch earned All-America status, becoming just the 12th Bronc wrestler to do so, and advanced to a quarterfinal bout against top-seeded Ryan Lang of Northwestern.
“When I beat the kid from Minnesota and I knew I was an All-American, that was the highlight of the tournament for me,” Fisch said.
In his match against Lang, Fisch fell behind 1-0 before scoring a takedown to take a 2-1 lead. From there on, he was in control of the match, but a controversial call at the end of the third period left him with a bitter taste and an unfortunate 3-2 defeat.
“I was a little upset about that,” Fisch told Rider Sports Information. “But I guess it was my fault. I shouldn’t have lost that match.”
In the consolation round on Saturday, March 17, Fisch encountered fellow All-American Charles Griffin of Hofstra in the first bout, and lost 6-5. Next, in the battle for 5th place, Fisch came back strong and pinned No. 7 Brandon Rader of West Virginia, a defending All-American, to take home a Top-5 finish.
“I had a pretty good tournament,” said Fisch. “The rest of the year was really practice for this tournament, and I guess wrestling against these great wrestlers brought out the best in me. ”
Senior Nate Galloway (157-pounds) pinned his first opponent in just over a minute, but lost 5-2 to the defending national runner-up in the second round. In the consolations on the second day, Galloway lost by fall in double overtime sudden victory to No. 12 Matt Hill of Edinboro.
Junior T.J. Morrison (197-pounds) lost to the fifth seed in the first round, but defeated Sam Wendland of Wyoming in the first round of consolations to advance to the second day. There, he defeated Patrick Bond of Illinois in overtime in his first bout, but could not hold off Central Michigan’s Wynn Michalak in the second, and was pinned in 2:35.
Sophomores Doug Umbehauer (174-pounds) and Mike Kessler (149-pounds) each lost in the first round and consolations on the first day, as did freshman Mike Miller (184-pounds).
“I was pleased with the way all of our kids wrestled,” Taylor said. “In terms of representing Rider in an exemplary manner, I would say that they did that.”
Two weeks prior, the Broncs had competed in the CAA Championships and recorded an impressive third-place finish in the tournament. As anticipated, Hofstra took home the first-place trophy, boasting champions in seven of the 10 weight classes.
Umbehauer took home the championship at 174-pounds by achieving victory in an extremely competitive match against Josh Patterson of Binghamton by a score of 12-10.
“It was a very strong weight class with four very good kids,” said Taylor. “It was probably the best weight class in the conference, and Doug won it.”
Kessler and Miller each placed second in their respective weight classes, as did Fisch, although he had to go the extra step and beat a challenger in the “true second” round. Galloway earned a second place finish by winning in that round as well.
Morrison, who won in the consolation finals, was voted to be the first alternate for the tournament, and when Hofstra’s Alton Lucas could not attend, Morrison earned a berth to the tournament.
With the season behind them, the Broncs will set their sights on an even better performance next year and continue the constant training required to be nationally competitive athletes.
“We had some ups and downs as a whole but we set the stage for that because we take on some major competition,” Taylor said. “The stage was set to be tough, but in the long run the goal was to get people ready for nationals, and I feel that it showed that we did do that.”
According to Taylor, the team will continue that strategy next season. Another match against Iowa State is in the works — possibly in Alumni Gym — as is a match against the Purdue Boilermakers.