By Thomas Albano
The wrestling team has completed a successful run that earned it the No. 22 ranking in the USA Today/NWCA/AWN Coaches’ Poll, and saw it compete in four meets over the past two weeks, which started with an upset victory over then-No. 16 Wisconsin on Nov. 20.
The Broncs (5-1, 1-0 EWL), who came into the meet against the Badgers ranked No. 22 by the Associated Wrestling Press, got a 20-19 win in the home opener. This marked the team’s first win over a team from the Big 10 conference since January 2010, when Rider defeated Purdue. It was also the first Division I dual to be decided by the fourth tiebreaking criteria — first takedown of the match — since the NCAA tiebreaking policies were modified two years ago.
Prior to the home opener against Wisconsin, Rider honored its longtime wrestling head coach Gary Taylor with a Sesquicentennial Medal of Excellence. As part of Rider’s 150th anniversary celebration, the medals are given to those who have aided the growth of the university.
Taylor took the position of head coach in 1978, and currently holds the second highest total of victories among active NCAA Division I wrestling coaches with 409.
Rider got the momentum going right at the start against Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0 Big 10), when Chuck Zeisloft, a 141-pound junior, scored an upset win over sophomore Rylan Lubeck. Zeisloft’s win came when he took down Lubeck, who was ranked No. 19 in the weight class, in the second overtime period — the only takedown of the match.
“I knew before I wrestled Lubeck it was going to be a tough, low-scoring match, and I was going to have to wait until I got him out of position to score, and it happened to be in the second overtime,” Zeisloft said. “Getting the win always feels good, but winning in overtime against someone like him was an incredible way to start my senior season.”
Rider picked up two more victories before the Badgers won the next five consecutive bouts.
After 125-pound freshman J.R. Wert scored a forfeit win for Rider, Wisconsin was in the lead 19-16. The contest came down to Robert Deutsch, a 133-pound junior. He was able to score the win, which forced a need for the tiebreaker. The Broncs were given another point for the first takedown of the match, stemming from the only takedown of Zeisloft’s match. With that, Rider was able to come away with the upset.
Associate Head Coach John Hangey praised Deutsch and Zeisloft’s performances, which he attributes to their physical and mental growth.
“I felt that Rob and Chuck demonstrated great poise in pressure situations, which they have developed over their careers through their experience,” Hangey said.
The team then competed in the 20th Keystone Classic in Philadelphia on Nov. 23, where it finished second, just under then-No. 6 Northwestern. Despite not finishing in first, the Broncs were able to place ahead of notable teams such as Pitt and UPenn, ranked No. 16 and No. 24, respectively, at the time.
Hangey said the team’s performance at Keystone was a strong one, especially compared to last year’s sixth-place finish.
“Finishing second at the Keystone Classic demonstrated that we have a very balanced team,” Hangey said. “Placing ahead of Big 10, ACC and EIWA schools is always tough to do, but our kids wrestled hard all day. Our young kids really stood out to me for their perseverance throughout the day with some real tough competition.”
One of the top performers from the Keystone Classic was B.J. Clagon, a 149-pound freshman. Clagon placed third in his weight class, with his only loss that day coming to Northwestern sophomore Jason Tsirtsis, who was a champion in the weight class at both the conference (Big 10) and national levels.
Other key showings for Rider came from Deutsch and Zeisloft, who both placed second in their respective weight classes, as well as 157-pound freshman Chad Walsh and 174-pound sophomore Ryan Wolfe, who both took third.
Going into the double showdown at home on Nov. 30 with Clarion, an EWL rival, and UPenn, the Broncs were ranked No. 25 in the nation, according to the USA Today/NWCA/AWN Coaches’ Poll.
Hangey enjoys that the team has a national ranking, but feels it could be better.
“We are honored to be ranked in the top 25, but that is not where we ultimately want to end up,” he said. “This group has aspirations of being ranked in the top 10; they are hungry to move up, so they embrace the opportunities to do so.”
Zeisloft, however, is not concerned about any ranking the team has.
“Rankings don’t matter — it’s just someone’s opinion about us,” Zeisloft said. “We know we are good; we proved that. As a team we just need to stay focused on the next match ahead, and if we do, there is no doubt in my mind we will climb the rankings even higher.”
The Broncs dominated the Nov. 30 dual against the Golden Eagles (0-7, 0-1 EWL) 38-3, winning all but one of the 10 matches. Three of the wins came via fall, and another two were won by major decision.
The contest against the Quakers (1-1) the same day saw Rider struggle, as Deutsch, Zeisloft and Clagon lost the first three bouts of the contest. Fortunately for the Broncs, they were able to win four of the next five matches to even the score at 12. Junior heavyweight Greg Velasco and Wert then won the final two matches to win the contest for the team, 21-12, and sweep the day.
Rider will travel to Bethlehem, Pa., to take on No. 10 Lehigh on Dec. 7. Zeisloft’s preparation will remain the same regardless of the opponent, ranked or not.
“I prepare the same all season because it has to become a lifestyle if you want to be good,” Zeisloft said. “I eat right, sleep right and train on my own time every day to make sure I have no doubts I’m not being outworked.”