By Mike Ricchione
Wrestling season has begun for the Rider Broncs and there are plenty of reasons to be excited.
The 2019-2020 season marks Rider’s first year competing in the Mid American Conference (MAC) as Rider, along with the six other teams that were a part of the Eastern Wrestling League (EWL), merged with the MAC’s original eight teams to form the second-biggest conference in Division I Wrestling.
Rider returns all four national qualifiers from last season in redshirt seniors Anthony Cefolo, Jesse Dellavecchia, Dean Sherry and Ethan Laird.
This season will be a time of growth, not only for the program, but for the sport itself.
The NCAA Championship is sure to have the largest crowd in the event’s history as it moves from the 19,758-seat PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to 66,655-seat US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The record attendance for an event at US Bank Stadium is 72,711, which was set by last year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four.
“I think it’s [wrestling] growing overall,” said Sherry. “We have a lot more girls participating now. There’s more light on that and the international wrestling as well. It’s more coverage.”
Rutgers, who celebrated its first two national champions in Nick Suriano and Anthony Ashnault who claimed titles at 133 lbs and 149 lbs respectively last season, highlights the Broncs’ nonconference portion of their schedule when it comes to Alumni Gym on Feb. 9.
“The success that Rutgers has had, the following that they have and then the success that we’ve had and the following we’ve had, creates an automatic rivalry and animosity amongst the two groups of fans, schools, whatever you want to call it,” Head Coach John Hangey said. “And that’s a healthy battle.”
The Broncs will also be back in Princeton University’s Jadwin Gymnasium on Dec. 19 after wrestling in the Princeton Open on Nov. 3.
Rider will also wrestle in the Keystone Classic at Penn, the Southern Scuffle at Chattanooga and the Virginia Duals in Hampton, Virginia, with Duke, Fresno State, Kent State, Maryland, Old Dominion, Penn and Virginia also in attendance.
On paper, the Broncs were picked fourth in the MAC Preseason Poll behind defending MAC Champion, Mizzou, Old Dominion and Lock Haven, which won the last EWL Championship.
Cefolo, Dellavecchia and graduate student Gino Fluri all bumped down a weight class.
Cefolo, now at 125 lbs, ranked third behind Michael McGee of Old Dominion and Drew Hildebrant of Central Michigan. Fluri is unranked at 149 lbs. Dellavecchia is also ranked third at 157 lbs behind Larry Early of Old Dominion and Jarrett Jacques of Missouri.
Why did Cefolo, Fluri and Dellavecchia cut weight?
“National tournament. Last year. You get to a national tournament they were too small. Bottom line,” Hangey said. “After the season last year, I wasn’t cutting too much weight and it was pretty easy to make 165 so I figured it was time to move down and get a little weight advantage,” offered Dellavecchia.
Laird occupies the top spot at 197 lbs while redshirt senior Dean Sherry is picked second at 174 lbs behind Connor Flynn of Missouri.
Just because Laird has gotten more exposure from last season, he does not feel any more pressure.
“If anything, I’m just more confident, just believing myself more.” Laird said. “Honestly, less pressure because now I don’t feel like I have to try to prove myself as much. I can just do what I do and I’ll accomplish my goals.”
Redshirt freshman Chris Wright rounds out the 133-pound weight class and the Broncs’ ranked wrestlers as he polled sixth.
One unranked wrestler that is interesting to watch is redshirt sophomore Georgio Poullas, who transferred from fellow MAC school Cleveland State, at 165 lbs.
“I think it’s big because it’s a kid that saw an opportunity to, in his mind, grow and get challenged at a different level in our program and it was important for us because it was a weight class we needed depth at and he obviously provides that.” Hangey said of Poullas.
Redshirt freshman Joe Casey is also a potential option to represent the Broncs at the 165-lb weight class.
Rider will have a new face at the 184-lb weight class with the graduation of Michale Fagg-Daves and it will likely be redshirt sophomore George Walton, who had a 2-4 record at 174 lbs last season while filling in for Sherry who was injured during last year’s Southern Scuffle.
A pair of redshirts will look to step up at 141 lbs in sophomores Travis Layton, who started there last season, and Rutgers transfer Robert Cleary.
Layton went 5-1 last season in EWL competition during the regular season and placed third in the EWL Championships.
Another pair of redshirts will be handling matters at the 285-lb weight class in junior Jim Brady and senior Ryan Cloud.
Cloud was the main asset last season and Brady backed him up. Brady received a start against Maryland last year while Cloud was dealing with a shoulder injury.
The Broncs opened the season at the Princeton Open where eight wrestlers placed. Highlighting Rider’s performance was Dellavecchia’s first-place finish at 157 lbs.
Redshirt freshman Richie Koehler, Walton and Laird placed second at 133 lbs, 184 lbs and 197 lbs respectively. Redshirt junior Jonathan Tropea won third place at 125 lbs. Brady finished fourth and Cloud earned fifth at 285 lbs. Freshman Wyatt McCarthy, wrestling unattached, finished fifth at 149 lbs.
“Working on bottom, clearing legs. Reattacks. Defending with our head a little bit more so the kids can’t get into our legs then using either out first shot or their first shot against them to score,” Hangey answered when answered what Rider needed to improve on.
The Broncs will open dual meet competition on Nov. 15 when they head to Minnesota. The match will be streamed on Big Ten Network Plus.
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