By Shaun Chornobroff and Olivia Nicoletti
Trailing 15-14 going into the final bout of their meet against No. 25 ranked Lehigh, the Rider wrestling team sent senior heavyweight Ethan Laird onto the mat to face Jordan Woods, the country’s fifth-ranked heavyweight wrestler.
Despite being the perceived underdog, Laird was unfazed. At the end of the second period, Laird had a 5-2 lead in the bout, but Woods struck back and with the clock ticking closer to overtime, the score was 5-5. The two wrestlers were playing chess, with neither looking to give an inch. Then with less than 20 seconds left, Laird struck swiftly, hooking Jones’ leg and scoring a three-point takedown, giving him an 8-5 decision and Rider a 17-15 road victory over the Mountain Hawks on Feb. 7.
“We had a very productive two weeks of practice and the guys were very confident that they were ready to perform [on Sunday],” Head coach John Hangey said. “I knew if we embraced the opportunity and brought the fight to Lehigh we could win.”
The team fell 9-3 early in the match, but was unfazed by the deficit, fighting back.
“We are and always have been a program made up of blue-collar kids who work hard, keep their mouths shut and fight for everything,” a proud Hangey explained. “I would describe our current team as talented and gritty with some extremely good senior leadership that provides an example for our younger guys to follow.”
Freshman Angel Garcia earned a crucial victory at 174 Ibs. to tie the match at 12-12, but the deadlock was only momentary, as the Broncs were burdened with a one-point penalty while celebrating Garcia’s triumph, gifting Lehigh with a 12-11 lead.
The teams traded wins, making the score 15-14 and setting the stage for Laird to secure a monumental victory.
The win was important not only for Laird but the rest of the team, especially in a season mired by a global pandemic and other unforeseen events.
“Our first match we lost to Binghamton and then that’s when Hangey had the stroke, so we haven’t really been able to rebound as a team and get back on the right track until [Sunday] when we won that match” Laird explained. “And now, it’s like, our confidence is back and we’re back to being on the team that we know we can be.”
Laird also said, “after this win, I think it’s clear to everyone that Rider is a legit team and can wrestle with anyone in the country.”
This was the second consecutive season that Rider upset a ranked opponent. Last year the Broncs pulled off one of the sport’s biggest upsets, knocking off no. 7 ranked Minnesota.
“Any time you beat a program with such a deep tradition in wrestling it does a lot for our guys in validating the training process and provides confidence that they can wrestle and beat anyone,” Hangey said. “The foundation was set by others well before any of us got here. Ever since I’ve been at Rider, 1988 as a Freshman, that has been the expectation for the team… It will continue to be the expectation as we owe it to the team for their hard work and dedication.”
Rider is 3-1 this season and hasn’t lost since their first match against Binghamton. The Broncs will look for their fourth straight victory at home on Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. when they take on Drexel.