By Thomas Regan
The wrestling team’s 149-pound freshman B.J. Clagon finished in fifth place at the NCAA Championship in St. Louis on March 19-21, becoming Rider’s first freshman All-American and 14th All-American in team history.
The fifth-place finish came after Clagon took first-place at the EWL Championships, downing the No. 1-ranked 149-pound wrestler in the nation, Edinboro’s Dave Habat.
Entering the Nationals, Clagon was the 15th-seeded wrestler but defeated three higher-seeded wrestlers, including the fifth seed, Cornell’s Chris Villalonga, to secure his fifth-place position. The defending national champion, Jason Tsirtsis of Northwestern, proved to be the roadblock to the rookie, as his only two matches lost were to Tsirtsis.
As a four-time National High School Coaches Association National Champion with 155 career victories to only six losses, Clagon knew his first taste of the NCAAs would be unlike his high school experience.
“I knew it was going to be different from anything I prepared for,” he said. “I had to have a focused mind going into this tournament, and knew I had to work harder than I usually do. I had a lot of confidence going into the tournament after beating the number one kid in the country. I have higher goals set for myself in the future, so this just makes me want to reach my goals.”
Including Clagon’s six victories, the Broncs won just 10 matches, finishing 27th out of 69 teams in the tournament.
Senior Chuck Zeisloft, who wrestled at 141 pounds, has been impressed with Clagon since the freshman arrived.
“I expected nothing less from him,” Zeisloft said. “The first time I wrestled him, I told him he was the most talented kid I’ve ever wrestled and if he applied himself, he could be a national champ.”
The Broncs picked up two of their remaining four victories on the back of 165-pound junior Connor Brennan, who downed Colorado’s Tyrel White and Air Force’s Jesse Stafford — both consolation victories.
Freshman Chad Walsh won his first national match at 157 pounds against George Mason’s Greg Flournoy, before dropping consecutive matches to finish the tournament 1-2.
Junior Rob Deutsch added another consolation win over Lock Haven’s Ron Perry in the 133-pound weight class.
After finishing his collegiate career with a 0-2 record at NCAAs, Zeisloft was disappointed with the ending to the wrestling season.
“We were 10th in the country at one point, but Clagon is the only one on our team that did well,” he said. “I think if we send more guys to nationals and people like myself get deeper into the tournaments, we would have finished top 10. I mean Edinboro took third, who we lost to by 1 point.”
Despite his All-American standing, Clagon is not content with his performance.
“It’s such a long season, so you always want to do better, but the good part is I have three more years to be where I want,” Clagon said. “I plan on winning three national titles and just maturing on the mat.”