By Josh Veltrie
It has become routine for Rider’s wrestling team to have a high pre-season ranking in the conference, yet fail to clinch the conference title. Each of the past three seasons, the Broncs have come painfully close but fallen short of winning the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Championship.
This year, the team is hoping things will be different. With the season opener on Sunday, Nov. 8, against Lehigh, Rider, ranked second in the pre-season CAA rankings, is trying to start off its season strong to avenge last season’s loss.
The Broncs are also looking to improve on their third-place finish in the CAA Championships last year, their third year in a row placing third in the conference. Although past seasons have been highlighted by a lot of regular season victories and individual accolades, the Broncs are hungry for a conference title.
Led by seniors Ed Bordas and Mike Kessler, Rider is expecting big things from its captains, who are each ranked pre-season No. 1 in their respective weight classes in the conference. Bordas, who competes in the heavyweight division, is a two-time CAA Champion and NCAA qualifier, and 149-pound Kessler is a three-time NCAA qualifier.
“There’s definitely going to be pressure to perform well since it’s my last year,” said Kessler. “I just want to make sure I give it my all and leave it all out there on the mat and hopefully end up an All-American.”
Bordas and Kessler lead a group of 10 projected starters for Rider who are all ranked in the top six in their respective weight classes in the CAA. Also for the Broncs, junior Fred Rodgers is second in the 141 weight class while sophomore Jim Kirchner of the 131 weight class is also ranked second in the pre-season.
“It is very important for Ed and I to lead by example because we have a very young team,” said Kessler. “Hopefully the underclasssmen will see how hard we are working and do the same.”
Freshman Ramon Santiago was named to the pre-season Freshman All-American Team in the conference in the 149 weight class and is ranked 24th in the nation in that class. Santiago is joined by three other prized recruits for Head Coach Gary Taylor.
Big things are expected from freshmen Franklin Miele, Jim Resnick and James Brundage coming into the season. Miele and Brundage are currently ranked 26th in the nation in their respective weight classes while Resnick received honorable mention for his weight class, according to Wrestling USA.
“Coming in as a freshman is very hard because it’s difficult to adjust going from high school to college right away,” Kessler said. “This year will show a lot about their character, and we will need them to perform well to achieve our goal of a conference championship.”
Standing in the way of Rider’s championship hopes is eight-time defending champions, Hofstra, which was picked third in the CAA pre-season rankings. Old Dominion got the top spot in the conference as the team is nationally ranked and also has all 10 projected starters ranked in the conference.
The Broncs have a chance to gain some momentum before they face off with their conference foes as Rider competes at Old Dominion on Jan. 3. The Broncs don’t host Hofstra until Feb. 10. Both teams defeated Rider last season.
One of many challenges Rider will face throughout the year will be trying to replace the wins of All-American Doug Umbehauer, who graduated last year finishing his career with 100 victories and a No. 3 ranking in the nation for his weight class.
“There is no way we can replace Doug, but someone like Ed or myself is going to have to step up, and hopefully one or both of us will be an All-American at the end of the year,” said Kessler.
The CAA Championships will be hosted by Rider this year on March 5 and 6. The Broncs are looking to give a good showing and hopefully win a coveted conference championship in their home gym.
“There would be no greater pleasure than winning the conference championship at home this year, and we expect to do that,” said Kessler.