By Mike Ricchione
The nationally ranked wrestling team closed out this season’s dual meet schedule against a pair of notable Big Ten opponents in preparation for the Eastern Wrestling League (EWL) Championships.
The slate started out with Senior Night on Feb. 16 when Rider hosted Minnesota and concluded on Feb. 18 when the Broncs traveled to College Park, Maryland to take on the Terrapins.
It was Rider’s first time hosting a Big Ten school since No. 1 Penn State came to a raucous Alumni Gym in 2015.
Friday night wouldn’t be the best for the Broncs as they dropped their last home match of the year, 32-12, against the No. 18 Golden Gophers.
Minnesota jumped out to a huge lead when No. 6 Ethan Lizak shut out senior JR Wert for a 15-0 tech fall at 125 pounds.
Minnesota’s Mitch McKee followed that up when he pinned junior Anthony Cefelo at 133 to give the Gophers an 11-0 lead.
A bright spot for the Broncs was when two-time All-American Chad Walsh wrestled for the last time in Alumni Gym and, at 6:10, came away with an impressive pinfall victory over No. 7 Nick Wanzek. Walsh is ranked No. 6 at 165 in the InterMat Wrestling rankings.
“There were a lot of emotions going on before the match,” Walsh said after his win. “Just having my grandma, my mom, my dad — all these people that have supported me for five years — it really meant a lot to wrestle in front of them one last time.”
Senior Tyson Dippery put Rider on the board after defeating Ben Brancale at 141 by a score of 6-2.
The other win for the Broncs came at 174 when junior Dean Sherry cut Minnesota’s lead to five with a 3-2 decision over Chris Pfarr.
Senior BJ Clagon, who was an All-American as a freshman, continued to struggle, extending his losing streak to three with a loss at 157 to No. 16 Jake Short.
“Right now it’s progressing every single day and just keep training hard and wrestling,” Clagon said.
Friday night featured Michale Fagg-Daves’ return to the lineup at 184, but it didn’t come with a favorable result as he was pinned by Brandon Krone at 2:59.
“It’s certainly tough because I didn’t schedule a powder puff on Senior Night, for sure,” Head Coach John Hangey said after the loss. “But these guys wouldn’t have had it any other way. They wanted Minnesota. They didn’t care when we wrestled. It just happened it fell on Senior Night.”
Following the loss, Rider headed south to wrestle Maryland.
Walsh improved to 22-1 overall with another pin over Brendan Burnham at 5:27. Walsh was named EWL Wrestler of the Week after his performance.
Sherry also finished the weekend undefeated after an 11-5 decision over Josh Ugalde.
Clagon left his losing streak in College Park and won by a 4-3 decision over Justin Alexander.
Other wrestlers who turned it around from Friday include Wert with a 4-1 decision over Brandon Cray at 125 and Cefelo with a tech fall victory over Jhared Simmons at 133. The Broncs came out on top, 23-18.
“It was a great team win,” Hangey stated. “It was nice for our seniors to win the last dual meet in their careers, especially against a Big Ten school.”
Rider will wrestle in the EWL Championship in Edinboro, Pennsylvania on March 3.