By Matt Burrill
Rider swept a home double-header on Feb. 1 in Alumni Gym, collecting victories over Duke (5-9, 0-3 ACC) 22-16 and Sacred Heart (2-7, 1-0 EIWA) 35-9. Six Broncs picked up wins in both meets.
The meet against the Blue Devils was a back-and-forth struggle. Rider (12-5, 4-1 EWL) took the first three bouts, but Duke bounced back and snagged the next three. The Broncs took the lead with two victories from 174-pound redshirt sophomore Connor Brennan and 184-pound redshirt junior Clint Morrison, but Duke quickly struck back, winning the 197-pound match. This meant Rider’s victory weighed solely on the shoulders of heavyweight redshirt sophomore Greg Velasco.
As a heavyweight, Velasco usually wrestles in the final bout of the duel. While some may struggle with the pressure, Velasco welcomes it.
“I like when it comes down to me so I have the pressure on the line,” Velasco said.
With a 19-16 Rider lead, a victory in the bout for Duke would mean three points, thus a tie score, and more importantly, an edge for Duke in a tiebreaker scenario. This is a situation the Broncs know all too well, after falling 16-17 to Boston University (3-7, 1-6 EIWA).
In a bout that went close to three periods, Velasco was able to score two crucial points in the final 30 seconds, giving both him and his team a victory.
“We were fortunate that we had some guys step up there at the end,” Head Coach Gary Taylor said. “Greg looked good; I thought he wrestled a very smart match and showed a little more of his athleticism.”
After getting off to a very strong start this season, the Broncs have cooled off a little. Since winter break, Rider has put together an 8-5 record. The team, however, has accomplished several things: it has worked its way in and out of a top-25 national ranking, helped its longtime coach achieve 402 career victories, and had two players ranked in the top 25 for their respective weight classes: Robert Deutsch, 16th at 125 lbs and Curt Delia, 20th at 149 lbs.
Though Rider has performed at a high level this season, Morrison knows that there are many more challenges to come.
“We all need to focus on staying healthy and working hard,” Morrison said. “We’ve been wrestling tough and need to keep that high intensity on the mat.”
Now entering the season’s final stretch, the Broncs have only a handful of opportunities before postseason play. Rider gets its first opportunity on Feb. 7 when it squares off with longtime rival Drexel (4-13, 0-4 CAA) in Philadelphia.
“We’re going to need our best performance,” Velasco said.