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Influx of newcomers should round out strong BU wrestling lineup in 2011-12

BU opens season with intrasquad Wrestle-offs at 11:45 a.m. Saturday at West Gym

October 26, 2011

Influx of newcomers should round out strong BU wrestling lineup in 2011-12

Video of Wrestle-offs

Wrestle-off Matchups

Contact: John Hartrick (

VESTAL, N.Y.—Binghamton head wrestling coach Pat Popolizio might need name tags to help identify his squad, which features 17 newcomers to the program.  But while that large turnover typically signifies a rebuilding mode, Popolizio’s 2011-12 Bearcats are instead loaded for bear.  Of the 11 returning letterwinners, seven are starters and four are reigning NCAA qualifiers.  Popolizio believes his lineup is even more solid than the last two years, when BU set the program standard by averaging 15 dual wins and sending six individuals to NCAAs each year.

“The biggest difference in this team is that the incoming wrestlers are challenging the upperclassmen,” he said.  “The young guys bring in a great attitude and work extremely hard.  They are motivating the returners because they are very competitive inside and outside the wrestling room.  We have a great team dynamic with experienced and battle tested returners mixed with talented and hungry incoming wrestlers.”

Last year the team went 16-6, captured the New York State Championship, placed second at the CAA Championship and advanced six to the NCAAs.  Despite lacking a strong option at 133 and heavyweight most of the year, BU took down nationally-ranked and CAA rival Hofstra in a January dual and battled ranked teams from Iowa State and American tight in losses.  The team tied its all-time high with six national qualifiers but unlike 2010 when they crowned an All-American (Justin Lister), the Bearcats came up short at the 2011 NCAA Championship, going a combined 2-12.  Popolizio hopes that disappointment will not only fuel his four returning qualifiers but push his newcomers to make their mark at the NCAA event.

“It was a very bitter end to an outstanding dual meet season as our ultimate goal centers on the NCAA Championship,” he said.  “We want to produce multiple NCAA champions and All-Americans.  We were
disappointed with the results at the national tournament last year but have learned from that experience and it will make our team much better this season.  We are focused on producing multiple All-Americans this year and we will focus on that in the future as we put the past behind us and move forward.”

Here’s a capsule look at each weight class.

Junior Derek Steeley, a former Oklahoma state scholastic champion, is back in a starting role.  Steeley transferred to BU last January and made a strong late-season push despite not being in top shape.  He posted dual wins against Iowa State, American and Hofstra and were it not for a controversial no takedown call in the closing seconds of the CAA semifinals, Steeley would have earned an NCAA bid.  Popolizio believes with a full season of conditioning under his belt, Steeley can produce a dominant season that ends in St. Louis.

“Derek has worked hard this preseason to get himself in the best shape of his life,” Popolizio said.  “His conditioning has improved tremendously and is going to be a threat to anyone he wrestles this year.  He is capable of beating anyone in the country when he believes in his ability.  His ability, athleticism, and flexibility combined with some unorthodox wrestling will be hard for any competitor to figure out.”

Redshirt freshman Brian St. James joins the program after transferring from Indiana State and begins a promising career at 125.  St. James was a two-time Georgia state champion who compiled an overall record of 206-9 with 111 pins in high school.

Freshman Mike Sardo also is in the mix at 125.  He is a two-time state qualifier and three-time sectional champion.

Junior Patrick Hunter, a transfer from Iowa State, steps into the starting role at 133 and gives the program a major boost at a weight that’s been a thorn in Popolizio’s side in recent years.  Hunter comes to campus with a wealth of accolades, including a national junior college championship, won in 2009 while at Iowa Central CC.  He is a former two-time New Jersey state placewinner who went on to become National Prep runnerup at St. Benedict’s Prep.  Hunter was an Academic All-American at Iowa Central and is quickly becoming a team leader for his intensity and sharp wit.

“Patrick has brought a breath of fresh air to our program,” Popolizio said.  “He is very intense in practice, but also lightens the mood outside of the wrestling room.  He has bought into our system and is making big improvements because of it.  We look forward to seeing Patrick succeed like he did at Iowa Central with similar success both on the mat and in the classroom as he had at the junior college level.

Junior Dan Riggi and freshmen Tyler Pendergast, Colton Perry and Alex Neal can fill in at 133.  Riggi is a two-year letterwinner and scholar-athlete.  Pendergast was a three-time Delaware state champion and National All-American.  Perry was a four-time state placewinner and three-time sectional champion from nearby Windsor High.  Neal was a Connecticut state finalist who went 23-0 as a senior.

Having lost two-time CAA champion and NCAA qualifier Anwar Goeres to graduation, the weight is wide open.  Freshmen Derak Heyman and Joe Bonaldi will begin their collegiate careers battling for the starting spot.  Heyman won 255 scholastic matches and was a top-10 recruit in New York State after a standout career down the road at Tioga High.  He was a four-time All-American and two-time state champion.  Bonaldi was a three-time state qualifier and two-time state placewinner out of the Rochester area.

“We have two very talented freshman who will compete for this weight class,” Popolizio said.  “They will make each other better as they battle it out for the starting spot.  Both work hard and have a lot of talent.  It should be an exciting weight for us as we find out who wants to win the starting spot more.  It’s tough to lose a two-time conference champion to graduation but we hope that either Joe and Derak can step in and make an impact immediately.”

Junior Donnie Vinson continues his stranglehold on the weight class as he enters his third year in a starting role.  Vinson, a two-time NCAA qualifier, is positioned as high as No. 8 in the preseason rankings and the only accolades missing in his stellar career are All-America honors.  Vinson has been especially relentless in dual matches, owning a 36-7 career mark in the BU singlet.  He nearly achieved an unbeaten season in 2010-11, going 21-1 with the lone loss coming in February to the 12th-ranked opponent.  Among the wins was a decision over two-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake of Cornell – a result that turned heads at the national level.  Vinson earned a No. 9 seed at the NCAA Championship but bowed out in two matches.  Popolizio hopes Vinson can climb the final hurdle and bring his best wrestling to the NCAA Championship in 2012.

“Donnie is capable of winning an NCAA Championship,” Popolizio said..  “He is as good and talented as anyone in the country.  The only thing that will stop Donnie from winning a national title is his own self-doubt.  If he believes in his ability, look for him on the top of the podium in St. Louis.

Redshirt freshman Joe Chamish and true freshmen Vincent Grella and Ben Price begin their collegiate careers in apprentice roles.  Chamish is a former scholastic state placewinner who won 10 matches in his redshirt season last winter.  Grella won 140 career matches and placed third at the state championship as a senior.  Price was a two-time Vermont state champion who won 55 matches in his senior season.

After earning a repeat NCAA Championship berth up at 165 last season, senior captain Justin Lister returns to his old weight for his final collegiate season.  Lister is looking to repeat the glory from his 2010 NCAA appearance, where he stormed through the field as an unseeded 157-pounder and captured fourth-place to become BU’s highest NCAA Division I placewinner and second All-American in the last three years.  Last season, Lister bumped up to 165 in January and rolled through the CAA Championship draw as the No. 3 seed to win his second conference title.  However, an ankle injury at the 2011 NCAA Championship curtailed his hopes of repeating as an All-American.  A dedicated athlete and vital team leader, Lister’s work on and off the mat this season should pave the way for the development of BU’s newcomers.

“Justin has show great leadership ability in the last year,” Popolizio said.  “He holds his teammates and himself accountable.  He makes his teammates work hard.  He is a major part of the success of our program both as a leader and his own individual success.  He has had an outstanding career here at BU and is looking to finish on a high note.  He has all the intangibles of greatness:  dedication, hard-work, great character and a championship attitude.”

A trio of freshmen – Angelo Bortoluzzi, Adam Lepkowsky and Adam Morris will fight for time in a backup role.  Bortoluzzi won 101 matches and placed fourth at the 2011 Prep Nationals.  Lepkowski was a New York state runnerup and Morris was a Prep All-American for a strong Wyoming Seminary program.

Senior co-captain Matt Kaylor completes the weight class flip-flop with Lister by bumping back up to his original weight for his senior season.  Down at 157 last year, Kaylor went 28-11,  captured his first CAA crown and advanced to the NCAA Championship for a second-straight season.  A hard-nosed wrestler who came to campus without lofty high school credentials, Kaylor has earned the respect of his coaches for developing into a premier wrestler.  He went 17-5 in duals in 2010-11 and is on pace to become just the second BU wrestler to eclipse the 100 win plateau during the program’s Division I tenure.

“Matt is a very hard worker who is consistently one of our top performers in everything we do - from academics to running to lifting to wrestling,” Popolizio said.  “He wrestles very hard and leads by example.  He has his sights set on reaching All-American honors this season to cap off a strong career.

With the graduation of NCAA qualifier and Academic All-American Ryan McGarity, sophomore John Paris returns down to his more natural weight.  In his redshirt freshman season in 2010-11, Paris bumped up to 184 and 197 to fill holes in BU’s lineup and his rapid development in those tough conditions resulting in 19 wins and CAA Rookie of the Year honors.  Paris went 8-2 in duals and reached the finals at the CAA Championship, narrowly missing an NCAA berth.  The coaching staff is high on his outlook for the 2011-12 season.

“John made huge strides last season and ended his season on a high note,” Popolizio said.  “He started the season as a back-up and steadily improved into the CAA Rookie of the Year through hard work and being very coachable.  He is looking forward to getting back down to his natural weight of 174 pounds and is confident that he can do very good things at that weight.  We expect John to compete for a CAA Championship. 

Backing up Paris is redshirt freshman Caleb Wallace, a former sectional champion and state scholastic placewinner, won 11 matches and captured a New York State title in his redshirt season last year.

“Caleb will be challenging John and has made some big strides,” Popolizio said.  “He is also a very hard worker and will surprise a lot of people this year as he has improved tremendously.  Look for him to be in the mix at 174 and 184.”

Junior Nate Schiedel, a two-time NCAA qualifier, continues to be a force at the weight.  Schiedel went a team-best 32-9 last season and was ranked as high as No. 12 in the final RPI.  Like classmate Vinson, Schiedel has racked up wins and accolades at a fast rate in his first two seasons, with only All-America honors eluding him.  He is 34-7 in career duals and has 18 pins in two seasons.  His 2010-11 season also include titles at the Penn State Open and the New York State Championship.

“Nate is a seasoned wrestler who will have a breakthrough year this season,” Popolizio said.  “He has done everything it takes to compete with the best guys in the country.  He is good in all positions and is excited about the upcoming season.  He is focused on and capable of becoming an All-American.

Sophomore Cody Reed, like Paris, performed yeoman’s work up a weight class last year and should be a solid contributor at 197 this season. Reed, a rugged athlete, earned 22 wins in 2010-11, and filling a hole at heavyweight, reached the CAA semifinals as an undersized No. 6 seed.  He won eight duals and was selected to the CAA All-Rookie Team.

“Cody has surprised a lot of people so far in his career,” Popolizio said.  “The more he buys into the philosophies of the program the better he will get.  The sky is the limit for him once he gives a 100% buy-in the the program. He has one of the best wok ethics on the team, which has taken him to where he is at this point.  It’s the little things that he does that will determine how great of a season he will have.”

Junior Mike McKeever and freshman Tyler Deuel provide depth to the weight.  McKeever is a two-year letterwinner and scholar-athlete.  Deuel was a two-time sectional champion and state placewinner in high school.

Of Popolizio’s 17 newcomers, none is more potent than freshman heavyweight Nick Gwiazdowski.  One of the most decorated high school wrestlers in the country, Gwiazdowski begins what is expected to be an accomplished collegiate career as a rare true freshman starter.  He was a premier recruit for Popolizio (top heavyweight recruit in nation according to Intermat) and gives the Bearcats a huge presence at heavyweight for four years.  Among his notable credentials: two-time New York state champion, Dave Schultz Award for Excellence, three-time NHSCA All-American, Senior National Champion and Most Outstanding Wrestler at NHSCA Championship, 19th overall recruit in the country (all weights).  Gwiazdowski went 50-0 in his senior season at Duanesburg with no opponent lasting the full match (43 pins, 7 forfeits).  He will still have to make the transition to the college ranks and Popolizio is banking on that transition being a quick one.

“Nick is a very special athlete,” he said.  “He has an outstanding attitude to go along with his rare talent.  His attitude and confidence is contagious with the other wrestlers.  His outlook on success is a much needed boost to our team.  Nick is a true competitor that will be tested all season long but will be prepared to reach his goals by season’s end. We expect this to be a quick transition from high school to college.  Nick is going to be a dual meet closer for us soon.”

Barring the unforeseen and injuries, Binghamton’s starting lineup has few flaws, meaning the team’s potential dual success and individual tournament potential is high.

Popolizio has continued his philosophy of testing his Bearcats with a tough five-month schedule that features prominent tournaments and duals against ranked opponents (No. 3 Oklahoma State, No. 5 Cornell, No. 8 American, No. 16 Oklahoma), regional foes (Buffalo, Bloomsburg) and CAA rivals Hofstra and Old Dominion among others.  The Bearcats will again host the Binghamton Open, an early-season event (Nov. 13) that showcases the Events Center with a 10-mat, 300-athlete format.  The team will hit the road for the annual Cornell Body Bar Invitational and the Journeymen/Asics Northeast Duals, a 15-team event that will send the Bearcats up against the likes of Arizona State, Purdue, Eastern Michigan and Army on November 26.  Other first semester competitions include the Penn State Open (Dec. 4) and the Reno (Nev.) Tournament (Dec. 18).

“We have set our schedule up so that everyone on the team gets to see some of the best competition in the country,” Popolizio said.  “In order to be the best, you have to compete with and beat the best.  This allows our athletes to wrestle ranked wrestlers nearly every week.  We have a good mix of top tournaments and dual competition.  The schedule was set-up to prepare the team for the NCAA Championships.”

Home duals against Oklahoma (Jan. 10), Cornell (Jan. 15) and American (Feb. 3) highlight the spring semester.  The Cornell dual is especially significant as it will be televised on Time Warner Cable as part of a doubleheader with the men’s basketball team.  Dubbed the “Ball and Brawl,” the event will mark the first-ever wrestling dual in the Events Center. 

The spring semester action culminates with the CAA Championship, hosted by Binghamton on March 3.  From there, BU will look to match or exceed its number of NCAA qualifiers, which has stood at six in each of the last two seasons.  The NCAA Championship heads back to St. Louis on March 15-17, where name tags or not, the Bearcats hope to showcase Binghamton to a national audience.

“We are extremely excited to host our first-ever dual in the Events Center, which will be a great environment for high level college wrestling,” Popolizio said.  “ It also marks the first time that we have televised a BU dual
meet.  We are hosting three different dual meets at home against teams that finished in the top 10 in the country last season.  It should be an exciting season full of action.”

Popolizio remains focused on the finish line.

“Our goals this season center on producing multiple All-Americans and finishing in the top 15 in the country at the national tournament,” he said.  “We always want to improve from previous years so we are also looking to send more than six wrestlers to the national championships and to win the CAA title in front of our great fan base. We would like to finish as a top 20 dual meet team this season and we wrestle a very good schedule that will give us the ability to accomplish this goal.  In addition, we are looking to break into the top 20 in the country academically as it is vital for our team to do well both on the mat and in the classroom. 

“We have taken big steps forward over the last five years.  We continue to improve the overall team mentality and attitude.  The team needs to be relentless and buy into all the team philosophies so we can take another step forward and get to the next level.  We have some very accomplished wrestlers in our program and are continuing to build for the future.”

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