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NCAA qualifier Ruff leads Bearcats into 2003-04 season

With five underclassmen likely to take the mat as starters, seventh-year head coach Mike Fusilli will look to returning NCAA qualifier Josh Ruff (Bainbridge, N.Y.) for leadership as Binghamton wrestling opens its 2003-04 campaign. Coming off an outstanding sophomore season that concluded at the NCAA Division I Championship, Ruff leads a group of five returning starters. Fusilli expects the junior captain to continue his success and is hopeful Ruff can bring a teammate or two to this year’s national event.

“Josh is the hardest worker on the team, and leads by example,” Fusilli said. “His work ethic, attitude and enthusiasm make him a true team leader, and the success he’s had so early in his collegiate career should serve as a model for his young teammates that anyone can come in and have immediate success if they put in the effort.”

The strength of Fusilli’s lineup still lies in the middle weights, with Ruff and veterans at 149 and 157 pounds. Those three weights accounted for the majority of the team’s dual match wins last season, and despite the departure of four-year standout Joe Privitere at 157, Fusilli remains confident.

“We have a really sound group of guys at 141, 149 and 157,” he said. “They are experienced guys, and will all be very competitive in duals this season.”

Here is a capsule look at each weight class.

125 Pounds
Traditionally a class thin in numbers, the 125 group features sophomore returning starter Kyle Willard (Bennington, Vt.), whose initial collegiate campaign was curtailed by a collar bone injury last winter. Willard, a former three-time Vermont state scholastic champion, should continue to improve upon his 6-18 mark. He was a high school All-American for nationally-prominent Mount Anthony Union, and has an outstanding work ethic. Backing him up is freshman Victor Destefano (Staten Island, N.Y.).

133 Pounds
The class belongs solely to sophomore Mike Shannon (Albany, N.Y.), who moves up from his 125 weight from last season. Shannon went 3-8 in 2002-03, and should continue to develop. He is a former sectional placewinner for Colonie High School.

141 Pounds
Ruff
, who is 47-13 in his first two collegiate seasons, anchors this weight class. He posted a 16-1 dual record in 2002-03 — breaking the record for dual wins that was originally set back in 1974. Eight of those 16 wins were by major decision, technical fall or pin. Ruff, 29-9 overall, was runner-up at the CAA Championship, and picked up a pin at the NCAA Championship, accumulating enough team points for the Bearcats to place 50th at the national championship.

“We’re looking for Josh to repeat the kind of season he had last year, only with a little better record,” Fusilli said. “He has set a goal to win a conference championship and get back to the NCAAs. Josh hates to lose, and can score points on top”

Sophomore John Gartiser (Tuxedo, N.Y.), who was 7-5 as a starter at 133 last season, moves up a weight class this year — though he might red-shirt. Gartiser, 13-11 overall in 2002-03, is very athletic with good mat sense.

149 Pounds
Senior Beau Bruno (Mineola, N.Y.) returns from a red-shirt season to take over the starting reigns. Bruno, who wrestled two seasons for Seton Hall, was 25-17 up at 157 for the Bearcats in 2001-02. Ten of his victories were by major decision, technical fall or pin — second best on the team. While away from the team last season, he enjoyed success at a series of invitationals, winning the Edinboro Open and placing in all but one event.

“Beau had a good individual season last year,” Fusilli said. “He is quick, and chances are, if he gets into a flurry, he will win the battle.”

Junior Joe Gartiser (Tuxedo, N.Y.), who won 14 matches as the starter last season, will back-up.

157 Pounds
Junior Rob Sckalor (Chester, N.Y.) takes over from the graduated Privitere, who ranks second all-time with 97 career wins. Sckalor went 18-6 last season, including a sparkling 10-2 dual record. He placed fifth at the Beast of the East event in Delaware, and has earned a pre-season honorable mention top-20 ranking.

“Rob is pretty good in all three areas,” Fusilli said. “He can be dangerous on his feet, and has a lot of confidence coming into this season. He beat a couple of national qualifiers last season. We’re looking for really good things from him this year.”

Senior Justin Hoch (Canandaigua, N.Y.) and freshman Andrew Scolaro (Cooper Plains, N.Y.) are also available. Hoch is a three-year veteran and one of Fusilli’s four “team leaders” this season. He has 23 career match victories and state placewinner status to his credit, while Scolaro begins a promising collegiate career.

165 Pounds
Junior Ryan Jantzen (Shoreham, N.Y.), a conference placewinner, returns to his starting role at 165. He won 13 matches and placed fourth at the CAA Championship. As the fifth seed at the conference tournament, he dropped his opening match before storming back with three straight wins in the consolation bracket.

“Ryan improved tremendously toward the end of last season,” Fusilli said. “He has become more of a smart wrestler. He reacts well, and has put a lot of muscle weight on this year.”

Junior Jarrett Wolvington (Winona, Minn.) and freshman Kevin Bush (Brockport, N.Y.) also provide depth.

174 Pounds
Sophomore Ron Foster (Peru, N.Y.) has earned the starting role at this weight. A red-shirt last season, Foster won 11 matches in 2001-02, and has a renewed focus entering the season.

“Ron is a very strong and powerful wrestler, and is extremely tough on top” Fusilli said. “He now has a stronger commitment to the sport.”

Freshman Tom Vail (Johnson City, N.Y.) is another in a long line of rugged scholastic athletes from nearby Johnson City High School, and Fusilli believes his best wrestling is still to come. Vail was a two-time sectional placewinner, and was one match away from placing at the prestigious Beast of the East tournament up a weight at 189.

“Tom didn’t ever reach his potential in high school,” Fusilli said. “He is a tough, hard-nosed kid who doesn’t back down. I believe he’ll develop into a good collegiate wrestler.”

184 Pounds
Junior Jerome Joe (Wheatley Heights, N.Y.) has the talent and drive to advance to the NCAA Championship, and Fusilli is especially excited about his season.

“Jerome has all the tools to do extremely well this year,” Fusilli said. “He is explosive and hard working. I think he will be very tough come February.”

Joe, a reigning NWCA scholar-athlete, went 16-6 in 2002-03. He missed a portion of first-semester competition, and that may have affected his performance down the stretch, when he came up a bit short at the conference meet. As the fifth seed, he knocked off the fourth seed in the quarterfinals before losing on riding time to the top seed and eventual champion. The very competitive 184 weight class sent three wrestlers to the NCAA Championship. Back in January, Joe was runner-up at the New York State Championship. He finished the year with an 11-3 dual match record — second only to Ruff in victories.

Backing up Joe is freshman Declan Josephson (Rye Brook, N.Y.), an accomplished scholastic athlete who won 143 matches for Port Chester High School. A two-time state qualifier, Declan went 44-2 as a senior and earned All-America honors. Fusilli believes he will benefit from his new workout partners.

“Declan is a tremendous athlete who is dominating on top,” Fusilli said. “He knows he can compete at this level, and with his work ethic and our practice environment, his skills on his feet will blossom.”

Junior Mark Tse (Albany, N.Y.), a two-year hard-working veteran and state placewinner, will also see time.

197 Pounds
Sophomore Derman Lewis (Schenectady, N.Y.) returns to hold down the starting role. As a freshman, he won 11 matches — including 10 duals — and was selected to the CAA All-Rookie Team. Lewis won four of his final six duals and defeated the fifth-ranked wrestler in the conference, reflecting his hard work and development throughout the season. Fusilli also praised his summer strength gain.

“Derman got a lot bigger over the summer,” Fusilli said. “He gained almost 20 pounds. If he stays with the strategy and what he’s good at, he will continue to succeed like he did at the end of last season.”

Freshman Michael Patterson (Rochester, N.Y.), one of Fusilli’s top recruits, should see a lot of time as well. He was a two-time state runner-up and three-time qualifier for Wayne High School. Patterson went 46-1 and was nationally ranked as a senior. He was 162-35 overall in high school.

“Mike has great physical attributes for a big guy — he is quick, aggressive, keeps good position, and is well conditioned,” Fusilli said.

Freshman Michael Sanacore (Greenfield Center, N.Y.), a state runner-up for Corinth High School, also begins a promising collegiate career. Sanacore is a brawler-type who can bench press more than 400 pounds — most of any Bearcat.

Heavyweight
Highly-touted freshman Jeff Parker (Foxboro, Mass.) takes over at heavyweight — a weight that yielded just two dual wins for the Bearcats last season. Parker’s impressive resume includes a Massachusetts high school state championship and a New England Championship. He was a four-time state placewinner, and concluded his scholastic career with a stellar 117-14 record. Fusilli likes his passion for the sport, and his work ethic.

“Jeff is probably the hardest working heavyweight I’ve ever had,” he said. “He won’t have an easy transition to heavyweight this year, but Jeff will certainly win a good number of matches for us.”

Lineup Strengths
Fusilli will rely heavily on his returnees at the middle weights, and hope his newcomers can quickly adjust to collegiate-level competition. Ruff (141), Bruno (149) and Sckalor (157) are three proven veterans, and Jantzen (165), Joe (184) and Lewis (197) give the Bearcats a solid nucleus. In contrast, BU has a lack of experience at 125, 33, 74 and heavyweight.

Schedule
The 2003-04 schedule features 16 dual matches, including bouts against intrastate rivals Buffalo and Army, and matches against eight conference opponents. The slate also features several high-caliber invitationals, such as the Cornell Body Bar tournament ((Nov. 22), the Beast of the East tournament hosted by Delaware (Dec. 19), and the prestigious Midlands Championship (Dec. 28-29) — an invite-only event hosted by Triton College (Ill.).

The CAA Championship, hosted by Rider, will again serve as the NCAA qualifier. Fusilli will then be looking to send at least one wrestler to the NCAA Championship for the third straight year. The national meet takes place March 18-20 in St. Louis.

“We’ve raised the level of our schedule this year,” Fusilli said. “We have some matches we have potential to win, but we will have to work very hard. I’m excited about the Body Bar and the Beast of East tournaments, which will expose our guys to some outstanding competition. Hopefully, we can take Josh and one other guy to the Midlands.”

Outlook
Fusilli knows that his young team might take a semester to jell, but is hopeful his veterans can make a final stand in March.

“Our goal is to crown our first conference champion this year,” he said. “We’d like to have at least two NCAA qualifiers, and I think we could even get three. Jerome (Joe) and Beau (Bruno) each have a good shot.”

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