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Wrestling Preview: Young Bearcats poised to climb in conference ranks

Entering the program’s second year as a Division I member, the Bearcats still have an “underdog” label, though sixth-year head coach Mike Fusilli believes his young team could emerge as a strong presence in the Colonial Athletic Association by season’s end.

“This team has worked harder to this point than any other BU team during my tenure here,” Fusilli said. “I am excited about the their potential by the end of the season. I think we can surprise some people.”

Remaining healthy and during a long four-month season will be crucial to the team’s dual match success and performance at the year-end conference championship, where the Bearcats placed ninth out of 12 teams last year.
Improving upon the team’s dual match record from a year ago also is heavily dependent upon the injury factor. Last season, injuries forced Fusilli to forfeit as many as three matches in some duals, and his Bearcats absorbed 13 losses as a result.

Young lineup might take semester to jell
This year’s squad is loaded with underclassmen, and as many as five freshmen could hold down starting spots as the season opens.

“Our freshmen all have the potential to develop as we get into the thick of the schedule,” Fusilli said. “Three of those five (Gregg, Gartiser, Willard) could really make some strides by the end of the season.”

Here is a capsule look at the Bearcats by the weight class.

125 Pounds
In one of the weight classes that was unoccupied for most of 2001-02, Fusilli will turn to freshman Kyle Willard, a three-time Vermont state champion. Willard was an All-American for a nationally-prominent program at Mount Anthony Union.

“Kyle is committed to being better, and tries to improve every single day,” Fusilli said. “He doesn’t back down, and tries to score wherever he can. He just needs to get stronger.”

Freshman Mike Shannon, a sectional placewinner from Colonie High in Albany, will also see time.

133 Pounds
Freshman John Gartiser, a state runner-up for powerhouse Monroe-Woodbury High, has followed his brother Joe to Binghamton, and has earned the starting role.

“John is a good young talent who should develop quickly,” Fusilli said. “He has great speed, motion and mat sense.”

Talented red-shirt freshman Matt Barnes, who earned a starting spot last year before suffering a shoulder injury, should return to the lineup in January.

141 Pounds
One of the strengths in BU’s lineup is at 141, where sophomore captain Josh Ruff will be a force. Ruff was 18-5 and ranked second in the CAA before a shoulder injury curtailed his freshman season. Fusilli expects him to be a threat to win the school’s first CAA crown.

“Josh is a very talented and hard-working wrestler,” Fusilli said. “He should contend for an NCAA Championship berth.”

149 Pounds
Sophomore Joe Gartiser has a hold of the starting spot at 149. He won seven matches in a starting role at 141 last season, and should be a consistent performer.

Junior captain Justin Hoch, who won 17 matches in 2000-01 before red-shirting last season, will also see action.

157 Pounds
This weight class is a solid one for Fusilli, who will look to immensely talented senior captain Joe Privitere to carry a large load in his final collegiate campaign. He has moved up a weight class, but has made great strength gains in the off-season.

“This is Joe’s last chance to solidify his spot in BU wrestling history,” Fusilli said. “It’s his last chance to achieve his own personal goals. He certainly has the competitiveness and skill to get to the NCAA tournament.”

Despite being slowed by a knee injury, Privitere went 15-7 last year, including a 7-2 mark in duals.

Sophomore Rob Sckalor, who won 11 matches and posted a 4-4 dual mark, will back up.

165 Pounds
Sophomore Ryan Jantzen has been a pleasant surprise this pre-season, and has earned the starting nod. He went 15-12 as a freshman at 157, and came close to placing at the CAA Championship. Fusilli has been impressed with his work ethic, and expects Jantzen to continue to improve with each bout.

“Ryan has come a long way,” Fusilli said. “He is one of the hardest working guys on the team. He will learn from mistakes and try to improve during practice time. Ryan hasn’t reached his full potential yet, but certainly has done a lot growing since he’s been here.”

Sophomore Mark Tse, a New York State placewinner as a freshman, will back up, as will senior Jason Rosenthal, and junior transfer Joao Moreira.

174 Pounds
Junior Jeff McAveney is back as the starter after a strong sophomore season. He went 24-15 overall, and won a team-best 11 dual matches. McAveney was a runner-up at the Citadel Invitational and also was a state
placewinner (7th).

“Jeff placed in every tournament last season, and is now in the best weight class for him to be competitive," said Fusilli. "This is his year to make a statement in the conference.”

Sophomore Ron Foster and freshman Jeff Vitale will back up. Foster, who won 11 matches as a freshman, will return to the lineup in January. Vitale is a Nassau County runner-up and two-time league champion.

184 Pounds
Fusilli is lean in this weight class, but is hopeful that talented junior Jerome Joe will return to his starting role. Joe placed fifth at the state championship before injuring his shoulder last winter. Vitale will open the season as the starter at 184.

197 Pounds
Freshman Derman Lewis, a scholastic standout at Schalmont High School in Albany, takes over the starting spot. Lewis won both the freestyle and Greco-Roman titles at the New York/USA Wrestling State Championship last year, and was a two-time sectional placewinner.

Burly freshman Jon Gregg takes over the big shoes left by NCAA qualifier Craig Tefft. Gregg, who red-shirted last season with a back injury, is a good young talent who could immediately make an impact in the conference, despite being off the mat for 14 months.

“Jon’s a rugged, hard-to-score on wrestler who is a very competitive person,” Fusilli said. His potential is unlimited, there’s no doubt about it.”

Gregg was a state champion and three-time state placewinner for LaSalle Academy.

Veteran heavyweight Nick Cadmus will serve in a backup role in his final collegiate season.

The 2002-03 slate features a blend of dual matches and challenging tournament competition leading into the Colonial Athletic Association Championship on March 7-9.

The Bearcats will again host their own season-opening event, and in the first semester, will also compete at the prestigious Beast of the East tournament hosted by Delaware. Duals against state rivals Buffalo and Army also highlight the home schedule in the first semester.

In January, BU will see top conference opponents Drexel and Hofstra at the CAA Duals, and Fusilli’s team will look to crown another champion at the New York State Championship, hosted by Buffalo on January 17-18. A first-ever trip to Raleigh for the N.C. State Duals presents a strong challenge as well.

In February, the Bearcats will return to the East Gym mat for four duals.

The NCAA Championship departs nearby Albany and will take place in Kansas City, Mo. beginning on March 20.

Despite having a relatively young lineup, Fusilli is excited about his team’s potential come February.

“We want and need every team member to improve each week,” Fusilli said. “I think we will be strong at 141, 157, 165, 174 and at heavyweight. But by the end of the year I also believe 125 and 133 will be promising.

“I think our young guys will develop and we could a stronger showing in duals during the second semester.”
Fusilli is priming his team to finish strong in March, and is hopeful BU can move up a few pegs at the conference championship.

“We want to have two NCAA qualifiers and finish in the top seven.”


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