There is a good deal of optimism surrounding Wesleyan’s current wrestling team, but not without some uncertainty.
“There’s a lot of unknown because we’re so young, but I think we’ve got a lot of talent,” said Captain Ryan Sblendorio ’15. “We’ve got our first tournament [at Roger Williams] this weekend, which should be exciting because we can finally see where our guys are at.”
Sblendorio, at the 174-pound weight class, is expected to lead a squad that has no shortage of ability, but is facing considerable losses from last year’s 15-7 team. The Cardinals are without some of their most talented grapplers due to graduation, most notably Jefferson Ajayi ’13 and Howard Tobochnik ’13, who were both NCAA tournament qualifiers last season, and Nick Scotto ’13, who led the country in pins with 21. With Troy Sampson ’14 taking on student-coaching duties, Alex Cannon ’14, a 165 pounder, remains the lone senior, but he isn’t overly anxious about his team’s future.
“People often look to the amount of seniority on a team to determine its potential, but I’m really not worried,” Cannon said. “We have a fantastic group of younger guys that know they have what it takes to succeed at the collegiate level.”
Returning sophomores such as Chris Siracusa and James Hamilton are projected to be key components to the team’s success, and already proved in 2013 that they are prepared for the challenge, each having posted winning records. Like Cannon, most of the wrestlers are putting a positive spin on the dearth of upperclassmen, as it has led to encouraging growth in the wrestling room.
“Although we are short on the older side, it definitely has forced guys to mature quicker,” said Mikey Baratz ’15. “Our freshmen had to learn real quick, and it’s brought the best out of them.”
In his 16th year at the helm of Wesleyan wrestling, Head Coach Drew Black is once again bringing in a capable freshmen class, and it’s likely that some will be asked to make significant contributions on the mat in their first year.
“[The freshmen] are looking real good, and are working hard in the preseason,” Sblendorio said. “They’re a real talented bunch.”
During last year’s successful campaign, the team’s only defeats came against opponents ranked among the top-10 nationally; three of those seven losses were decided by two points or fewer. In the 2013 National Wrestling Coaches Association dual tournament, Wesleyan beat some of the top teams in Division III to reach a sixth-place finish. The Cardinals were also a point away from finishing first in the northeast at the New England Wrestling Association Duals, ultimately ending the year ranked 10th in the country.
Individually, last year’s wrestlers found immense success as well, with six Cardinals being named All-Regional. On top of that, 197-pounder Josh Roometua ’16 qualified for the NCAA tournament along with Ajayi and Tobochnik, becoming only the third freshman in the school’s history to do so.
“All of our guys want to win,” Roometua said. “That’s why we’ll be successful. We all have the desire.”
Winning has certainly been a part of the Wesleyan wrestling culture, as the 2012-13 season marked wrestling’s fifth consecutive winning season, and its 11th of the last 13. Past teams have set a high standard of excellence, and despite the slight uncertainty coming into the season, there’s no question that Black’s squad is motivated to make it six in a row.