The wrestling team’s season kicks off soon, and it will look to continue a tradition of high-level success. Prior to the 2013-14 season, the Cardinals were a steady program; the team finished ranked among the top-30 Division III teams every year from 2009-13. Following the 2009-10 season, the Cardinals ended the season ranked 26th in the country. In both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, the team finished ranked 29th. It improved upon that ranking by concluding the 2012-13 season in 11th place, the best finish in program history.
The 2013-14 season did not go as well as the Cardinals had hoped, as the Birds capped the season with a 7-12 record in dual meets. Still, during Head Wrestling Coach Drew Black’s 16 years at the helm of the program, the Cardinals have improved their record every year following a sub-.500 mark from the previous season. Black, the most successful wrestling coach in school history with 164 career dual-match victories, also holds two New England Wrestling Association (NEWA) Coach of the Year awards, earned in 2010 and 2012.
During the 2013-14 season, the Cardinals grabbed victories over King’s College (PA), Trinity, Southern Maine, Coast Guard, Oneonta State, Oswego State, and Hunter College. The team finished the year by placing 14th out of 18 teams at the Northeast Regional Championships.
Black and his team will surely look to repeat the success of the highly talented 2012-13 squad. Ranked as high as 10th nationally during the season, the team was invited to compete in the National Dual Championship in Springfield, Ill., a highly regarded national tournament. At Springfield, the team finished sixth out of 16 teams, marking only the second time ever that a New England school finished in the top eight. The Cardinals also hosted and won the last-ever NEWA Championship, only the second New England title in school history. Wesleyan now competes in the Northeast Regional Tournament.
Perhaps a reason for the downturn during the 2013-14 campaign was a loss of experience and an influx of youth. After the 2012-13 season, the Cardinals lost 149-pounder Howard Tobochnik ’13, the school’s all-time leader in wins with 119 of them. He concluded his career with a trip to the NCAA DIII tournament and finished the year ranked seventh nationally in pins with 15. The squad also lost 141-pounder Nick Scotto ’13, who led all NCAA divisions with 21 falls. The Cardinals missed two other members of the 100-win club: 174-pounder Kyle Roosa ’13 with 108 career wins and Jefferson Ajayi ’13, with 106 career victories. Ajayi is Wesleyan’s most recent All-American, finishing ranked seventh nationally for the 184-pound weight class.
Replacing such a prestigious senior class proved tough last year, but a year of experience for a large returning sophomore class may pay big dividends. Sophomores Frank Crippen, Joseph Koshakow, DJ Lemieux, Matthew Pelton, Edward Pierce, and Robert Rosenberg all represent a new chapter in the Wesleyan wrestling program, along with the seven new first-year members of the team. With a year of experience under their belts, the Cardinals have the potential to return to prominence under Black.
Among the team’s goals this season will be adding to the program’s storied accomplishments. Over the years, Wesleyan has produced 23 National Wrestling Coaches Association Scholar (NWCA) All-Americans, 2 New England individual titles (collected by 15 individuals), and 5 All-Americans. Wes has been a NWCA Scholar All-American team for 14 consecutive years, all under Black. During Black’s tenure, five wrestlers have received top Wesleyan athletic awards, two as Maynard Award winners (Tobochnik and Nick Bazos ’02) and three as Carl Aherns Award winners (Brian Fair ’01, Adam Jonas ’05 and Dan Bloom ’10), signifying the top contributors to Wesleyan men’s athletics over the year.
The team kicks off its season this Saturday at the Roger Williams Tournament in Rhode Island.