Since hosting and winning the New England Wrestling Championship in 2012-13, the Cardinal grapplers have seen a fair share of ups and downs. Last year, Wesleyan finished with an 8-11 dual-meet record—a better-than-average result in the scrappy New England Wrestling Association division (NEWA), with teams such as Ithaca College, Williams and SUNY Cortland. Additionally, the squad sent 171-pounder Ryan Sblendorio ’15 to the NCAA tournament. The Cardinals will stay competitive with a squad largely comprised of underclassmen and juniors; A 2014-15 season of mixed results has left the Cardinals motivated to make a significant impact this year. With a thick roster of battle-tested upperclassmen and some new fire in a deeply talented freshman class, Wrestling seems poised to cash in on past experience and bring the fear back to Middletown.
The Cardinals are returning a plethora of capable veteran wrestlers, including 133-pounder Frank Crippen ’17 (23-10 last season), 174-pounder Taran Carr ’16 (15-10), and co-captains James Hamilton ’16 at 141 lbs (6-6, but with 25 and 22 wins in first two seasons, respectively) and Chris Siracusa ’16 (22-14). Among the many talented underclassmen vying for a starting spot are Carter Armendarez ’18 at 149 (10-10) and Dominic Pirraglia ’18 at 184 (18-10), both of whom were asked to move up weight classes at various points in last season, as they proved to be more than capable while displaying some gutsy brawling. At 197, Captain Isaiah Bellamy ’18 (22-6) looks to further improve on a standout first year with the program; and while placing fourth as a first-year in the Northeast Regional is no small feat, only the top three reach the Division III tournament. For the talented sophomore, the time to win is now. What’s more, Bellamy was recently ranked eighth nationally in Division III at 197.
“Everyone is pretty excited,” Bellamy said. “We have a lot of talented freshmen this year that should do some damage against tough teams. Collectively, our goal has always been NESCAC champs, but we have to take it one match at a time. [Personally], my goals are to keep improving on the mat while staying healthy throughout the season.”
A talented first-year class looks to bring a newfound drive to the team inside the Biddiscombe wrestling room for practice and at meets alike. CT stars Johnathan Oh ’19 (CT State Champion) and Zach Murillo ’19 (New England Champion) join James Matias ’19 (NY State Qualifier) in keeping the lower weight classes competitive, while Nick Taylor ’19 and Roy Forys ’19 will challenge the middleweight veterans.
“The team dynamic is great this year,” Bellamy said. “Like I said, we’ve got a lot of great freshmen, who all came in ready to work. Compared to last year, I have only seen improvements. We started working harder earlier in the preseason, and have done well with keeping up this intensity. If we can keep the positive mentality rolling, we are going to have a great season.”
Other returning grapplers include Robert Rosenberg ’17 (12-12) and Keonmin Hwang ’16 (10-16), two of the hardest workers on the entire squad. This drive is a sign of leadership that head coach Drew Black looks for in his wrestlers. Approaching the first tournament hosted by Roger Williams, Black sees national-caliber talent in his team. Bellamy will certainly compete for a spot in nationals after being a takedown short of qualifying last season, and Siracusa is looking to excel in his final year after progressing substantially from year to year.
“We’re poised to have one of our better seasons in the past three years,” Siracusa said. “The team’s got a quality lineup from 125 to 197, and a group of eager, hardworking freshmen who are ready to make an impact. Collectively, we look good.”
The upcoming year is full of promise for the Wesleyan wrestlers, and this close-knit group of experienced grapplers is expecting to capitalize on the hard work they’ve put in up to this point. If things come together in the wrestling room, and the team manages to stay healthy in a brutal NEWA division, the future is bright for Coach Black and his gifted squad.
The squad hits the mat for real this weekend at the Roger Williams Invitational tournament in Rhode Island. As an individual tournament, it will give Wesleyan’s top wrestlers a chance to test themselves against top opposition before the start of match play. The last few days have surely been hectic for the Cards as they balance weigh-ins and last minute preseason training, and Cardinal nation anticipates an exciting campaign.