The Wesleyan wrestling team kicked off its new season with a 13-team tournament this past weekend. At Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, the Cardinals found themselves in fierce battles with nationally ranked wrestlers and teams but still managed to finish in sixth place with a respectable 109 points. Surprising absolutely no one, the title was taken by Johnson & Wales University, who notched a dominating 171 points. Unfortunately, this Wesleyan wrestling loss comes after the Wesleyan volleyball NCAA fell to the same Wildcats just a week before.
Among the standout Red and Black performers of the day came captain Isaiah Bellamy ’18. Bellamy won the 285-pound weight class with a commanding performance. His victory against Mike Risti of Southern Maine (15-3) was one of the best final performances in the tournament. Devon Carrillo B.A. ’17 M.A. ’18, the Wesleyan athletic marvel who advanced to the NCAA Championships in the past two seasons, went 4-1 at 197-pounds to reach the championship match. He would ultimately fall in what would wind up being a nail-biting encounter with Kyle Koser of Messiah College. In the 149-pound weight class bracket, the 2017 NCAA Championship qualifier Carter Armendarez ’18 placed third overall as he was defeated in the semi-final by a narrow margin (5-6) to Stephen Maloney of Messiah. The Cardinals also excelled at 141 pounds where Shane Ross ’19 came in fourth place, and at 125 pounds where Amir Daouk ’20 and Zack Murillo ’19 claimed fourth and sixth place finishes, respectively.
The 2016-17 season was fairly productive for Wesleyan wrestling, yet their journey had its twists and turns. While their form was relatively wobbly in the first two months, they improved greatly in February and finished the season on a high note—the Red and Black sent two athletes to the NCAA Championships and excelled with five-straight wins at the end. After the convincing performance this past Saturday, the 2017-18 unit will surely be just as dynamic since it returns almost every member from last year’s potent team.
“I’m really looking forward to dominating as a team this season,” Armendarez said. “This is the best wrestling team Wesleyan has had since I’ve been here. I think we could be ranked top ten in the country by the end of the year. Everyone has a great time and brings a lot of energy into the room every day. Also, the road trips are fun. For me personally, it’s all about being an All-American. Last year I was one match away from that.”
To wrestling fans and the whole community, the return of post-graduate All-NEWA Devon Carillo was especially encouraging. Last year, the Middletown native demonstrated that he was one of the premier wrestlers at 197-pounds in the entire country. The talented and physically imposing monster-wrestler finished second at regionals, allowing him to qualify for the national postseason tournament. Doing so improved his seasonal record to an impressive 22-3. His constant dominance and appearance in the headlines eventually allowed him to receive Connecticut’s 2017 Male Athlete of the Year, an honor that had never gone to a Wesleyan athlete before. Together with All-NEWA Second Team nominee Armendarez ’18 and co-captains Bellamy and Dominic Pirraglia ’18, they made up the core members of the Cardinals’ fierce lineup.
In addition to the multitude of returners, the Cardinal roster also welcomed seven newcomers, including senior Edward Pierce, sophomore Krzysztof Nizielski, and five first years: Simon Chee, Jason Fong, Andrew Hennessy, Harrison Karp, and Kasim Khan. With the team leadership spelled out by the squad’s more experienced members, perhaps there will be more surprises on the horizon for this current season.
In an interview with Wes Athletics, Head Coach Drew Black expressed his confidence in building off last year’s run.
“Our team motto this season is ‘Believeland,’ the road to Cleveland, Ohio, who is hosting the NCAA Championships,” Black said. “We have five great, experienced, veteran seniors. We have great leadership, our line-up is solid from top to bottom, and we are looking to have a special season, another winning season, and an even stronger finish at the Northeast Regional Championship and NCAA Championships.”
In less than 24 hours, the Cardinals will face their next challenge in the early portion of their season as they are set to compete at Springfield’s annual Doug Parker Invitational, where they will meet fellow conference foe and Little Three rival, Williams.
Indeed, wrestling is a fast-paced sport with many technicalities, rules, and ways to score points, making it difficult for new spectators to follow the score and understand the whistles. But you don’t necessarily have to focus on every single move; just support your Cardinals when they return home and enjoy the overall beauty of the hand-to-hand combat.
Henry Yang can be reached at email@example.com.