It's that time of year again, and John Stutzman's Bulls will be gearing up to take to the mat for the first time this weekend at the Terrapin Duals. Last season showed growth and improvement in Year Two of the Stutzman Era, but with a postseason ban lifted and top-shelf recruits ready to contribute, this season will need to be a big step forward for the program.
Projected Starter: Kyle Akins, R-Fr., Sycamore, Illinois
After redshirting last season, Akins has big shoes to fill after the departure of senior Max Soria, who led the Bulls with 21 victories last season. Akins is no slouch himself as a former top-100 recruit and ranked as high as ninth in the nation in the high school 120 pound weight class. Akins was also a four-time Illinois state place finisher, collecting a state title and runner-up finish in his junior and senior seasons.
In other areas, Akins is also an accomplished freestyle wrestler, a three-time All-American and third-place finisher in the USA Junior Freestyle Championships. Expect Akins to be the season-long starter at this spot. He dominated Corey Hollister in the Blue and White Match, pinning him in the process. Akins' toughest competiiton in the MAC will come from Northern Iowa's Dylan Peters, who was a thorn in Max Soria's side, but the opportunity will be there at the MAC Championships for Akins to make some noise.
Others to Keep an Eye On: Corey Hollister, R-So., Perry, NY
Hollister will be the backup at 125 and will likely see spot duty throughout the season. He's improved over his first two seasons in the program and collected a 9-8 record last season after finishing 1-4 during his freshman season. He finished last season with three pinfall victories, and will serve as quality depth and competition in the wrestling room.
New Faces: Justin Patrick, Fr., Ligonier, PA
Coming to UB from the Pittsburgh area, Patrick comes from the best wrestling state in the nation and brings a pedigree to match. Wrestling for Kiski Prep, Patrick was a four-time Pennsylvania State qualifier, two-time Pennsylvania State place finisher and a six-time All-American. Patrick will likely redshirt this season, but keep an eye out during open competitions as he will be an exciting name to watch.
Projected Starter: Bryan Lantry, R-Fr., Walworth, NY
Another former All-American and New York State Champion, Lantry is in the lead to fill the spot left by Sean Peacock after he moved up to 141 pounds. During open competition in his redshirt campaign Lantry compiled an impressive 26-9 record and looks ready to step up and contribute for the Bulls. He handily beat out his closest competition in Blake Retell during the Blue and White match 15-6 and looks to have locked down the starting position. His toughest competition in MAC-play will be Mack McGuire of Kent State, who is a multiple-time NCAA Qualifier and is currently ranked #16 in the nation.
Others to Keep an Eye On: Blake Retell, R-Fr., Albany, NY
Shaker High School's all-time wins leader, Retell will be vying for the starting spot with Lantry, but it seems that Lantry has it locked up for now. During his redshirt campaign, Retell collected a 14-13 record in open tournaments.
Projected Starter(s): Jason Estevez, R-So., Livingston, NJ; Sean Peacock, So., Clifton Springs, NY
I really couldn't decide between the full-time starter at 141, and I'm sure Head Coach John Stutzman is having a much harder time than I am. Estevez and Peacock are the leading men in the logjam of talent at 141 pounds. Last season, Peacock was a freshman sensation at 133, collecting 19 victories, good for second on the team behind the departed Max Soria, while Estevez had a solid campaign as well, finishing 12-8 after dealing with an injury for the middle part of the season.
Estevez and Peacock faced off in the finals of the Blue and White match and Estevez earned the victory over Peacock 9-5. However, Peacock had already wrestled a match earlier in the day, dominating the impressive Brandon Lapi 9-2. Talent-wise, these two are neck and neck and both are more than capable of starting and being successful this season; Coach Stutzman will need to be creative to get two of his best wrestlers plenty of mat time. Their stiffest competition in MAC-play will be #5 Chris Mecate of Old Dominion, who Colt Cotten lost to because of riding time last season, and #12 Zach Horan of Central Michigan.
Others to Keep an Eye On: Brandon Lapi, R-Fr., Amsterdam, NY; Rocco Russo, R-Fr., Frontier, NY
Lapi and Russo round out the crowded 141 pound weight class for Buffalo, and both could be flexed to another weight class if necessary. Russo, who finished last season 13-10 after being forced into action due to the Jason Estevez injury can be flexed down to 133 pounds. Russo was defeated by Estevez in the first round of the Blue and White match by a score of 7-4, a close match that shows Russo's improvement.
Lapi, who had an impressive redshirt campaign with a 25-14 record, can flex to 149 pounds if necessary. Lapi and Russo will look to break into the lineup during tournaments, but it'll be hard to get action during the MAC portion of the schedule because of the depth in front of both.
Projected Starter: Colt Cotten, R-So., Benton, PA (Bloomsburg)
After missing the majority of the season while recovering from a devastating knee injury, Cotten took the mat by storm, earning a pinfall victory in his first two collegiate matches in blue and white pinning Jacob Macalolooy of Columbia and Joel Shump of Ohio. He also should have pinned his opponent from #1 ranked Missouri, but the ref said Cotten pinned himself and we got one of the greatest pictures of John Stutzman of all-time as a result.
Cotten followed Stutzman to UB from Bloomsburg where he finished his freshman season 20-9 wrestling at both 149 and 141 pounds. He'll stick at 149 pounds this season after defeating prize recruit Tommy Forte 3-0 in the Blue and White match. After a full offseason to recover and train, Cotten has the 149 pound starting spot locked down and I fully expect him to compete for a MAC Championship this season, but he's going to have some very stiff competition along the way. There are five grapplers ranked in the top-20 of Intermat's individual rankings for the 149 pound weight class: #5 Alexander Richardson of Old Dominion, #8 Joey Lavallee of Missouri, #9 Tywan Claxton of Ohio, #13 Colin Heffernan of CMU, and #16 Michael DePalma of Kent State.
New Faces: Tommy Forte, Fr., Mishawaka, IN
One of the prize recruits of this year's class, Forte is a two-time Indiana state champion, and four-time placewinner. He was a top-100 recruit and was ranked inside the top 10 of the 152 pound weight class. Forte is also a freestyle All-American and placed fourth at the Super 32 tournament, the toughest prep tournament in the nation. It'll be tough, but it looks like Forte may redshirt this season. He's just so good that it's tough to keep him out of the primary lineup, but another year to get acclimated to the college environment will only make him better. I could see him flexing up to the starting spot at 157 pounds if need be, seeing as he wrestled 152 in high school, but that will only be in case of an emergency due to injuries.
Projected Starter: Tim Schaefer, R-So., Warsaw, NY (Clarion)
After it was announced that presumed starter Alex Smythe was out recovering from a broken jaw, the 157 pound starting spot was wide open for the taking. Schaefer transferred in this offseason from Clarion and has shed some weight to compete for the spot at 157 rather than get through the logjam at 165. Schaefer is a bit of a wild card that I don't know too much about, but he won 261 matches in high school, was a five-time NYS placewinner, and was a NYS freestyle state champion. Schaefer's biggest competition in the MAC will be #2 Ian Miller of Kent State, who will likely be vying for a national championship this season.
Other Names to Keep an Eye On: James Devine III, So., East Greenbush, NY; Alex Smythe, So., Eden, NY
As I said above, Smythe was the presumed starter heading into the season, but because of the jaw injury he'll be out of action for a while. According to Coach Stutzman, Smythe was making great strides in the offseason and looked to improve upon his 12-13 record from his freshman season. Devine is a walk-on who wrestled at Columbia High School just outside of Albany; he was a two-time Section II finalist and that's all I can really find on him, he was defeated by Schaefer 7-3 in the Blue and White match.
UPDATE: Devine has transferred in from Brockport, where he was 21-15 as a freshman. Thanks to Mark Hall on Twitter for the correction.
New Faces: Adrian Ferrerie, Fr., Bronx, NY
Ferrerie comes to UB from the Mt. St. Michael Academy where he was a two-time NYS qualifer and placed fourth his senior year. Fererrie will likely redshirt this season and will compete in open tournaments.
We should have John's preview for the remaining weight classes up tomorrow in advance of the Terrapin Duals on Sunday