Year two in the Stutzman era for UB Wrestling didn't go quite as smoothly as some would have hoped, but, with a lineup consisting mainly of true freshmen and sophomores, we knew going in that there were going to be some bumps on the road ahead.
Editor's Note: I'll be linking pieces that I've written over the course of the season throughout this post, so feel free to click on any words or phrases highlighted blue to take you to the relevant article.
Even though the season ended just a few short weeks ago, the Bulls' season actually ended before it even began when the NCAA came down on the program for APR violations that took place under the old regime of Coach Jim Beichner. The violations resulted in a one-year postseason ban for the Bulls, meaning they could not compete in the MAC tournament nor the NCAA tournament for this season. It proved to be quite a damper on an otherwise excellent offseason for Stutzman and co., who had pulled in the 18th-ranked recruiting class in the nation, including a couple top-100 recruits.
So, APR ban aside, this was a building year for the Bulls from the start, but that didn't mean that they were going to roll over to their opponents. This much was certain even after the Bulls left their first weekend of competition with a 3-1 record, matching their win total from the previous year. The 3-1 record included a 20-18 victory over Appalachian State, which I consider to be a mild upset, a match that also included senior Max Soria upsetting nationally ranked Dominic Parisi.
Then the Bulls went to Brockport for the annual Oklahoma Gold Invitational where 10 Bulls placed, led by Max Soria's individual championship at 125 pounds en route to a 5th place team finish. Two weeks later, the Bulls trekked to Ithaca to take part in the New York Collegiate Championships where the Bulls placed 4th out of the 27 teams from across the state led by Max Soria's individual championship and Jason Estevez, Wally Maziarz and Joe Ariola's runner-up finishes in the "A" bracket, with individual championships from Jake Gunning and James Benjamin in the "B' bracket. The four finalists for the Bulls was the most since the 2012 season when three grapplers made the finals.
The Bulls then went 1-2 at the Northeast Duals, downing Sacred Heart and losing to nationally-ranked Wyoming and Rutgers, before starting the MAC slate with a home dual against the Kent State, falling 30-10 to the then #25 ranked Golden Flashes. The Bulls would then lose to Central Michigan 21-10 before heading to the prestigious Southern Scuffle Tournament on New Year's.
The Scuffle is considered to be the toughest tournament outside of the NCAA tournament, and UB wrestlers faced competition from some of the top teams in the nation, including Penn State, Oklahoma State, Cornell, and Nebraska, among others. No Bulls placed, and Jason Estevez won the most matches: winning two of his bouts, before being injured in his final bout.
Through the rest of January, the Bulls went 1-5, with their lone win coming against Dakota Wesleyan, but, towards the end of January, Colt Cotten entered the lineup for the very first time after suffering a severe knee injury in the offseason.
Then, the month of February gave us one of the most memorable moments in recent memory for UB Wrestling. In the match against Missouri, Colt Cotten appeared to have had pinned his man, quite a feat against an opponent from the then-#2 team in the nation, but, the referee thought otherwise. The referee said Cotten pinned himself, and the crowed (including myself) rained boos down in disgust, and John Stutzman's reaction was priceless.
That is the look of a man you do NOT want to make angry. Stutzman has an imposing voice when barking orders at his wrestlers, but his face is one of a man that you don't mess with.
The Bulls would then finish out the season with three more losses, resulting in a 5-14 overall record. The record isn't great, sure but there are several positives that I want to highlight before wrapping things up with the individual records and statistics:
Youth was a problem this year, but experience gained was key: Where the Bulls struggled mightily was their youth in the starting lineup; with all but two members being underclassmen, the Bulls were outclassed experience wise by nearly all of their opponents. But, its not necessarily a bad thing; the majority of the starters from this year will be around for 3 more years and have a wealth of experience and knowledge as they get older and progress through their careers and struggling through a year like this only give valuable experience that will help the team develop down the line.
The roster is loaded with young studs: Sean Peacock had a killer freshman season finishing second on the team with 19 wins, Jason Estevez had 12 wins in an injury-shortened season, and finally, Colt Cotten had four very impressive wins and a near upset of a top 10 opponent. All three of these guys will be the core going forward, and they'll be contending for MAC titles before you know it.
The redshirts did pretty well too: Wrestling is an odd sport where redshirts are still allowed to compete in open tournaments, so the guys that redshirted this year got some valuable experience even though they didn't wrestle in any dual meets. Leading the way was Jake Gunning at 285 pounds, who amassed an impressive 28 wins in open competition; seriously, keep your eye on this kid next year, he will be contending for starting time. Also, Brandon Lapi racked up 25 wins, Bryan Lantry 26, and Jake Weber 20 to round out the 20+ win grapplers that redhsirted.
A second straight year with increased win total: In each of his two seasons Stutzman has improved upon the program win total from the prior year. He won 3 matches his first year, improving upon the 1 match that Beichner won in his final year, and he upped that total to 5 this past year.
Updated Season Records:
|Max Soria (125)||21-8|
|Sean Peacock (133)||19-13|
|Colt Cotten (141)||4-3|
|Jason Estevez (149)||12-8|
|Ryan Kromer (157)||9-13|
|Rrok Ndokaj (165)||8-17|
|Wally Maziarz (174)||6-17|
|Joe Ariola (184)||14-11|
|James Benjamin (197)||10-14|
|Mike Silvis (HWT)||6-14|
Final Thoughts and Looking Ahead:
As the title of the article would suggest - this season was a trial by fire for the majority of the roster; it was routinely true freshmen taking on juniors and seniors in one of the toughest wrestling conferences in the nation. But we're returning all but two grapplers, and the two that are most likely replacing Max Soria and Wally Maziarz are Kyle Akins and Tommy Forte are former top 100 recruits. The late season resurgence of Joe Ariola at 184 pounds is a great sign for the future as he dominated the competition. The Bulls will also return Tyler Rill at 174 pounds, who was the starter at the beginning of the season but was lost to injury early. The Rill injury and the Tony Lock injury created instability in the upper weights that hampered some of the Bulls' stronger efforts.
Also, keep an eye out for Jake Gunning; he dominated the open circuit this year and will participate the USA Wrestling World Cup Training Camp and train with some of the top wrestlers in the world - and hopefully translate those experiences to the mat next season.
Keep an eye on this team moving forward - they're going places, and that starts next season. I hope to see many of you in Alumni Arena to watch the Bulls take to the mat.