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Buffalo Bulls Wrestling Season Preview Part 2: Rill to Gunning

UB Athletics

Yesterday, I went through the lightweights into the start of the middleweights of this year's UB Wrestling team in advance of their season opening trip to B1G foe Maryland for the Terrapin Duals on Sunday. If you missed yesterday's post check out the "Must Reads" link below and give it a read.

The heavier weights, more specifically 174-285, were last season a point of weakness for the Bulls, but with key contributors returning from injury and with key additions through recruiting these weights look much improved from a year ago.

165 Pounds
Projected Starter: Tyler Rill, R-Jr., Hampstead, MD (Bloomsburg)

Besides the logjam at 141 that I mentioned yesterday, the other big logjam of talent is at 165 pounds. With incumbent starter Rrok Ndokaj, junior Tyler Rill (who dropped down) redshirt-freshman Derek Holcomb, and junior Ryan Therrien all vying for time, it's a competitive group, but it seems like Rill is the front-runner for the job.

After starting last season as the starter at 174 pounds and winning his first two matches by pinfall, Rill's promising season was cut short by injury. Now, the former Maryland state champion is healthy and down to 165 where he defeated Ryan Therrien 17-5 and Derek Holcomb 5-3 in the Blue and White match to secure the starting spot.

Rill is a talented wrestler and will look to contribute in the middle of the lineup and give UB a solid boost as they move to the heavier weights. If Rill performs up to expectations and remains healthy for the year, he has a very good chance of qualifying for the NCAA tournament. The MAC is especially weak at 165 this coming season, and no MAC wrestler is ranked in the top-20 by Intermat. So, the door is open for drastic improvement at this weight, with solid depth all-around and with it being one of the weaker weights in the MAC.

Other Names to Keep an Eye On: Derek Holcomb, R-Fr., Newark Valley, NY; Rrok Ndokaj, R-Jr., Staten Island, NY; Ryan Therrien, R-Jr., Boxford, MA

The biggest name on this list is Ndokaj, who was okay as the team's starter last season at 165, compiling an 8-17 record and even beating a B1G opponent in Ethan Orr of Rutgers. Ndokaj has shown flashes of being a great wrestler, as shown during his first two MAC wins against Kent and CMU but he needs to be more consistent on the mat. He'll be the primary competitor with Rill for mat time this season. Meanwhile, Holcomb comes off a redshirt campaign where he was a solid 15-10 in open competition. He's an intriguing name but with a more veteran presence in front of him it'll be tough to get mat time this year barring injuries. Next is Therrien who went 14-17 last season and flew under the radar; his season highlights include an 8th place finish in the "A" bracket of the NYS Collegiate Championships. He'll be another veteran presence that Coach Stutzman can rely on. In addition to the names I mentioned above: Tim Schaefer, Muhamed McBryde, and Ryan Kromer can all flex to 165 from their respective weight classes if needed.

174 Pounds
Projected Starter: Muhamed McBryde, Sr., Buffalo, NY

If you don't already know of this young man's incredible story, then I suggest you read up on it. To cut it short: after graduating high school, and then from ECC at age 16(!), McBryde came to UB and walked on to the wrestling team. However, because of his Muslim faith he was required to have a beard and NCAA rules state that wrestlers need to be clean shaven (a pretty stupid rule; in international competition wrestlers can have facial hair). After a long battle the NCAA McBryde was granted a waiver and could wrestle so long as he wore a facemask to cover the beard.

Last season he collected a 7-14 overall record in his first full season on the mat, Coach Stutzman has praised his work throughout the summer, and he will be an interesting name to watch because he's so young, yet he's a senior. For now he seems to have the starting spot locked down after defeating Austin Weigel 3-1 in the Blue and White match. In the MAC, McBryde will have to deal with #5 Cody Walters of Ohio, #7 Blaise Butler of Missouri and #9 Mike Ottinger of CMU.

Other Names to Keep an Eye On: Austin Weigel, R-So., Woodstock, NY; Ryan Kromer, R-Fr., Youngstown, NY

Austin Weigel will be McBryde's main competition for the starting job as both have starting experience. Weigel broke into the starting lineup last season for UB, collecting a 17-14 record at 174 pounds while Kromer finished 9-14 last year and will likely redshirt this season. Both guys are young and should bring some good competition for time into the wrestling room.

184 Pounds
Projected Starter: Joe Ariola, R-So., Oak Park, IL

Another former top-100 recruit in Stutzman's lineup, Ariola will be looking to take a big step forward this season and compete for a MAC Championship. Last season, Ariola competed at 197 pounds for most of the season, and was a finalist at the NYS Collegiate Championships, but then hit a slump once MAC play started. Then, he dropped down to 184 pounds, a more natural weight for him, and used his strength to manhandle his opponents and finish with a 14-11 record. This season Ariola will be at 184 from the start and I fully expect him to make nationals. In his way in the MAC are #7 Jack Dechow, #8 Willie Miklus, and #20 Andrew Romanchik.

Other Names to Keep an Eye On: Brett Perry, So., East Fishkill, NY

Perry was pushed into the starting role last season after an early season injury to starter Tony Lock. Perry performed admirably and collected a 12-13 record and won a key match in the win over Appalachian State. He'll be pushing Ariola hard for mat time, but I think at this juncture, Ariola is more experienced and ready to compete for a championship. Ariola did defeat Perry 8-2 at the Blue and White match.

New Faces: Keegan Harris, Fr., Pittsburgh, PA

With Ariola and Perry in front of him it's likely that Harris will be redshirting this season to prep him for the future.

197 Pounds
Projected Starter: James Benjamin, Jr., Vestal, NY

Benjamin has been a member of the starting lineup since pressed into action his freshman season at 285 pounds. His freshman year doesn't look too pretty on paper but he shouldn't have been wrestling 285. Luckily, last season he dropped to his more natural weight of 197 and it paid off. He collected a 10-14 record, claimed the NYS Championship in the "B" bracket, and held his own against nationally ranked Anthony Abro of EMU, and at the time #1 J'Den Cox of Missouri. This season "Gumby" - as many in the program call Benjamin due to his unorthodox and free flowing style of wrestling - looks to keep the reins at 197 and take another step forward this season. He'll have some stiff competition in the MAC with the above-mentioned Abro and Cox, but his biggest competitor will be freshman stud Nate Rose nipping at his heels. Benjamin did defeat Rose in the Blue and White match last week by a score of 4-2.

Other Names to Keep an Eye On: Mike Silvis, R-So., Holley, NY

Silvis earned a spot in the lineup last season at 285, but has moved down to a more natural weight of 197 to have a better size advantage while opening up a spot for one of UB's most promising names, who I'll get to later. Silvis was 6-14 last season after being called-upon as a true freshman.

New Faces: Nate Rose, Fr., Bronx, NY

A two-time NYS champion, an international competitor for his native Trinidad and Tobago in the World Championships (which are a step under the Olympics, mind you) and a multi-time All-American while in high school. Rose has the pedigree and background to be one of the best to ever step on the mat for UB, though it seems like we'll have to wait a year to see his career take off. It was announced that Rose was among a contingent of UB wrestlers heading to the Clarion Open and Coach Stutzman had been mulling it but it seems like Rose will redshirt this season.

However, Stutzman has said he may not decide until the Midlands which happens at the end of the calendar year, so we could very well see Rose on the mat once #MACtion starts.

285 Pounds
Projected Starter: Jake Gunning, R-Fr., Bethlehem, PA

A former prep All-American and Super 32 placewinner from the wrestling hotbed in America, Gunning is the most exciting name moving into the starting lineup this year. He finished his redshirt freshman campaign with an impressive 28-8 record, which would have been #1 on the team were he not competing in open tournaments. Gunning brings everything you want in a heavyweight, and there's no doubt in my mind that this kid is going to succeed when he hits the mat. He's that good. When MAC play hits he'll have to deal with #3 Blaize Cabell, but other than that the MAC is wide open and a spot in the national tournament is very likely.

Other Names to Keep an Eye On: Ian James, So., Rochester, NY

James was forced into the lineup at times last season and performed admirably as a true freshman, finishing the season with a 5-13 overall record. He'll provide quality depth behind Gunning this season.

New Faces: Nolan Terrance, Fr., Massena, NY

The 2015 NYS Champion at 285 pounds, Terrance won the title in dramatic fashion, capping off a stellar career at Massena Central. He'll be redshirting this season with Gunning and James ahead of him on the depth chart to allow him to develop more.

Predictions

Here are a few bold, and not-so bold predictions for this upcoming season:

Akins, Estevez/Peacock, Cotten, Rill, Ariola, Gunning all qualify for nationals: Six national qualifiers would be the most that UB has had since the record breaking 2010-2011 season when UB also sent six grapplers to the big dance.

One of the above will be an All-American: A bit of a bold one here but: one of the guys I listed above will be UB's second Division I All-American, the first since Kyle Cerminara in 2006.

Coach Stutzman will get his first MAC Win: It's been a long time coming but Stutzman is due to break out this season with the squad that he's built.