CAA Tournament Preview (UPDATED W/RESULTS)

This weekend, Hofstra University will be looking to add their ninth consecutive conference tournament championship to the trophy case.  However, unlike the previous eight seasons where the Pride entered the tournament as the favorites, 2009 marks a new role for Coach Tom Shifflet’s team, that of underdog.

Much of this shakeup at the top can be attributed to the emergence of Old Dominion University.  Under the leadership of Coach Steve Martin, the Monarchs have assembled some of the deepest recruiting classes over the course of the last two or three seasons.  And, all of a sudden, the efforts off of the mat are starting to pay significant dividends on it, as more than half of the Monarch starters found themselves seeded either #1 or #2 when the official tournament brackets were released late last night.

Having already snapped the Pride’s consecutive conference dual winning streak (formerly the longest in the nation) earlier in the season, the Monarchs would like nothing better than to be able to complete the sweep by becoming the first school not named Hofstra to hoist the CAA title at the end of competition on Saturday evening.

Equally important, as the team race, is the fierce individual battle as wrestlers from eight institutions of higher learning will assemble at Oscar Smith High School (Chesapeake, VA) today to begin a journey that hopefully ends with an automatic birth to the NCAA National tournament in St. Louis, Missouri.   Under the new qualification system, the Colonial Athletic Association is guaranteed 20 automatic qualifiers (125/2; 133/1; 141/1; 149/1; 157/2; 165/2; 174/4; 184/2; 197/4; 285/1). 

Action starts today at 11am and will conclude with tomorrow’s finals beginning at 1pm.

125 pounds

While it is never wise to count anyone out, on paper, this figures to be a two man battle between the host school’s James Nicholson and Hofstra’s true freshman phenom, Steve Bonanno.   A returning All-American from last season, Nicholson has been every bit as remarkable in 2009.  Compiling an overall record of 32-2, the Monarchs RS sophomore currently finds himself ranked sixth in the nation.  He is a returning conference champion and will be incredibly difficult to beat….Bonanno, who I have described in past previews as the biggest and most welcomed surprise for the Pride this season, will enter Smith HS with an overall record of 26-12.  He too finds himself listed among the nation’s best, falling in the range of 20-25 depending on the publication you subscribe to….In their only head-to-head match-up of the season, Nicholson was a 5-2 winner.  However, those people who saw the match said that had Bonanno opened up a little more in the first two periods, the match could very well have had a different outcome.

Top-4 (Overall Record; CAA Dual Record; Conference Rank/Highest National Rank)
(1) James Nicholson (Old Dominion): 32-2; 5-0 in CAA; Ranked: #1 in CAA/#6 in Nation
(2) Steve Bonanno (Hofstra): 26-12; 5-1 in CAA; Ranked #2 in CAA/#20 in Nation
(3) Brian Wright (George Mason): 16-11; 5-1 in CAA; Ranked #3 in CAA/NR Nationally
(4) Tyler Malmberg (Binghamton): 13-12; 3-1 in CAA; Ranked #4 in CAA/NR Nationally

1st: Nicholson (ODU) Dec Bonanno (HU), 7-3

3rd: Wright (GMU) MD Malmberg (BING), 19-6 


133 pounds

Another weight class that is expected to be controlled by wrestlers from the two perennial favorites.  For Hofstra, it will be two-time CAA Champion, Lou Ruggirello, looking to add his third title to an already impressive collegiate resume.  Old Dominion will counter with two-time CAA runner-up, Kyle Hutter.  In 2007, Hutter ran into the Pride’s Dave Tomasette in the 125-pound finals.  Last season, the junior from Illinois took Ruggirello down to the wire in their 133-pound title match.  Unfortunately for Hutter, in several career meetings, he has yet to get the better of Ruggirello.  In fact, when they met earlier in the year as a part of the CAA duals, it was Ruggirello earning a fall over the ODU junior.  Luckily for Monarch fans, if one thing is apparent, it is that Hutter is a gamer who does his best wrestling in the month of March.  Therefore, throw out all previous meetings.  As is the case every time a Monarch faces a Pride in a CAA title bout, expect this one to go the full seven minutes and be filled with fireworks.   If the underdog Pride have any hopes of retaining the hardware, it may prove important to claim the title at this weight.  Every point is going to count dearly.

Top-4 (Overall Record; CAA Dual Record; Conference Rank/Highest National Rank)
(1) Lou Ruggirello (Hofstra): 25-3; 6-0 in CAA; Ranked #1 in CAA/#8 in Nation
(2) Kyle Hutter (Old Dominion): 20-11; 4-1 in CAA; Ranked #2 in CAA/#21 in Nation
(3) Denny Herndon (George Mason): 18-11; 4-2 in CAA; Ranked #3 in CAA/NR Nationally
(4) Jimmy Kirchner (Rider): 10-10; 3-4 in CAA; Ranked #4 in CAA/NR Nationally

1st: Ruggirello (HU) Pinned Hutter (ODU) 4:35

3rd: Kirchner (Rider) Pinned Cimato (Drex) 4:21

True 2nd: Hutter (ODU) Pinned Kirchner (Rider) 0:25


141 pounds

Last Season, ODU’s Ryan William shocked the CAA world, upsetting then top-5 wrestler, Charles Griffin in the finals of the CAA tournament.  The loss was the only one suffered in four years of conference play for the former 2x All-American from Reading, PA.  This season, it will be Williams’s turn to sit in the favorite’s seat as seven other wrestlers look to bring him down from his throne.  The only nationally ranked wrestler in the field, Williams is considered a near lock to make the finals.  Who his opponent will be, remains a mystery….For the third consecutive weight class, wrestlers from ODU and HU find themselves sitting in the 1 and 2 spots in the bracket.   However, unlike the previous weight classes, I do not feel that 141 is an automatic match-up of the top two seeds.  Sacred Heart’s Chris Davis is extremely dangerous, as evident by his early season upset of Mike Grey.  If Accordino takes him too lightly in their expected semifinal match-up, the RS freshman from Wilkes-Barre may find himself on the wrong end of a decision….If there is one thing that we have learned this season, it is that Accordino is dangerous from the second that he steps onto the mat.  A master of the cement mixer, Accordino may be able to add valuable bonus points for the Pride.

Top-4 (Overall Record; CAA Dual Record; Conference Rank/Highest National Rank)
(1) Ryan Williams (Old Dominion): 32-3; 5-0 in CAA; Ranked #1 in CAA/#7 in Nation
(2) Justin Accordino (Hofstra): 20-10; 5-1 in CAA; Ranked #2 in CAA/NR Nationally
(3) Chris Davis (Sacred Heart): 22-8; 5-1 in CAA; Ranked #3 in CAA/NR Nationally
(4) Anwar Goerres (Binghamton): 17-17; 4-1 in CAA; Ranked #4 in CAA/NR Nationally

1st: Williams (ODU) Pinned Accordino (HU) 1:50

3rd: Goeres (BING) Dec Davis (SHU), 10-8 

True 2nd: Accordino (HU) MD Goeres (BING), 16-2


149 pounds

Despite bolstering 2007 conference champion (finalist in 2008), Mike Roberts (Boston University), I consider 149 to be one of the most open weight classes in the tournament.  While Roberts, who defeated former National Champion Dustin Schlatter last season, is rightfully the top seed, I do think that he will be challenged….Having already dropped a decision to #6 seed, P.J. Gillespie from Hofstra, Roberts must assert himself from the opening whistle, using what should be a decent strength advantage over his opponents to dictate where the match takes place.  As long as Roberts remains offensive minded, I think he should advance to the finals.   However, should the Terrier senior fall into a comfort zone and allow his matches to remain close on the scoreboard, it would not surprise me to see him drop a one or two point decision by either Matt Kaylor or Aaron Nester, one of whom he will see in the semifinal round….On the other side of the bracket, it is almost too close to call.  All of the wrestlers are within a point or two of each other.  Whenever a group of athletes are that close in comparison, upsets will and do occur.  If the Pride’s Gillespie is able to rebound from an early season loss to Sacred Heart’s Anthony Priore, look for him to avenge another of his conference dual losses against ODU’s Joey Metzler….Should Gillespie succeed in making the finals and knocking the second seeded Metzler into the consolation bracket, he will have done his job and more towards helping the Pride retain the conference title.

Top-4 (Overall Record; CAA Dual Record; Conference Rank/Highest National Rank)
(1) Mike Roberts (Boston University): 26-9; 4-1 in CAA; Ranked #1 in CAA/#19 in Nation
(2) Joey Metzler (Old Dominion): 14-18; 4-0 in CAA; Ranked #2 in CAA/NR Nationally
(3) Anthony Priore (Sacred Heart): 17-12; 5-1 in CAA; Ranked #3 in CAA/NR Nationally
(4) Matt Kaylor (Binghamton): 24-18; 2-3 in CAA; Ranked #4 in CAA/NR Nationally

1st: Gillespie (HU) Dec Roberts (Boston U), 3-2 TB

3rd: Metzler (ODU) Dec Kaylor (BING), 9-6

True 2nd: Roberts (Boston U) Dec Metzler (ODU), 6-1


157 pounds

It’s been a while since a non-Hofstra wrestler won this weight class.  Last season, it was Jon Bonilla-Bowman, rallying late in the third period to defeat returning All-American, Ryan Hluschak from Drexel to keep the streak in tact.  Before JBB, 2007 All-American, James Strouse claimed the title for three consecutive years.  What it all boils down to, is that in order to win 157, the opposition is likely going to have to go through an HU wrestler.  2009 will be no different as Bonilla-Bowman finds himself as the top seed.  Already owning wins over all of the other conference ranked wrestlers, JBB appears to positioned well to make his third straight appearance in a conference finals (As a freshman, he was an ACC Champion for Virginia Tech).  The real question, is who will he have to beat to advance and hopefully win his crown?  On his side of the bracket, it is going to be a down to the wire contest between ODU’s Kaylen Baxter and Binghamton’s Nate Patterson.   Patterson does own a win over JBB last season.  Therefore, if you are a Pride enthusiast, you may prefer to see Baxter emerge out of that quarterfinal match….After sitting out last season, Rider’s Mike Kessler is back and is hungry to claim the CAA title that eluded him in 2007.  Another wrestler who could prove dangerous coming out of the bottom half of the bracket is Billy Haydt from Drexel.  Nicknamed the concrete kid for a reason, I watched two years ago as Haydt cement mixed the Pride’s Mike Patrovich to his back.  Patrovich would eventually recover and get to his belly, but the big move potential of Haydt remained with me.   If Haydt gets on a roll with his cement mixers, ala Rob Rohn, he could most definitely sneak into the finals.

Top-4 (Overall Record; CAA Dual Record; Conference Rank/Highest National Rank)
(1) Jon Bonilla-Bowman (Hofstra): 18-7; 6-0 in CAA; Ranked #1 in CAA/#16 in Nation
(2) Mike Kessler (Rider): 22-10; 6-1 in CAA; Ranked #2 in CAA/#25 in Nation
(3) Frankie McLaughlin (George Mason): 23-9; 4-2 in CAA; Ranked #3 in CAA/NR Nationally
(4) Kaylen Baxter (Old Dominion): 11-18; 3-2 in CAA; Ranked #4 in CAA/NR Nationally

1st: Bonilla-Bowman (HU) Dec Kessler (Rider), 9-4

3rd: Patterson (BING) Dec McLaughlin (GMU), 6-0

True 2nd: Kessler (Rider) MD Patterson (BING), 13-0

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