Hunter College, a New York City Division III wrestling program, takes to the mat for the 2009-2010 season under the leadership of interim head coach, Mike Simon. After thirty continuous seasons, Bob Gaudenzi will take a temporary leave from his head coaching duties. For Simon, the head coaching role is the realization of a dream that was first planted when he began wrestling in the 8th grade at Warwick Rhode Island.
Simon was appointed to lead a program rich in tradition. Over Gaudenzi’s reign, Hunter College has crowned 19 All-Americans and the first ever NYC Div. III National Champion, Terry Madden, in 2007. Coach Gaudenzi aimed to build a program that was more than about wins and losses. “I always wanted to provide a great experience like my college coach (Charlie Brown) at Hunter did for me. It was competitive, but we made many lasting friendships, men whom I remain friends with to this day,” said Gaudenzi. What Gaudenzi found most rewarding was helping young men, needing direction, to focus and find their way. It’s a value shared by Simon. “I like to help other people. I get more reward from that than I do from the paychecks, the accolades, or the stack of ribbons from the Marine Corps.”
Simon finds himself at this personal milestone after what can only be described as a circuitous path. He wrestled at Warwick High School in Rhode Island where he was 3-times city champion, and 3rd in state at 189 in his senior year. Lonnie Morris, head coach at Johnson and Wales University, coached Warwick High. The team was one of the top teams in the state and possibly one of the top 5 teams in all of New England. Simon’s senior year, Warwick defeated 15 year perennial state champion Coventry High School in a dual meet, but Coventry avenged their former loss by narrowly edging Warwick by 2 points to take the state championship.
After High School, Mike was searching for his passion. He attended junior college for a year in Rhode Island, another year at a junior college in Florida, and then, he planned to attend Rhode Island College and wrestle, but he passed it up to join the Marine Corps. Perhaps it was a way for him to find a connection with his father, also a Marine, who passed away when he was three. The Marine’s offered the blend of discipline and camaraderie that he was only able to find in the wrestling room.
In the Marines, he was stationed at the American Embassy in Paris just prior to the Iraqi invasion. France was one of the staunchest adversaries of the war with Iraq. He spent some time in the Egyptian embassy before going to Burundi: a small nation situated south of Rwanda, East of Congo, and West of Tanzania, where only a few years earlier the American Embassies were simultaneously blown up in Kenya and Tanzania. “The conflict and poverty gave extraordinary perspective to how lucky we are,” said Simon.
In 2001, while stationed in Japan, he wrestled at Camp Hansen in Okinawa. Wrestling remained in his blood. Actually, he inherited it. His grandfather wrestled for the Greek American Club and competed at NYAC from 1929-1935. He was twice the metropolitan runner up at 118lbs and was team captain. Two years ago, his grandfather was honored at the Cornell vs. Lehigh match held at NYAC.
While in the Marines, Simon attended college in a distance learning program offered by Maryland University. Preparing to return to civilian life, he contacted Gaudenzi about attending Hunter College and wrestling. With only one year of eligibility remaining, Simon wrestled for Hunter and understandably took some lumps after being away for so long. Admiring Simon’s leadership, his coach named him team captain. “We had a room full of guys who worked hard and set lofty goals; I felt lucky to compete with these guys. I knew something about conditioning and discipline from my experience in the Marines, and they knew about wrestling. I think it was a good fit,” said Simon.
After graduation, Simon became involved in Beat the Streets where he took the head coaching job of the middle school program. Two years later, he and Terry Madden started the high school program at Hunter College. “It was a pleasure. If you were lucky enough to teach wrestling and had the time, I haven’t found anything that is more rewarding than that yet,” said Simon.
And now Simon has the pleasure to lead the Hawks for the 2009-2010 season. He is aided by assistant coach Ryan Cooley. The Hawks are the best kept secret in Div. III wrestling. Hunter College offers a unique blend of city life, situated in the heart of Manhattan yet just a few blocks from Central Park. Ranked the nation’s number 8 “Best Value” public college in 2009 by the Princeton Review, the school has unparalleled internship opportunities and a competitive Div III wrestling program. Hunter wrestling participates in the competitive New York State Championships and the Bud Whitehill Duals.
This season the Hawks will showcase many of the New York State’s former stars and hometown favorites. All but two wrestlers on the roster cut their teeth in New York. Former New York high school wrestlers Eduardo Delgado, Jimmy Mustakis, Sean Messina, Vitaly Simkin, Matt Cartusciello, Emman Sarwari, RJ Koltz, and Dan Hydebrand are expected to break the starting line-up.
Simon plans to ply the lessons in leadership and discipline learned in the Marine Corps to guide the Hawks wrestling team. “Too often guys fall short because they don’t have the leadership. That’s what I learned in the Marine Corps. In the Marine Corps, leadership, discipline, and work ethic are the foundation. That’s the synergy with wrestling,” said Simon. And when asked what leadership is Simon responded, “It’s a lack of ego, mixed with a little bit of aptitude and caring. It sounds cheesy but it really is. If you don’t care you can’t be a leader because guys won’t follow you.”
Too often we measure success in wrestling by the number of national champions, All-Americans, and team titles produced by a program or individual. “If the only guys who are successful in wrestling are the national champions then there would be a whole lot of failures,” said Simon. For Simon success is personal. It’s about surmounting obstacles, building character, growing in the classroom and on the mat, nurturing lasting relationships between teammates and coaches, and finally graduating, prepared for life’s next challenges. Success, by any measure, requires discipline, passion, and caring. These are the values the military instills on its ranks. Hawk fans can expect Simon to bring a heavy dose of passion mixed with equal doses of caring and discipline to continue and grow the tradition that Coach Gaudenzi built.
Editors Note: The Hunter wrestling team opened up its season on November 1st with a difficult loss to the #18 ranked Wilkes University. Eduardo Delgado recorded the only win for the Hawks with an 8-3 victory over James Histed. Over the weekend of November 7th and 8th, the Hawks participated in the Ithica Invitational where they finished 7th in the team standings. Sean Messina took 4th, defeating the 1st and 2nd seeds along the way. Eduardo Delgado took 5th. RJ Klotz and Emman Sawari both took 6th.
Hawk’s Preview of this Season’s Likely Lineup
125 – Greg Pollock, a sophomore out of Milburn, NJ, had solid wins last season over Anthony Lebbad of Ithaca and Ethan Cohen, AA from Williams. Looking to break into the lineup is Ariel Guerrero, a Freshman out MacArthur.
133 – Jimmy Mustakis, a sophomore out of East Meadow, transferred to Hunter late last season. In Jimmy’s last match of the season he defeated nationally ranked Joe Widrick (Cortland) by a score of 12-10. Jimmy is moving down a weight class from last season.
141 – Sean Messina, a sophomore out of West Islip, had an outstanding year as a freshman and will move up a weight class this season. He was nationally ranked during the season, and he placed 4th in the Metropolitan Conference Championships.
149 – Vitaly Simkin, a senior out of PSAL in Brooklyn, has been working all off season to prepare for a successful season in 2010.
157 – Eduardo Delgado, a junior out Long Beach, transferred from NJCAA National Champions Nassau CC. Last year he placed 4th in the Penn State Open, 2nd in the New York State Intercollegiate Championships, and was a JUCO All-American (4th).
165 – Matt Cartusciello, a sophomore out of Petrides (PSAL), was a Cadet All-American in high school and is a tenacious rider from the top position. Cartusciello has worked on his lower body offensive attacks which will add to his tremendous throwing ability.
174 – Emman Sarwari, a junior out of Longwood, was a section runner-up to Alton Lucas in 2005. He transferred from Suffolk CC.
184 – The Hawks will move up someone to fill the void at this weight class until next semester when R.J. Klotz will make the drop.
197 – R.J. Klotz, a junior out of Ardsley, NY, is returning after a year layoff from injury.
285 – Dan Hydebrand, a senior out of Leadership (PSAL), will have the opportunity to start this season after competing in the shadow of Hawk All-American, Arkadly, Levitan.
A very talented group of freshman and transfers will add to a solid core of returnees. The Hawks will be strongest in the lower and middleweight classes. The loss of National Qualifier Brian Scher, Arkadiy Levitan and graduating seniors Evan Velez and Bill Calavacca will leave gaps that must be filled for the Hawks to be successful. New Head Coach Mike Simon and Assistant Coach Ryan Cooley will bring this team along improving throughout the season. Three possible mid-year transfers will give the Hawks more depth in 197 lbs., 141 lbs., and 149 lb. weight classes. A tough schedule will challenge the Hawks once again. However, high expectations are evident for a team that is still “flying under the radar.”