Coaches around the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) circled 2010 on their calendar as the year Hofstra’s eight-year run as conference champions could be ending. Barring a monster tournament by the Pride, this will be the year the championship trophy goes somewhere other than Hempstead, N.Y.
But which university snatches up that team championship is still in doubt. Three teams have legitimate shots at winning the conference tournament: Old Dominion, Binghamton, and Rider. The tournament will be held on Rider’s campus in Lawrenceville, N.J., March 5-6
Rider was upended by Old Dominion as the second-best team in the conference a few years ago, but Gary Taylor’s Broncs have a strong tournament team within the eight-team conference. Old Dominion, starting five freshmen, was penciled in as the preseason conference favorite, but upstart Binghamton will also make a strong push.
George Mason was the last team to win the CAA before a merger with the remnants of the ECWA back in 2001.
On paper, it appears to be a very close team race. ODU won the regular season, going 4-0-1 in conference duals, followed by Rider (6-1) and Binghamton (4-1-2). Binghamton tied Old Dominion 17-17 at the CAA Duals in January.
With only 18 automatic bids to the NCAA championships this season, the conference hasn’t had the strongest of years.
Two-time CAA Champion James Nicholson of Old Dominion is the heavy favorite. With the qualifier allocations coming out last week, the conference earned what many felt was a surprise qualifier, as Sacred Heart’s Pat Feeley met two of the three gold standard thresholds. So the champion and the runner-up will get the bids here, but after Nicholson, there’s a large gap between the remainder of the conference. The top candidates behind Nicholson are Boston U.’s Freddy Santaite, Feeley and George Mason’s Brian Wright. Hofstra’s Steve Bonanno has been out with an injury all season, so Jaime Franco’s gotten the call. Nicholson is 27-1, Feeley (a former Junior National Freestyle Champion) is 13-4, while Santaite is 14-8 and Wright 19-10. Santaite’s had just seven matches at 125 and only has one in-conference win at the weight against Rider’s Ilyass Elmasouri. That could affect his placement within the bracket. Wright lost earlier this season by a major decision to Feeley. Binghamton’s James Ingrham is only 7-6 this season, but with the conference mediocre after Nicholson, he has just as good of a chance in picking off a seeded wrestler or two than anyone.
Steve Mytych of Drexel will look for his second CAA championship and first at 133 pounds. Mytych is riding an 18-match win streak and has won 30 matches this season. It’ll be a real stretch to get an at-large selection out of the rest of the group, with Rider’s Jimmy Kirchner probably being the best shot. Kirchner did lose in the dual to Hofstra freshman Luke Vaith, but is 17-10 on the year. Kirchner’s two conference losses came to Vaith and Mytych, but has wins over ODU’s Justin LaValle, Sacred Heart’s Anthony Ricco, Binghamton’s Tyler Malmberg and George Mason’s Denny Herndon. Vaith moved down from 141 in late January and adds another angle to the weight. Kirchner-Vaith could be the 2-3 semifinal pairing. LaValle should come in as the fourth-seed. Herndon’s a dangerous draw because of his ability to get the fall, but unless Mytych gets upset, and that’s a longshot, don’t expect anyone else to get to the NCAA Championships.
Just the champion gets the automatic bid, and Binghamton’s Anwar Goeres has been biding his time. This might finally be the year the 32-match winner gets to the NCAA championships. Goeres has been more consistent this season and has closed out his junior campaign by winning six of his last seven matches; the only loss was to Oklahoma State’s Jamal Parks. Goeres will be challenged by Old Dominion redshirt freshman Craig Wilson. Goeres beat Wilson 7-5 at the CAA Duals in January. Wilson has been erratic this season, but still poses a threat to make the finals. After the top two, it’s really anyone’s guess as to how things will shake out, especially the seeds. Boston University’s Abbie Rush is 19-12 on the season, but has a late-season loss to Rider’s Matt Bradley. Hofstra’s Tyler Banks has been thrown into the fire this season and comes in at 10-17. Rider could go with Bradley or Aaron Nestor. It’s Goeres’ bid to lose, but should he falter, he would be in a good position for an at-large position. A head-to-head with Wilson in the final (or better yet, a match in the finals with someone other than Wilson) will go a long way in helping Binghamton snatch the CAA title.
This is not a bad weight in terms of overall depth, but you won’t find any All-American candidates in the bunch at 149 pounds. Rider senior Mike Kessler is the most seasoned, reaching the NCAA championships three previous times in his career. He’s been no stranger to deep weights in conference, as he always seems to end up in one within the conference. At 22-10, Kessler’s beaten both Donnie Vinson of Binghamton and John Nicholson of Old Dominion in close bouts this year. Vinson, a Greco-Roman Junior World Team Member, was one of Binghamton’s top recruits and has carved out a respectable 30-10 record. Vinson, the likely second seed, beat notable CAA foes Nicholson (5-3) and Brett McCurdy of Drexel (8-3). McCurdy, a transfer from Penn, is no slouch and cannot be looked past. Nicholson has been out down the stretch due to injury. Kessler’s experience makes him the frontrunner at the weight. A championship will help Rider’s hopes in the team race.
Fans around the nation might look at 157 in the CAA and think, just one bid. Oh contraire – the CAA is going to take three wrestlers, and barring any upsets, they should be Hofstra’s Jonny Bonilla-Bowman, Drexel’s Joe Booth and Binghamton’s Justin Lister. Bonilla-Bowman is looking to finally break through with his first podium placement at the NCAA Championships, while Booth, a freshman, and Lister, a redshirt sophomore, are looking for their first trips. Lister’s a sound 25-8 this season. He’s split with Booth – pinning him in November before losing a 10-7 match in the dual meet. Booth’s win in conference should do little to help his seed, since the CAA has notoriously been the most erratic when it comes to seeding criteria. Head to head conference wins can often be trumped by common-opponent out of conference comparisons, but in this case, it’s not going to matter, since the two will be the second and third seeds. After the trio, Rider’s Zac Cibula seems to be the biggest threat. The freshman from Wisconsin doesn’t have any notable wins this season, but has 18 wins, which is nothing to sneeze at. As a fourth seed, he’s not a threat to Bonilla-Bowman, but could be a threat in a consolation final. The rest of the conference lags behind the top four – with one exception – Sacred Heart’s Anthony Priorie. You might not know much about him, but he’s been a thorn in the side of CAA foes his entire career. At 16-18, he’s probably not a threat to win the conference, but he’s the one early-round opponent coaches don’t want to see. He’s lost to Lister 1-0, Booth 7-3 and hasn’t faced Cibula or ODU’s Joey Sheridan. That’s the guy to stay away from early.
There are two bids at the weight, with two-time CAA champion Chris Brown leading the pack, followed by Hofstra’s P.J. Gillespie, who has made a successful move up two weights. Gillespie was only the sixth seed last year in conference and won it, then found his way into the Round of 12 at the NCAA Championships. He’s a real threat to Brown, who despite several wins over highly-ranked opponents in his career, has still yet to reach the podium at the NCAA’s. Too many close matches make Brown no shoe-in for the title, but ODU needs him to perform big in early rounds, as bonus points will be crucial for the team race. Three wrestlers behind the top two have the ability to disrupt the balance of the conference – Rider’s Rob Morrison, George Mason’s Frankie McLaughlin and Binghamton’s Matt Kaylor. The Morrison name has long been associated with Rider wrestling, as older brother T.J. and father Tim both wrestled for the Broncs. Yes, there’s more Morrisons coming to Lawrenceville, too. Morrison’s pinned McLaughlin, lost to Gillespie by a point and didn’t face Kaylor. Rider will likely want Morrison as the third seed, while Binghamton can try making a case for Kaylor, who lost to Gillespie in sudden victory. Kaylor and McLaughlin could be an intriguing 4-5 match, if that’s how they end up seeded.
The weight would be deeper if Hofstra’s Ryan Patrovich hadn’t found his season cut short due to injury. Returning champion Bagna Tovuujav of George Mason is one of the deadlier wrestlers. The native of Mongolia has an arsenal of unorthodox throws, but won’t be a surprise to as many folks as he was last season. Josh Patterson of Binghamton, an All-American last season at 184, moved down to 174 in February. After qualifying his first two years at the weight, the decision to move down came to help the Bearcats win a conference championship. Tovuujav edged Patterson 7-6 in the dual meet late in the year, forging a tie between GMU and Binghamton. The odd man out here could be Old Dominion’s Eric Decker, two-time NCAA qualifier. Decker’s 23-11 record might look like it’s enough to warrant an at-large, but his RPI didn’t meet the qualifier threshold. He’ll have to beat Patterson, another New York native, to get to the finals, and then possibly have a chance for a true second if Patterson beats Tovuujav. Rider’s Jim Resnick is the only other wrestler above .500 at the weight.
With Patterson moving down to 174 pounds, it opened the door for Nate Schiedel of Binghamton to also come down a weight. Schiedel might end up garnering the top seed in the conference by virtue of his February fall over Hofstra’s Ben Clymer. Joe Budi of ODU is the likely third seed, but will need to beat Clymer (who he’s 0-fer against in college) for the Monarchs to get valuable finalist points. Only two qualify here, so chances might be good enough there’s a true second, but unless an upset occurs early, it’ll be another chance for Binghamton to get some championship points.
ODU’s Jesse Strawn and Rider’s Tyler Smith is all we’ve got, right? Wrong. With just 10 matches this season, Sacred Heart’s Rich Eichenlaub can really complicate things. Why? In his career, he’s pinned both Smith and Strawn. He pinned Smith in late February, but that’ll confuses things even more, because Eichenlaub is 5-0 in conference, while Smith and Strawn each have one loss. Smith beat Strawn in a January dual meet, but Eichenlaub and Strawn did not square off this season. The kicker here is, only the champion automatically qualifies, so expect all three coaching staffs to be arguing for the top seed. They don’t want to have to beat two tough guys to qualify, rather just the one – whoever is in the 2-3 semi will have one more tough match just to go. Both Smith and Strawn might be safe bets for an at-large, but why risk it?
Two-time conference champion Eddie Bordas of Rider is the class of the field. With only one qualifying at the weight, the depth here is more hopeful for an at-large berth, or better yet, an upset win in the finals. The top opposition Bordas will face will be either Drexel’s Kyle Frey or Binghamton’s Corey Waite. Frey’s won 27 matches this season, Waite’s won 33. Frey beat Waite 5-3 back in January. Hofstra’s Paul Snyder is a probably fourth-seed who’s wrestled close matches with, well, pretty much everyone in and around the conference
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY JASON BRYANT/USA WRESTLING ON 3/4/2010..Permission was granted by the writer to reprint…LHW thanks USA Wrestling !