photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com
Head Coach Robert Fisher 21st season
Previous Team Previews
One of my favorite moments from the 2018-19 NCAA Division II national championship in Cleveland was asking heavyweight Andrew Dunn and coach Robert Fisher if they realized that Dunn’s championship had pushed the Bears into the final top 10. It capped the most successful season for Fisher as head coach as he finally broke into the promised land. His 20th season at the helm saw his program finish 14-1 and crown three All-Americans. Over the last 10 years, the Bears have consistently been a top 20 tournament team, but this was the first time that they were able to finish in the final 10. There was a price to be paid for the type of leadership they had that helped put them there, they lost their starters from 174-197.
Kutztown will return some very good wrestlers at 125 and 133. A year ago Matt Wilde seemed on his way to the national tournament while Joe Renne was able to punch his ticket. They will give the Bears a 1-2 punch at the start of this lineup. After that the waters are murky, but one thing we know for sure is that they return the national champion at heavyweight. Andrew Dunn was nothing short of spectacular last season and he is back for more. This lineup should see another couple of transfers in starting spots as well. Robert Spezza will join Dunn as a Division I transfer, while Paul Miller will be in the lineup for the Bears after formerly suiting up for Division III Keystone. Coach Fisher will be asking a lot of some athletes who have not yet produced at the college level, but he has shown the ability to develop talent. This room is deep on tough wrestlers, but it remains to be seen if they will pan out as everyday starters at some weights. Kutztown will have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to duplicate last season’s record-setting finish, but we can absolutely expect the same consistency from this team we have seen every year under Fisher.
125: Matt Wilde (Jr) Boyertown, PA
Junior Matt Wilde is going to contend for a spot on the podium this season, book it. He was 14-3 a season ago before an injury cut short his sophomore campaign. Two of those three losses were to Division I wrestlers, he logged a perfect 10-0 record against Division II athletes. Wilde was ranked 10th in the last NWCA coaches ranking in 2018-19 and he seemed to be on pace for a spot in the national championship. He is one of the toughest wrestlers at this weight and if he can remain healthy for an entire season, he is not only a threat to wrestle at nationals but to be an All-American. He was 2-0 against national qualifiers last season including a major decision over Nick Daggett (UNC Pembroke).
133: Joe Renne (R-Jr) Great Meadows, NJ
You know you have a very good 125 waiting to return to the starting spot when you send your 2018-19 national qualifier up a place in the lineup. Joe Renne was a national qualifier for Kutztown last season at 125, but this season he will lead the 133 weight class. Last season he wrestled at both 133 and 125 and I think he returns to a more natural weight this year and could pose serious problems for many wrestlers at this weight. He has a great wrestling partner in Matt Wilde and with both wrestlers in the lineup all season this Kutztown team is going to be very tough down low. Coach Fisher will be locked in on these lower weights, but there are question marks as this team starts to shake out.
141: Paul Miller (Jr) Bethlehem, PA
Paul Miller is now a member of the Kutztown Bears after leading Division III Keystone College in wins as a freshman during the 2017-18 season. He also led the Giants with 14 falls having a very successful season at 133 that saw him come up short of qualifying for nationals. A transfer to Kutztown led to a season that was a struggle. His 0-4 record included four bonus point losses. Two years ago he was 1-0 against Division I foes, last season he only scored one point in three matches against them. He was making a huge transition, plus he started the season at 149. If he has been in the weight room this offseason, I expect that he will settle into 141 better than he did last year.
149: Jake Jones (R-Jr) Stroudsburg, PA
Jake Jones never really seemed comfortable in his role as the starter at 149 last season for the Bears. Coach Fisher is going to need him to seize his opportunity in 2019 after winning just five matches a year ago. He may be a big fan of The Office, but if he does not want to find himself as assistant to the regional starter, he is going to have to show that he can help push this lineup ahead. It will take guys like Jones making strides that show his win over 2018-19 qualifier Jered Sublet (Minot St) was not some anomaly.
157: #10 Chad Haegele (Sr) Warrington, PA
Chad Haegele won three matches at the 2018-19 Super Regional and still just missed out on a trip to the NCAA Division II national tournament. He returns in this season and the senior is looking to become a qualifier as a senior. He scored two wins last year against national qualifiers including an 8-4 win against Corey Fallorini who went 2-2 in Cleveland. Haegele won the East Stroudsburg Open last year and had only one loss before the Super Regional tournament. He has to be considered one of the best wrestlers in the country who did not make the trip to the national championship last year.
165: Connor Rogovich (Sr) Cherry Hill, NJ
Connor Rogovich had his first season above .500 season as a junior and now he returns as the starter for his senior season with things still to prove. There is no one roster to really push him, but if Chad Haegele is his practice partner, he should show improvement. His best stretch a year ago was five straight wins in mid to late January. He needs to show improvement in his consistency for coach Fisher for the Bears to really solidify the middle of their dual lineup. From 174 through 197 they lost three national qualifiers.
174: Matt Lewandowski (So) Gilberton, PA
Anthony Emig (R-So) Bethlehem, PA
The Bears are without two-time All-American TC Warner after his graduation. In his place, there is sophomore Matt Lewandowski and redshirt sophomore Anthony Emig. The two Pennsylvania natives will battle to fill the big hole left by Warner’s departure. Lewandowski was just 1-5 wrestling both 184 and 197 last season. He would like to visit Australia and that is great if he can channel the world’s deadliest animals this season and lock down the starting role. Lewandowski was a two-time PIAA state placer taking 6th as a junior and senior. Anthony Emig will battle him for that starting role, but he does not have much more of a resume. Emig finished his season 2-3 at 184 pounds with a fall and a forfeit to his credit. His best high school season was qualifying for state as a senior after a 34 win season. Warner was a rock in this lineup, but with him gone the Bears need someone to step up and take over that role.
184: Zach Mafaro (Fr) Newton, NJ
Coach Robert Fisher landed an excellent recruit out New Jersey when he signed Zach Mafaro from Kittatinny High School in New Jersey. The Newton native may not be able to duplicate the production of two-time All-American Jeff Reimel, right out of the gate, but I believe he will be outstanding in college. Mafaro turned in his best season as a senior when he won his District tournament and then capped his year off with a fifth-place finish at state. Zach finished his year with his fifth fall of the competition. Kutztown is going to need wrestlers to put up big points at the top of the lineup and Mafaro has those abilities.
197: Robert Spezza (R-Fr) East Stroudsburg, PA
Robert Spezza was a two-year starter for powerhouse Bethlehem Catholic and won thirty matches his senior year and qualified for the state tournament, but fell short of placing. Much like Mafarro at 184, Spezza has the ability to end a match early. A Division I transfer from Lock Haven University, he leaves a Division I team at a Division II school to move to a Division II wrestling program at a Division II school. It sounds convoluted, but it tracks. He will get a fresh start with a new team where he will be the undisputed starter. Coach Fisher has a history of building big men into All-Americans and that means good things for Spezza.
Hwt: Andrew Dunn (R-Jr) Bethlehem, PA
The anchor of this lineup will be the returning national champion, Andrew Dunn. The redshirt junior will return with two years of eligibility left and now has been a Division I national qualifier and a Division II national champion. Dunn has had quite the journey on his way to Kutztown and now that he has found his forever-home he looks great. He began at the Southeast Regional Training Center, headed to Virginia Tech, and after two seasons in Blacksburg found his way to coach Fisher. His two losses last year were to Thomas Haines (Lock Haven) and Youssif Hemida (Maryland). Dunn will take an 18 match winning streak into the 2019-20 season. With Kameron Teacher (St Cloud State) taking a year away, Jarrod Hinrich (Nebraska-Kearney) will remain his main competition to repeating as champion.