Head Coach Dave Amato’s retirement in 2013 after 30 years leading Brown wrestling came on the heals of the program having to fight for its very existence. In the spring of 2011 a committee recommended wrestling be discontinued at the school. Instead, the community rallied behind the team and, thanks in no small part to Coach Amato, laid a solid foundation for the team’s future. By the time Coach Amato walked away, it was clear that Brown wrestling was safe. The administration further proved its commitment to wrestling by hiring Todd Beckerman.
Coach Beckerman, now entering his fourth season in charge, was fresh off a long stint helping to build Maryland into an ACC power. The Terrapins had won four conference titles, including 2011 and 2012, with Beckerman serving as an assistant. Going out and securing the services of someone whose resume suggested he could be in line for a head coaching position at a more traditional wrestling school signaled Brown’s intent to improve the program.
That improvement, however, is not an easy thing to accomplish. The good news for the program is that they crowned the fourth All-American in school history in 2014 when Ophir Bernstein finished eighth. They also remain one of the top performing wrestling teams in the nation academically, posting the third highest GPA a year ago to stretch their streak of top 10 finishes in the category to five years.
The bad news is Bernstein was gone before last season and the growth on the mat has been slow in coming. The Bears have consistently qualified two wrestlers for nationals in recent years, with occasional years of one or no qualifier, did so again in 2016, with Justin Staudenmayer (Sr, 157) and Steven Galiardo (Sr, 149) who both return. In fact, nine starters return from 2015-16, but that was a team that failed to win an Ivy League dual for the second straight year.
However, it takes time to create momentum at a program like Brown. This is a team that has never qualified more than six wrestlers for nationals and must overcome all the limitations of an Ivy League athletic program, such as no scholarships, high entrance requirements and serious academic rigor. Still, this being Coach Beckerman’s fourth year, this is the time when there should start to be signs if he can be successful. If Brown is going to become competitive, at least in the Ivy League, we should start to see that this year and next at the latest.
There is certainly hope. Zeke Salvo (Jr, 133) was 19-14 a year ago, Jon Viruet (So, 165) and Christian LaBrie (Jr, 165) were both solid at 165. Christian’s twin brother Andrew (Jr, 174) posted a winning record a year ago as well. Another set of twins, Matt and Nick Lattanze, are a key part of the incoming recruiting class in College Hill. Nick, in particular, could compete right away for the starting job at 125. Matt wrestled 160 a year ago so he has a bit stiffer competition if he is to see the line-up as a freshman.
With two returning national qualifiers, this team will be expecting to at least match that total once again and there are certainly others in the line-up that could make the trek to St. Louis in March. However, Brown’s dual performances may be more telling than their post-season. Winning an Ivy League dual this year would be a big step. Cornell and Princeton are strong once again, which means the Bears are probably limited to trying to pick off Harvard, Penn or Columbia, who they lost to 16-15 in January. A dual win over one of them could mark a turning point for the program.
The 2016-17 Brown Bears wrestling schedule features duals against Bucknell (Jan 22nd), Cornell (Jan 28th) and Princeton (Feb 4th). Brown does not wrestle its first dual until January, opting to attend the Jonathan Kaloust Bearcat Open (Nov 13th), the Navy Classic (Nov 19th), The Journeyman Tussle (Dec 4th) and the Midlands (Dec 29th & 30th) to open the season. They will attend the Pitt Duals on January 15th and feature a dual against Binghamton on January 27th as a part of their Beauty and the Beast meet that runs in conjunction with the gymnastics team. The EIWA Championships are March 3rd and 4th in Lewisburg, PA. The NCAA tournament is in St. Louis, March 16th through 18th.