photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com
“Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it”
It was just one year ago that Ashland University walked into Kent State and left with a victory over a Division I wrestling program. Six straight wins from 133 through 174 were the difference in the Eagles 21-14 upset of the Golden Flashes. The win was not Appalachian State football over Michigan circa 2007, but it was a boost to the credential of every Division II wrestling school. There are great athletes at the Division II level and when given the opportunity, they show it. This season there will be opportunities aplenty. Let’s take a look at the first weekend and see who can shock those so-called “wrestling experts” this year.
Saturday, November 2nd
Ashland vs. Edinboro
Last season Ashland was off to a flying start as the Eagles began the season 4-0 after a visit to Kent State University. There they took out 8th-ranked Lindsey Wilson (NAIA) and Kent State in a perfect start. This year they will face an Edinboro team that is in the midst of a rebuild. A season ago, they were 2-9 and finished 4th in the now-defunct EWL and saw their lone qualifier go down on day one of the national tournament. Jacob Oliver, now a redshirt sophomore, is back for the Fighting Scots, but this is a lineup still looking for an identity and a leader. This could spell trouble for a team that is in year two of head coach Matt Hill’s reign. They do have an outstanding wrestler at 174, which could lead to a great matchup when Oliver meets 2018 national champion Bret Romanzak. Romanzak is coming off a leg injury that ended his season at the national tournament a year ago just when it seemed like he was returning to his best form.
This will be a test for both athletes early on, time will tell if it being the last dual of the day works better in one team’s favor more than the other. Edinboro will lean heavily on Dylan Reynolds (197) and Hwt Jon Spaulding. Spaulding will take on returning All-American and third-ranked Tristan Weirich. If the dual is doubt when the big men take the mat, that match is a toss-up. Spaulding was very good last year, earning 22 wins and finishing third in the EWL. Ashland is an improved lineup from a year ago after adding Wheeling Jesuit transfer Aidan Pasiuk at 184 as well as returning 2018 national qualifier Lawrance Dudgeon at 133.
Ashland vs. Kent State
These are not the same two teams from a year ago. The Kent State Golden Flashes are more seasoned while I would argue that the Ashland team has improved from top to bottom. It should make for an interesting dual as Kent State will want to avenge their home mat loss to a Division II foe while Ashland will be out to show that it was not just a one-time thing. There are two absolute must-watch matches that could swing this dual. The first comes at 133 where Kent State has returning national qualifier Tim Rooney while Ashland will send out 2018 national qualifier Lawrance Dudgeon. Then at 174, Bret Romanzak will take on the nationally-ranked Andrew McNally, who was a national qualifier at 184 a season ago. A fun match to watch could be at heavyweight where Kent State has Spencer Berthold, he scored nine pins last season and he will take on Tristan Weirich, who had seven of his own. We could see fireworks if six points one way or the other wins the dual. I honestly do not expect it to be that way, I am predicting another Eagles win over Kent State.
Pitt-Johnstown vs. Long Island University
If Pitt-Johnstown is unable to pull the really big upset of the day, I do expect them to notch a win over a Division I foe. Long Island University, formerly LIU-Post, is a brand new DI addition to the EIWA. This is a young lineup for the Sharks as they look to break into Division I and become part of a strong east coast region. They are in a great place to recruit and making the step up to Division I could do wonders as they look to keep talented regional wrestlers at home. Unfortunately for them, they are still the same team that a year ago in Division II finished 7-11 and graduated their only All-American Joseph Calderone. This dual should not be close, if the UPJ team drops more than three matches, I would be very surprised and they could score bonus in quite a few spots. The Mountain Cats boast the #1 tournament lineup in the country with six returning All-Americans. Even with the question marks at other weights, this is a lineup that is going to cause matchup problems for nearly every Division II lineup in the country. And to me, LIU is still sporting a Division II lineup. The real test for this team will have come a dual earlier when they try to beat a 2019 top-10 team, Rutgers University.
Pitt-Johnstown vs. Rutgers
The real heavyweight battle this weekend is a fight between #1 ranked Pitt-Johnstown and The State College of New Jersey. Rutgers is fresh off a historic season that saw them crown their first two champions in school history and the team’s first top-10 finish ever. The Scarlet Knights boast a lineup with four returning national qualifiers but is without returning national champion Nick Suiriano who is taking an Olympic Redshirt to train for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. This could be a huge upset in the making, though. UPJ is returning five All-Americans, including three national champions. This match could be determined by how Tyler Warner (133), Chris Eddins (149), and Connor Craig (184) perform. If they can duplicate or better the 15 team points they scored on Friday night, it will go a long way towards pushing the Mountain Cats over the top. 174 could loom large, Brock Biddle (UPJ) will take on 17th ranked Joe Grello (Rutgers), a 2018-19 national qualifier. Biddle is coming off a tech fall loss to East Stroudsburg’s Mike Raccioppi in his first match of the year and frankly looked gassed at his new lower weight. Connor Craig, however, looked great wrestling up at 184 after winning his title at 174 a year ago. Two-time returning national champion Chris Eddins will continue his march towards three straight, while Tyler Warner will be after his second. Rutgers could counter at 141 with freshman phenom JoJo Aragona or returning national qualifier Pete Lipari. That is a must bonus for the Knights as is heavyweight where they have a national qualifier, Christian Colucci. 125 could be another key weight as UPJ will want to start fast. 2019 All-American Brendan Howard will take on redshirt freshman Nic Aguilar. Aguilar’s best win a season ago was against national qualifier Gage Curry (American) in a redshirt campaign that saw him finish 7-7. In a dual that could easily go 5-5, any bonus points scored along the way will be the difference. We know the RAC will be loud and boisterous as the home crowd will be out in full force to support Rutgers, it will be up to the Mountain Cats’ big three to silence them. If one of them were to lose, expect the place to reach a crescendo and the upset bid to be over before it really even becomes a threat.