By Betsy Veysman
What do the recruiting classes at Cornell, University at Buffalo and Division III SUNY-Cortland all have in common? It may surprise some, but all boast multiple Empire State wrestlers ranked by Intermat as Top 100 recruits nationally.
Tyler Beckwith, one of the most highly regarded grapplers in the Class of 2010 and Bobby Dierna, a top 100 recruit in 2011, headline a remarkable group of 13 joining Brad Bruhn’s squad in the fall. The group collectively owns five national crowns, four state championships and a bevy of other state placements and accolades.
“We’re really happy with this class,” Bruhn said. “We were thin in the lightweights for one of the first times ever and I think we’ve added depth with some very good kids there as well as throughout the weights. We return nine of our starters from last year and I think the quality returners will be pushed and challenged by this group of guys coming in.”
One wrestler expected to push for a key role early at either 174 or 184 pounds is Beckwith. The four-time champion at the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach attended Binghamton following his graduation from Greene High. According to Bruhn, he redshirted his first campaign and then continued to attend the institution last year, although he was not a member of the team.
“From my conversations with Tyler, he didn’t feel like wrestling at Binghamton was the right fit for him,” the coach said. “He knew some kids on our team and one day, one of my guys told me a friend of his was interested in wrestling at Cortland. When he told me who it was, I was pretty excited. Apparently, one of Tyler’s high school coaches also suggested Cortland to him as a place to look. It’s really exciting for me to know that our program is highly thought of by coaches around the state.”
Those kinds of connections within the high school wrestling world helped Bruhn land the Dierna brothers, Bobby (141/149 pounds) and Alec (125/133). The Dierna pair has combined for eight medals at the New York state tournament, including a championship for each.
“One alum of our program is an assistant at Webster Schroeder,” he said. “He mentioned that Al Dierna was a good, hard working kid. He was considering some D-I programs, but started talking to us as did his teammate Josh Reed (174) and his brother, who redshirted at Mercyhurst last year. They were all excited to be able to wrestle at the next level together. That doesn’t happen for us without having an alum at the right place at the right time. That’s one of the great parts of being part of an education school and having so many graduates out there in the communities and schools. I feel like I have eyes everywhere now and it has helped a lot.”
Al Dierna is one of nine incoming grapplers projected to compete in the lightweights from 125 to 141 pounds. Another accomplished wrestler in that group is Chittenango’s Wes Blanding, a two-time state placer who took third at 132 pounds in Division 2 in February.
“I really liked Wes the first time I saw him,” he said. “He wrestled up at 138 in the beginning of the year and I saw him beat [Canastota’s state runner up Anthony] Finocchiaro, who was one of the better guys in the state. He has very sound fundamentals, solid hand fighting and is good in all three phases. His coaches talk about what a quality kid he is.”
Also taking third this season was Port Byron’s Mitch Janes, who projects at 149 pounds.
“The sleeper in that group might be Mitch Janes,” the coach said. “Very talented, strong, super smart and very driven.”
He used some similar adjectives to describe Joe Cataldo (165/174), an impressive student and wrestler from MacArthur High, who came into the Times Union Center as the number three seed, but suffered an injury early in the state tournament and had to injury default out.
“I find that sometimes the kids who don’t finish with state titles or the places they want come in hungrier or with more of a chip on their shoulders,” Bruhn said. “Of my 20 All-Americans, around half never even qualified for the state tournament. My thought is to keep bringing in quality kids and some will find that next level in college.”
He has without a doubt brought in a lot of quality kids this time, but he isn’t penciling them into the lineup yet. Cortland has plenty of familiar firepower to work with. The Red Dragons finished 10th at the Division III nationals in 2012 with three All-Americans and six other starters returning. Only one regular, 184-pounder Carl Korpi, will not be back. But Korpi’s departure didn’t quite leave a hole in the lineup, as his backup Will Parks sported a 17-2 mark a year ago.
“We have nine guys back and a bunch of seniors next season,” Bruhn said. “The guys coming in have great credentials and talent, but they could still have a hard time getting on the mat. It’s actually a great spot for them to be in. There isn’t too much pressure to win the job right away. They’ll go into the room, train hard and we’ll see who rises to the top. If they’re the best guy, they’ll wrestle. If not, they’ll benefit from the great competitiveness in the room.”
Adding to that competitiveness are additional newcomers Tyler Hall (125), Tony Battista (133), David Occhipinti (133), Anthony Padulo (141), Nick Falco (149) and Mike Bosco (174).
Leading the charge for the Red Dragons in 2012-13 will be Jared Myhrberg, who went 33-1 at 197 pounds last season, taking third at nationals. Rising junior Brian Bistis joined Myhrberg as an All-American, grabbing eighth place at 141 after a 26-9 campaign. Bruhn expects he could do more damage in the future.
“Bistis worked harder this spring than I’ve ever seen him work before,” the coach said. “Getting on the podium gave him a taste of success and he told me he knows he’s better than the eighth best guy in the country. He’s determined to do better this year.”
The third Cortland All-American, Joey Giaramita, was the Empire Collegiate Wrestling Conference’s Rookie of the Year after placing eighth at nationals. However, he will be in a battle with Corey James for the heavyweight role, according to the coach.
“Corey had some family issues that slowed him down last year,” Bruhn said. “His head was sometimes someplace else. Joey won the spot, but before conferences, Corey started doing really well in the room, even dominating at times. I wasn’t always sure who my best heavyweight was. It will be an interesting situation to see who represents us. We have two great options.”
The coach also looks forward to the return of talented lightweight Nigel McNeil (125 pounds, 22-4 last season). McNeil burst on the scene as a freshman, winning two Most Outstanding Wrestler awards in his first three college tournaments, according to his coach.
“Nigel started out really well,” Bruhn said. “He placed in a Division I tournament and then didn’t lose a match until he tried to come back from a shoulder injury. He was ranked in the top three in the country and was dominant. In one stretch he was 18-0 with 16 wins by bonus points. He came in as a complete wrestler with a high level of intensity. He’s having surgery soon and we’re hoping to see him back to form.”
With the return of McNeil and 133-pound starter Sean Kempf, the influx of freshmen and the “addition” of Max Miller, who attended every practice last season despite not being able to wrestle due to injury, Bruhn said he is very excited about the lightweight depth.
However, the coach’s excitement isn’t restricted to the lower weights. He’s enthusiastic about the squad from top to bottom.
“I think we have potential qualifiers or even All-Americans at just about every weight,” he said. “At some weights, I don’t know who the guy will be, but I know we have great guys to choose from. If we can stay healthy, we think we have the talent to make a run at a team trophy at nationals. It’s been a long time coming to really put the amount of depth in the room that I wanted. With this class, I think we’re just about there.”
Cortland’s Postseason Lineup* in 2011-12
125 Nigel McNeil (22-4 overall)
133 Sean Kempf (20-10)
141 Brian Bistis (26-9)
149 Andre Berry (17-10)
157 Troy Sterling (17-7)
165 Jonathan Conroy (32-11)
174 Lou Puca (21-10)
184 Carl Korpi (28-9)
197 Jared Myhrberg (33-1)
285 Joey Giaramita (24-11)
* All records according to team’s website
Cortland’s 2012 Recruiting Class*
Tony Battista (133) Cicero-North Syracuse HS
Tyler Beckwith (174/184) Binghamton/Greene HS
Wes Blanding (133) Chittenango HS
Mike Bosco (174) Nassau CC/John Glenn HS
Joe Cataldo (165/174) MacArthur HS
Alec Dierna (125/133) Webster Schroeder HS
Bob Dierna (141/149) Monroe CC/Mercyhurst/Wayne HS
Nick Falco (149) Nassau CC/East Meadow HS
Tyler Hall (125) Marathon HS
Mitchell Janes (149) Port Byron HS
David Occhipinti (133) Croton-Harmon HS
Anthony Padulo (141) Baruch College HS
Josh Reed (174) Webster-Schroeder HS
* Provided by Cortland