In 2011-12, Carl Fronhofer’s first season as head coach, Columbia took third place in the Ivy League (losing a 19-18 nailbiter against second place Penn) and sixth at the EIWA tournament. The Lions sent three wrestlers to the NCAA tournament, where Steve Santos came within one win of becoming an All-American at 149 and 157-pounder Jake O’Hara and now graduated heavyweight Kevin Lester each won a pair of matches.
What’s next for the Ivy League squad in 2012-13? Fronhofer gave New York Wrestling News a preview of what to expect in the upcoming campaign, beginning with a weight-by-weight look at the team.
125 Pounds – Former Section 1 standout Penn Gottfried returns after taking last season off with a shoulder injury. He’ll be in a battle with Robert Dyar, who won 16 matches last year, for the starting role in 2012-13. Adding depth is California state champion Johnson Mai.
Coach Fronhofer: “Penn and Dyar are pretty competitive in the room and at this point, it’s hard to tell what will happen. Penn’s rehab went great and his arm is strong. But, he’s only been back on the mat for a couple of weeks. I think it’s close enough between those two guys that I’ll remove myself from that situation and see how it plays out. As for Johnson Mai, he’s a tremendous athlete who is very skilled. He’s good enough to find ways to win. But he’s probably at least a year away from getting big enough to compete nationally. It’s similar to Dyar when he first came in – he needed time to grow enough to compete at 125 pounds.”
133 Pounds – The departure of starter Kyle Gilchrist, who went 27-15 a year ago, leaves a spot that several wrestlers are hoping to grab.
Coach Fronhofer: “It’s definitely wide open. We have Andrew Grabfelder, who was a starter earlier in his career. He took a year off, was injured when he came back and is a senior now. If he can stay healthy and keep it together, he can do well. We also have some young guys from Ohio – Ryan Murdock and Angelo Amenta who are pretty talented kids who work hard. Also add in California freshman Joe Moita. This is the most wide open race for a starting spot in our lineup this year.”
141 Pounds – Last season, Matt Bystol, Ryan Ponte and Elijah Sullivan all manned the 141-pound spot at times, until Bystol earned the nod down the stretch. He and Ponte will be back, with Sullivan taking the year off. But it may be a three-way race again as Top 100 recruit Alec Mooradian, a Michigan native, will also look for time.
Coach Fronhofer: “We had several wrestleoffs last year at 141 and it went in circles. When the dust settled, it was Bystol who won the job. He was really steady and consistent and that’s why he found himself in the lineup at the end of the year. Ponte will battle with him again and so will Mooradian. [Mooradian] was a four-time state finalist and a three-time champion and lost only a few matches in his entire high school career. He’s tough and he’ll be fighting for the spot too.”
149 Pounds – Unlike the first three weights, 149 isn’t up for grabs. Four-year starter Steve Santos will be back a year after making the Round of 12 at the NCAA tournament. Santos has racked up several impressive victories during his career, including wins over Mario Mason, Donnie Vinson and Edinboro’s David Habat. In 2011-12, he compiled a 26-11 record and took fourth at the EIWA tournament before winning three bouts at nationals.
Coach Fronhofer: “Last year, Steve was solid. When he was a freshman and sophomore, he was a little inconsistent. He took some bad losses here and there. But if he continues to be consistent, he’s a top 10 guy in the country and is capable of more than that. I wouldn’t be surprised if he took top four at NCAAs this year. He has what it takes to be an All-American.”
157 Pounds – Like Santos, fellow senior Jake O’Hara got his hand raised at nationals in 2012. The Pennsylvania native won two matches in St. Louis to cap off a 30-victory campaign. According to Fronhofer, he and Santos will be the team captains and are the leaders of the squad who “take care of business inside and outside the room and do everything right”.
Coach Fronhofer: “Jake made a big leap last year. I think the difference between Jake as a sophomore and as a junior was pretty astronomical. It’s a credit to him. He works very hard – he stays the course and gets better every day. I think having [assistant coach] Adam Hall [an All-American at Boise State] to work with was very beneficial. Without question, Jake’s goal is to be on the podium in March. There’s no doubt in my mind that he can do it. The middle weights are always loaded but you have to show up and wrestle. He’s capable of placing at the NCAAs.”
165 Pounds – NCAA qualifier Eren Civan graduated and a number of young wrestlers are lining up to take his spot. Michigan native Josh Houldsworth, who started at 141 as a freshman in 2010-11, is moving up a few weights while 2012 spot starter Adam Fondale is in the mix with sophomore Eric Fajardo.
Coach Fronhofer: “Josh Houldsworth is pretty tall and we always thought he could grow. We’ve gotten such consistent work out of Steve [Santos] and Jake [O’Hara] that we asked Josh to move up and he’s making that move. Fondale won about 20 matches last year, wrestling in duals, opens and all over the place. Fajardo is a super talented kid who did a lot of judo growing up. He didn’t have the pure wrestling experience of a lot of other guys, but he’s a great athlete who has developed well. He took second at the FILA Junior Nationals this spring in Greco and has made some big gains in a short time.”
174 Pounds – Stephen West joined the lineup as soon as he arrived at Columbia and is ready to enter his fourth year as a starter. Despite 33 wins last season, he didn’t receive a bid to the NCAA tournament and looks to qualify for nationals and more in his final season in a Lions singlet.
Coach Fronhofer: “It was almost unbelievable that [West] wasn’t at the tournament last year. It was shocking to me after he qualified a spot for our conference and placed only one spot out [of automatic qualifying]. He had the most wins at the weight in the country. He was completely devastated – we all were. But he has the right attitude about the sport and life and he snapped out of it pretty quickly and went back to work in the spring and summer. He has the right focus. I assume that in March he’ll be competing at a pretty high level nationally. He’s shooting to be an All-American. He has the experience, the athleticism and the skill set that makes it possible.”
184 Pounds – Shane Hughes came in as a freshman and racked up 22 wins. He was an exciting wrestler to watch, recording 11 pins and going for big moves at 184 pounds. Several other freshmen, such as Zack Hernandez, Austin Coniker and Chris Loew are also listed at the weight.
Coach Fronhofer: “Shane is definitely very dangerous in certain positions. To make a jump this year, he’ll have to be more consistent and tighten up his game a little bit. You can’t put the reins on guys like him because part of why he’s good is that he’s so open. But he’ll have to improve a little on fundamentals and managing matches to take the next step.”
197 Pounds – In 2011, Nick Mills made Second Team All-Ivy at 184 pounds and took fifth at EIWAs. He began last season at the same weight and then transitioned to 197, going 12-15 overall.
Coach Fronhofer: “Nick had a rough year last year. He puts a lot of pressure on himself and was trying to figure out how to compete that way. If he does that, he’ll be back in a position to get to the NCAA tournament. He’s a great athlete and physically can compete with anyone. Chris Manna and Matt Idelson are two other guys who will be at that weight. They haven’t figured out a way to beat Mills yet, though.”
285 Pounds – Wyatt Baker notched a 13-5 record in his first year with the Lions while backing up NCAA qualifier Kevin Lester. He was busy in the spring and summer competing in the international styles. Baker represented the United States at 120 kg in Greco Roman at the Junior World Championships in Thailand, taking 10th place. The native Californian is looking to make his mark in the EIWA and nationally in his initial campaign as a starter.
Coach Fronhofer: “Wyatt has made a huge leap. He’s a kid that comes from Servite, a major football factory and he was a big time football player. He only wrestled a few months of the year. He has a tremendous attitude – he’s a happy kid that gets the most out of every situation. I think it’s really hard to start right out of the blocks at heavyweight, so he was in a good position last year to come in and develop with Kevin Lester here. Having that year of development plus the great summer he earned by making the World Team really benefitted him and we expect him to compete at a high level right away.”
A Few More Questions . . .
What do you feel were the biggest things you took away from your first year as the head coach?
Coach Fronhofer: I think I learned about managing the guys. It’s a bit of a balancing act. A guy like Stephen West probably wrestled too many matches last year. He’s just so tough and so consistent, you can lose sight of the fact that he could use some time off. I think you learn as a head coach when to put the hammer down and when to pull back a little bit; how to manage individuals and keep the team’s best interest in mind. The decision making process is constantly evolving.
I also got to see that as a head coach you manage to wear a lot of hats at once. You have responsibilities to the team, the administration, the parents, recruiting, alumni and so on. You’re constantly learning on the job as you go through different experiences.
What goals have you set for the team for 2012-13?
Coach Fronhofer: I think we’ve done some great work in the offseason. You saw our guys wrestling a lot of freestyle and Greco. Our attitude is that if there’s a wrestling tournament, we’re going. We’re passionate about the Olympic movement in our country and we’re going to wrestle as much as we can.
I think our goal as a team at the EIWA tournament is to finish top 3. After that, I think we’re capable of sending six-plus wrestlers to the NCAAs. We have a few guys with very high level individual goals. They expect to become All-Americans and their goals are to win national titles. We can achieve some big things this year. I’m always excited in the fall, preparing for what’s coming next. We’re really looking forward to getting started.