New York Wrestling News will be providing a live blog of the Grapple at the Garden. The link is here.
The preview story for Cornell is here.
For more on Hofstra, read on.
Hofstra has faced a challenging slate over the first month of the season and it doesn’t get any easier this weekend as the Pride faces a pair of top 5 foes, Iowa and Ohio State.
“I think we’ve had one of the toughest schedules in the country thus far,” said head assistant coach Zach Tanelli of the Pride’s 0-9 start. “The results haven’t gone the way we wanted at this point and that seed of doubt has been planted. Guys have a choice, they can choose to water that seed and go down the path of destruction or they can get back on track. We know we have very good wrestlers and some have been in a little bit of a rut. But our schedule doesn’t let us feel bad for ourselves. We put it together to prepare ourselves for where we want to be in March. We need to stop the bleeding and progress toward our goals. Individually and as a team we have lot to prove and we can still get to where we need to be in March.”
This weekend is the next step in that process, according to Tanelli.
“The key word is opportunity,” he said. “The guys have to see it as an opportunity to embrace the great competition and the atmosphere. We need to believe we’re going in not to just have a great experience wrestling in front of thousands of people but to win in front of thousands of people. We want to go in with the attitude that we’re going to punch tickets to nationals and springboard ourselves into the second half of the season. Almost every opponent our guys will face is ranked. We’ve fallen victim to some upsets this year and we know on paper we’re favored in very few matches. But now it’s time to flip the switch and be the ones getting the upsets.”
There will be ample chances to do just that. Two Pride wrestlers ranked across most polls are Steve Bonanno (125) and Luke Vaith (141). Bonanno, a returning All-American, will begin his day with two-time national champion Matt McDonough before meeting 2011 NCAA placer Nikko Triggas of the Buckeyes.
“We’re looking for both Steve and Luke to step up to the plate,” Tanelli said. “Steve will have some great tests. McDonough’s achievements speak for themselves. Steve has been a little dinged up and a little inconsistent. But he doesn’t feel bad for himself. He knows he has what it takes to get back on track. He’s preparing for two very high quality opponents and feels confident.”
Vaith will take on Iowa’s Mark Ballweg, who is a few rungs higher in some national rankings, as well as All-American Hunter Stieber of Ohio State.
“Luke has to wrestle the way he’s capable of,” Tanelli said. “He’s very tough but he needs to be more consistent at this level. It’s a deep weight class this year and he can compete with everyone. He needs to minimize his lapses and if he does, I believe he can be 2-0 on the weekend with two quality wins.”
Bonanno and Vaith won’t be the only Hofstra grapplers matching up against two highly regarded foes. 133-pounder Jamie Franco has already faced four of the country’s top 20. On Sunday, he’ll see two of the best in #1 Logan Stieber and #3 Tony Ramos.
“Jamie’s working to get back to where he was last year where he was competing at a really high level,” Tanelli said. “He’s been more hesitant than in the past. What’s good with him is that he tends to wrestle to the level of his competition and he’ll be wrestling two of the top pound-for-pound guys in the country. He needs to dictate the pace and wrestle his style.”
A few other Hofstra wrestlers are slated to face a pair of top 20 foes. Jermaine John could see #2 Nick Heflin and #7 Mike Evans at 174 pounds, although Heflin has missed time with an injury and Evans has split the role with Grant Gambrall (a former All-American).
Heavyweight Paul Snyder has put together a strong season thus far, going 14-3, and he’ll have a chance to make a statement nationally with strong showings against #5 Bobby Telford and #12 Pete Capone, a New York native.
“Paul is having a nice year,” Tanelli said. “He hasn’t seen the competition that some other guys have, but he’s on the right path. He’s a veteran who knows what to expect. In the last few years, he hasn’t had the results he wanted and he’s made adjustments. It’s been showing. This weekend will be a great test for him. Hopefully, he’ll show again that all the extra work is paying off.”
Another senior looking to take the mat for Hofstra is Matt Spataro, who has filled in for All-American Justin Accordino this year.
“He’s done an admirable job,” Tanelli said. “Matt’s a super athlete who just needs to believe in himself a little more. He has embraced his role. When your number is called, you have to represent this program well and he’s done that.”
According to Tanelli, Accordino is “a little banged up” and given his injury history, the squad is being a little cautious about his return.
“Justin has been around for a while and he knows the grind and what to expect,” Tanelli said. “He has a goal of being a national champion and we want to give him the opportunity to achieve that goal. For the time being, that means playing things a little safer and maintaining his health for the end of the season.”
In the interim, Hofstra will look to gain some momentum in front of the crowd at Madison Square Garden. Tanelli said the team may make “match time” decisions at a few weights, including 157 (Jay Lysne and Cody Ruggirello) as well as 184 (Taras Luzhnyy and Victor Pozsonyi).
“I think the guys have some good perspective now,” he said. “We’ll be wrestling two great teams with tough wrestlers and in that situation you need to be ready every second for the entire seven minutes. It’s a great opportunity.”