Last week, MSG Sports announced that the second annual Grapple at the Garden will take place on December 1 in New York City. A number of New York teams were mentioned in the press release, including Cornell, Hofstra and Army.
But that’s not all. Two more squads from the Empire State will take part as Stony Brook will take the mat against Westchester Community College at the World’s Most Famous Arena. How did the second-year NCWA program from Suffolk County get involved?
“I was there last year and I was thinking, Stony Brook should be here,” said Seawolves head coach Shaun Lally. “I saw the Division I wrestling and the high school wrestling and thought it would be great if every single level of wrestling was showcased. I happened to call [Cornell coach] Rob Koll about something else and asked him about this year’s Grapple at the Garden. He got me in touch with the organizers and after talking to them, they were sold on the idea.”
So, Stony Brook was in the field, but needed an opponent. The answer wasn’t too far away.
“For an event in New York City, it made sense to go local,” Lally said. “You can’t get much more local than Westchester. Some of the guys on the team there are from the Beat the Streets program. They’re very close to the city. Getting to the city is easy for us too – our kids can get on the train, take it to Penn Station and basically just walk upstairs to wrestle.”
Wrestling at the prestigious arena during a high profile event is something the Stony Brook squad isn’t taking lightly.
“It’s so exciting to be a part of this,” Lally said. “It gives us an instant credibility and brings attention and turns people’s heads. There’s still that club tag associated with Stony Brook for some people because we’re not Division I. I think participating in this event is another way of showing people that we’re a legitimate program that has shown a lot of growth and progress in a short period of time.”
Indeed, it’s only been a little over a year for Lally and Stony Brook as a NCWA program. In season one, six wrestlers qualified for the Nationals in Texas with two, 197 pounder Michael Lloyd and 235 pounder Kyle Folk-Freund, coming within one victory of All-America status.
“For the kids to just get there was a great experience that validated all the hard work they did,” Lally said. “The team bought into the system right away. Right before those two matches (in the Round of 12), I said to myself, ‘Win or lose, this has been a complete success.’ The matches didn’t go our way, but now we keep putting the question out there – who will be the first All-American for this program?”
Who will it be? Lally doesn’t think it will take long to find out as he has a strong group of returners and a set of newcomers he believes will make an impact.
“We have some very good guys back and we have six incoming freshmen from all over the state who, if they buy in like the kids did last year, could walk in right away and have success. I’m excited that we’re bringing in kids from upstate, the City, Nassau and Suffolk. The future is bright.”
According to Lally, that future includes the goal of winning a conference championship in 2013-14 and some interesting opportunities, including a potential exhibition match against the backups from Hofstra and, of course, the appearance at the Garden.
“It’s huge for us to get exposure and compete in that kind of setting,” the coach said. “We want to show people we’ve arrived as a program.”
For more on Stony Brook wrestling, see here.