From Shut Down to the Garden: Westchester Wrestling Ready to Grapple Again in 2013-14

Wrestling was back at Westchester Community College for the first time in quite a while.  And then, all of a sudden, the season came to an abrupt halt. The planned trips to national qualifying and then Nationals were no longer possible.

It began in the fall of 2012 for head coach Joe Regan and the squad, operating as a club team out of the student FSA (Faculty-Student Association) office.  Westchester performed well early on, in a tri-meet against Stony Brook and the University of New Haven and then at the Long Island Open and the New York State Intercollegiate ‘B’ event on the campus of Cornell University.

“We had basically three or four weeks to get the guys prepared for the New York tournament, so it was an accelerated process,” Regan said. “Our guys got beat, but were competitive. We had some top five placers at the Long Island Open. I was pretty satisfied with how they competed against a lot of Division I and Division III wrestlers.”

Next up was another tri-meet, this time against Mount St. Vincent and a Division III squad from Ohio.

“We didn’t have a full lineup but it was tough,” Regan said. “We got our butts kicked by the Division III team. We were winning against Mount St. Vincent before we got pinned in two straight matches and wound up losing.  It was frustrating.”

Regan and the Vikings went from being a bit frustrated about the results on the mat to a more significant frustration.

“What happened next – we basically were shut down by the institution because we were being run as a club and clubs needed a faculty sponsor,” Regan said. “It was awful, just terrible.  We were looking forward to going to NCWA [National Collegiate Wrestling Association] qualifying tournament and then the national tournament.  We saw Stony Brook do pretty well at NCWA nationals.  We beat them and I thought we had a couple of guys who could have been All-Americans.  But it was out of our control.  We weren’t allowed to continue.”

According to Regan, the group was determined to find a solution, but didn’t find success initially. In essence, the season was over for the Vikings.

“It didn’t look good for the continuing of our team as a club. There were all these roadblocks,” Regan said. “And then the athletic department called and said they would take us on.  I was flabbergasted. We were working with Adam Frank [the Director of Student Involvement] and he went to bat for us.  He thought we didn’t belong with the Spanish club and all the other clubs – we belonged in athletics.  The Athletic Director told us he didn’t have much of a budget for us, but we could be a part of the department. It was incredible.”

So, according to Regan, the team will return to action in 2013-14.  The Vikings will compete as part of the NCWA, but there’s a different long term plan.

“The next goal is to join the NJCAA [National Junior College Athletic Association] and field a great junior college program in the future,” he said.

Whatever happens next, Regan believes the team has been embraced the surrounding area.

“There’s good support behind us,” the coach said. “We’re excited this is happening for the community. Wrestling is popular in Westchester and Putnam counties and we also draw from Beat the Streets.  It’s a fantastic thing to have an opportunity for wrestlers here.  Not everybody is ready to stop wrestling after high school and only a small percentage go to Division I. With student loans going the way they are, you’ll see more and more kids going local.  Here, guys can go to open tournaments to wrestle Division I and Division III guys but in the end have their own national tournament.”

The nationals won’t be the only big event next season.  The Vikings will also have the chance to take the mat at the World’s Most Famous Arena for the Grapple at the Garden on December 1 alongside some of the country’s top teams.  [Westchester will battle Stony Brook in a dual meet].

“I don’t want to take one ounce of credit for making that happen,” Regan said. “It was all [Stony Brook head coach] Shaun [Lally].  He’s doing a fantastic job and I’m grateful that he wanted to include us as a part of that great event.  He had a good idea to promote local teams at the NCWA level at the Grapple at the Garden and obviously we’re very excited to be a part of it.”

Regan’s also excited about what the future holds.

“We have a lot of work to do,” the coach said earlier in the summer. “We need to recruit and fill some spots. But we have some very good wrestlers back too.”

Among the grapplers that Regan mentioned were David Rivera (149), Justin James (157) and Ray Ramos (174).

Regan had positive things to say about the performances of those wrestlers on the mat and about their development throughout the course of the year.  And, they were also significant in another way, according to the coach.

“Those guys were a huge part of pounding the pavement on campus, fighting for our survival,” Regan said. “They were completely essential in fighting the good fight.”

Regan also thanked Dave Colagiovanni and Dominick Oddo for their help and acknowledged all the work of Alex Yntriago, who worked with the program from the start with initial head coach Joe Boxer, originally as an assistant and heavyweight coach and now in some other capacities as well.

“Alex [Yntriago] has a history with some of the kids from the Beat the Streets program and does a really good job with his relationships in the New York City area,” Regan said. “He likes the promotion side of things and does very well for us in that regard too.”

“Promotions is something I do for a living,” Yntriago added. “I like to work on ways to get coaches and wrestlers interested. My objective is to expand the program by getting New York City hyped about it. I think this program can be a launching pad for New York City, Long Island and local kids. My efforts are also on teaching guys how to be champions in life.”

His efforts also may be spent on the mat, as Yntriago has a year of eligibility left and could compete at heavyweight this season.

So, after a dramatic year, Westchester looks forward to competing again.  Regan discussed a solid schedule, including events such as the Grapple at the Garden, meets with Yeshiva and Bergen Community College, an invitational at the University of Southern Maine and the New York State Championships at Cornell.

“We didn’t think we were having a team for a while, so to be where we are is fantastic,” Regan said. “We have a lot to look forward to here at Westchester.”

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Westchester CC is working to raise funds to continue moving the program forward. (For more information on how to help, see this link).

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