It’s a new era at Buffalo as former star John Stutzman returned to his alma mater this spring as the Bulls head coach after a successful run as the leader of the Bloomsburg program.
“Things are going well,” Stutzman said. “The administration here is behind wrestling and that’s great. There’s been a big transition. The guys have been buying into the philosophy and that’s been awesome. With the discipline and the kids we brought in, we changed the culture in less than six months. The guys are doing the right things socially and academically. When that happens, the wrestling piece is that much easier. It’s an exciting time and we’re moving forward.”
The squad welcomed a lot of newcomers – 14 of the 26 wrestlers on the October 30 roster on buffalobulls.com are freshmen with only three seniors.
“I like our youth,” Stutzman said. “The only way the young guys know is our way. They’ve been ‘all in’ since day 1. They want to start and be the guy, and that’s created competition in the room. The young guys have us excited for the future, but our returners have been amazing. Guys like Angelo [Malvestuto], Wally [Maziarz], the Soria brothers [Max and Mike] and others have been great leaders for us.”
Those leaders will help the team through a demanding schedule that begins in Brockport with the Oklahoma Gold tournament.
“Our schedule is very challenging right from the get go,” Stutzman said. “We have a chance to see a perennial top 10 team in Oklahoma to gauge where we’re at right away. There are a lot of things to be excited about – we’re excited about the MAC conference, which is arguably the second best in the country for wrestling. We’re also really looking forward to the Iowa match. Anytime you can wrestle at Carver Hawkeye Arena, that’s an exciting time for your program.”
Let’s take a look at who may make an impact for Buffalo in Stutzman’s first year at the helm.
Max Soria, a two-time NCAA qualifier for the Bulls, is the favorite to start. The former Kings Park standout led the squad in takedowns a year ago, while finishing second in total wins. Stutzman mentioned that he’s also pleased with the progress of Hunter transfer Jaydon Rice, a former Pennsylvania state placewinner.
“Max Soria has done awesome,” Stutzman said. “He’s working really hard. He’s always done well at the MAC championships at the end of the year. With the way he’s been training, I think he can get off to a faster start than usual, stay consistent and get on the podium at the national tournament. We’re looking for him to be our sparkplug at 125.”
Stutzman said 133 could be a “dogfight” to see who takes the mat for Buffalo among Justin Farmer, a senior who won seven times last season, recent addition Jason Estevez of New Jersey and Mike Soria, who has competed at 125 in previous years for the squad.
“Justin Farmer has been a spot starter for a few years and is entering his fifth year,” Stutzman said. “I’m kind of forcing Mike [Soria] up. I want to separate the brothers – they’ve been fighting for starting spots since they were little kids. We’re trying to put weight on Mike and I think he’s bigger than he’s ever been. I’m happy with the way Mike and Justin are progressing.”
In a recent release about Estevez joining the program, Stutzman said, “Jason will make an immediate impact for us and is capable of winning at a high level right way.”
Another battle could take place at 141, where Northern Illinois transfer Nick Flannery and Erik Galloway will square off. [Galloway began his college career at Pittsburgh]. Stutzman said that Flannery does have the option to redshirt, but “he wants to scrap.”
“I’m really high on Nick Flannery,” Stutzman said. “He’s had some success, but now we need to try to get him to be consistent throughout the year. He’s technically getting better and he’s really talented. I think he can have a breakout year. We expect big things. Galloway has been a starter and a MAC placewinner. They’ll push each other and hopefully we can get on the podium at this weight.”
Redshirt freshman John Northrup looks like a strong candidate to man this class for the Bulls (although he may begin at 157, according to Stutzman). In addition, several newcomers could push to wrestle in their first year on the Buffalo campus.
“John Northrup has had a good preseason,” Stutzman said. “He’s a Section 5 guy who has been working really hard. We’ll have some guys behind him like Jake Campana from New Jersey and Ryan Todora, a multi-time placewinner in Pennsylvania. We’re trying to redshirt those guys but it’s not set in stone yet.”
Wally Maziarz won 23 bouts at this weight last year. Stutzman said the plan is to have him return to 157, however, it may not be until the second semester. Looking to challenge is Muhammad McBride.
“Wally is big and strong and we’d like to get him to ‘57’ by the second part of the year,” Stutzman said. “He’s a great leader who has been getting better daily. We’re excited about him. McBride is a really interesting story. He never wrestled in high school but has been wrestling in the club system since he was a little kid. His father wrestled here and he could surprise people. He’s one of those gifted students – graduated from community college at 16. He wanted to wrestle and is doing a phenomenal job.”
As mentioned earlier, Maziarz will likely be here for at least part of the campaign. New York medalist Rrok Nkodaj will also fight for the job after coming in from Bloomsburg. Stutzman said Ryan Therrien from Massachusetts is also in the mix.
“Rrok is a super hard worker with a great attitude,” Stutzman said. “Wally and Rrok have bought in 100% and are unbelievable workers. The best guy will get the nod.”
This is another spot with a number of wrestlers that could make an impact. Among them are Bloomsburg transfer Tyler Rill, sophomore Jarred Lux and Section 9 alum Austin Weigel.
“We’re really excited about Tyler Rill’s development,” Stutzman said. “He knows how to wrestle – he’s crafty and talented and getting stronger every day. Jarred Lux has had a really good preseason. He was a spot starter last year and he’s really starting to figure it out. He’s getting consistent with his training and believing in himself. Austin Weigel is a true freshman. Those three guys set us up well at ‘65/74’ for a couple of years.”
Tony Lock, a former high school national champion and state titlewinner at Pioneer, saw time at this weight in his rookie year and looks to do so again in 2013-14. Another wrestler to keep tabs on is Joe Ariola, an Illinois standout.
“Tony Lock is a very talented kid,” Stutzman said. “He had an injury this summer, so he’s getting healthy and his weight’s coming down. I’m looking forward to getting him at his optimal weight class. Joe Ariola is an Illinois state champion who’s really good. He has some accolades and is a tough competitor from a good high school program. We may redshirt him this year.”
Angelo Malvestuto came back to the Buffalo area last year after beginning his college career at Virginia Tech. In his initial season with the Bulls, he won 14 bouts.
“Angelo has done an unbelievable job,” Stutzman said. “He has made serious gains these last few weeks. I’m really excited about his potential. I think he can be an All-American. Coach [Bryce] Hasseman has done a great job with him. His skill set keeps getting better.
A number of wrestlers could see time at heavyweight for the Bulls this year. Stutzman mentioned freshman Anthony Tufaro and two New York natives – Mike Silvis of Holley and James Benjamin of Vestal as two competitors who could take the mat at either 197 or 285.
“Anthony Tufaro is coming on, but he’s battling some injuries,” Stutzman said. “He probably won’t be ready right away. It could be heavyweight by committee for us this year. I think you’ll see our best lineup more toward January 1.”
Will the Bulls improve upon the four NCAA qualifiers they had in 2013? How many young wrestlers will contribute to Stutzman’s first Buffalo team? We’ll see how the squad looks when they hit the mat on November 9 at the Oklahoma Gold tournament.
“As a whole, the team will fight hard and be competitive,” Stutzman said. “We’ll be in great shape. We’re just getting better. The program is doing the right things; training hard with a great attitude. We’ll continue to progress daily and get ready for the national tournament.”