Kicking Off With the Pride: Hofstra 2013-14 Season Preview

Hofstra sent three wrestlers to the NCAA tournament in Iowa in 2013.  Two of those grapplers, Jamie Franco and Luke Vaith, return and with the addition of some fresh faces to the lineup and the development of some returners, there is a lot of optimism in Hempstead about what could be in store. New York Wrestling News spoke to assistant coach Zach Tanelli about changing conferences, the addition of transfers and the projected lineup for the 2013-14 campaign.

New York Wrestling News (NYWN): You had a lot of success in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).  How do you feel about the move to the EIWA conference this year?

Zach Tanelli (ZT): We’re really excited about the opportunity to be in a conference as prestigious as the EIWA. Nothing against the CAA, but we just feel that this is a conference that better suits our team and will provide us with some tough challenges.

NYWN: Last year, you began the season with Minnesota and Wisconsin and faced a number of other top teams in the first half of the campaign, such as Iowa and Ohio State. What are some of the highlights of this year’s schedule?

ZT: We toned down our schedule a little bit, in part because we’ll be seeing some better teams in the EIWA.  A lot of our rivalries were with EIWA teams anyway, so we’re looking forward to those matches having added meaning.

You always want to have a good dual meet team but unless and until scoring is changed at the NCAAs, you need individuals to perform in the tournament setting where there’s adversity and you have to know how to respond if you take a loss.  So it’s always important to go to some of the top tournaments in the country because they’re test runs for the NCAAs. We’ll be doing that by going to [The Cliff Keen Invitational in] Las Vegas and the Southern Scuffle. These tournaments give you an opportunity to show you belong with the top guys.  To win those tournaments or place high, you have to beat some of the best.  Our team will have that opportunity.

NYWN: What do you think are the expectations for the team this year?

ZT: Expectations are lower for us externally, with only Luke Vaith in many of the rankings, but we feel differently.  We feel like we’re a darkhorse.  We think we’re definitely a top three team in the conference. We know there are tough teams like Cornell and Penn, but we feel that we match up well.  We need to win those head to head matchups, but we think a top three finish is likely and that we can sneak in higher in our first year. We definitely think we have guys who have what it takes to be All-Americans this year and other guys who will be national qualifiers. Time will tell.  We’re really excited about the season.

NYWN:  The season is right around the corner.  You have the Hofstra Wrestling Kickoff Banquet [6:30 p.m. at the Long Island Marriott] this Saturday, followed by the season opener against Rutgers at home on Sunday.  Tell us about those two events.

ZT: We like to do our kickoff to bring people together before the high school season starts, to get everyone excited about the season.  It will be an opportunity for people to meet [former Hofstra wrestler and UFC champion] Chris Weidman and see what he has to say.  He’ll also be at the match.  The Rutgers match should be a good dual to start off the season against a local team that we want to be facing every year.

NYWN: Let’s take a look at the wrestlers who look to play key roles for the Pride in 2013-14.

125

Franco, Photo by BV

Jamie Franco started for Hofstra at 133 for the past few years, making NCAA tournament appearances in 2012 and 2013.  This March, he won a pair of bouts in Des Moines.  For his senior season, the former Section 9 star will move down to 125, where he hopes to end his career on the podium.

“Jamie feels great at this weight,” Tanelli said. “I’m amazed at how he’s progressed and how strong he is.  It’s a natural fit for him.  He’s not getting much respect in the rankings, but we don’t care about that.  It’s a good spot to be in – low expectations for now. He wrestles well as an underdog and will prove himself early on.”

133

Jamel Hudson and Maverick Passaro were both Division I New York state champions in 2012.  Hudson had a successful redshirt year for the Pride and looked strong in freestyle, placing at events such as the University Nationals. Passaro returned to Long Island from Rutgers after an year disrupted by injuries. Hudson won the wrestle-off last week by a 7-2 score and will take the mat for the Pride against the Scarlet Knights.

“We think our lower weights are very strong and 133 is a big part of that,” Tanelli said. “Jamel is a really exciting wrestler and we think he can do very well this year.”

141

Vaith, Photo by BV

Luke Vaith topped multiple All-Americans last year and won a bout at the NCAA tournament.  The staff believes he has what it takes for a breakthrough senior campaign.

“Luke will be tested right off the bat, especially on our trip to Virginia [November 8-10],” Tanelli said. “He’ll face All-Americans Devin Carter (Virginia Tech) and Evan Henderson (North Carolina). They’re both ranked in the top five. It’s a heck of a time to show the country you’re a true contender.  We feel confident he can beat both of those guys and we feel strongly as a staff that he can win a national title.”

149

Cody Ruggirello and Cam Tessari faced off in last Friday’s wrestle-offs with Tessari winning by a 5-3 score.  It will be Ruggirello who will begin the season as the starter, however, as Tessari plans to return to action later in the campaign.

“They’ll probably wrestle off again close to the second semester,” Tanelli said. “Cody is our starter for the first half of the year. He looks good. Cam will be ready by the Southern Scuffle.  He’ll acclimate and adjust and be ready to go for the second part of the year.  The National Duals are at Ohio State this year and he’s hoping to compete in front of his family.” [Tessari is from the Buckeye State].

157

Nick Terdick started for the squad as an undersized 165 pounder a year ago, but has moved down to 157 for 2013-14.

“Nick is a super talented guy who has come a long way with his confidence,” Tanelli said. “He was in a weight class that wasn’t ideal for him last year, but he’s put in a nice offseason and is hitting his stride. I think he’s ready for a big jump.”

165

Joe Booth’s sixth-year of eligibility was officially granted by the NCAA a few weeks ago.  Now, the former Drexel grappler, a multiple-time NCAA qualifier, will look to take advantage of the opportunity in his last season as a college wrestler.

“It’s refreshing to have Joe in the room,” Tanelli said. “He’s a guy who really wants to be there because he has perspective from not fulfilling all of his goals.  He was training for the first month without knowing if he’d get the year from the NCAA.  He was training blindly, just hoping to get his shot.  It was a big sigh of relief for him and he views it as a second chance to finally accomplish his goals.  I think he struggled in the past with workout partners and maybe got in his own way sometimes. Having [assistant coaches] Dan Vallimont and Ryan Patrovich to work with has given him a whole new confidence. We feel very strongly about what he can do in March – we expect him to be an All-American.  He’s a pleasure to have in the room.”

174

Last Wednesday, a 174-pound wrestle-off took place, including last year’s starter, Jermaine John, Dave Heitman and Victor Pozsonyi.  A year after splitting time at higher weights (184/197) as a true freshman, it was Pozsonyi, the sophomore from New Jersey, who defeated the other two competitors (3-2 over John and 5-3 over Heitman).  Tanelli said earlier this week that either Pozsonyi or John will start, with the other redshirting.

“Victor has made huge gains since last year,” Tanelli said. “He’s come a long way and we’re excited to see what he can do.  Jermaine has been on a steady incline since he got here.  He’s gotten better every year.  He’s a fighter who is a very good listener and hard worker.”

184

After Pozsonyi won the initial 174-pound competition, the previously mentioned John, Heitman and freshman Dwight Howes took the mat in a round robin event at last Friday’s wrestle-offs. Howes went 2-0 in the mini-tournament, topping Heitman (6-2) and John (6-5).  The freshman from Colorado arrived in Hempstead this year after spending time after high school training at the Olympic Training Center and Tanelli said he will be the starter at this weight.

“Dwight doesn’t mind people shooting on him – he’s actually comfortable when guys get in on his legs,” the assistant coach said. “He scores off other people’s attacks.  He’ll have to make adjustments as the season progresses, but it’s always exciting to watch him compete because he loves to wrestle live.  It’s a good thing – you want guys who enjoy competition as much as he does.”

197

There weren’t any 197 pound wrestle-off bouts last week.  However, according to Tanelli, Heitman will take this spot for the Pride.  In addition, Tanelli said Zeal McGrew, who competed at heavyweight a year ago, has begun to make the move down to be in the mix for the 197 spot.

“[Heitman] has a lot of heart and works very hard,” Tanelli said. “You never have to watch him and wonder – he’s always on track, doing the right things. He’s a great guy for the room who has earned his shot.”

285

Photo by BV

Mike Hughes had a perfect high school season for Smithtown West in 2012-13, winning a state championship with 42 wins and 31 pins.  He has separated himself in the Hofstra room and will get the nod as a true freshman at heavyweight.

“Mike Hughes is our starter,” Tanelli said. “He’s come in and done a great job. He looks very good in the room. We’re excited about his future here.  We just need him to stay healthy and keep moving forward.”

——————–

Can Jamie Franco and Luke Vaith end their Hofstra careers on the podium?  How high will the squad place in its first season in the EIWA? We’ll see very soon what the Hofstra Pride will look like in 2013-14, as the season kicks off this Sunday at home against current EIWA foe Rutgers at 1 p.m.

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What's Happening at Hofstra? Assistant Coach Zach Tanelli Talks About All-American Tessari, Transfers and More As the Season Gets Closer

Hofstra brings back a pair of NCAA qualifiers –  Luke Vaith and Jamie Franco – and has added a number of transfers and other newcomers to the roster for the upcoming campaign.  New York Wrestling News caught up with assistant coach Zach Tanelli to talk about some of the new faces and the outlook for this season.

 

New York Wrestling News (NYWN):  Is the transfer of [2012 All-American] Cam Tessari from Ohio State official?

Zach Tanelli (ZT): Yes. [Last week] Cam Tessari was accepted to Hofstra and he’s enrolled in classes.

We’re really excited about it.  Cam was looking for a home and it’s a weight class [149 pounds] where we felt we needed more experience.  It’s a great thing that it worked out. It really solidifies the lower part of our lineup.

He has a redshirt available, but we’re not looking to redshirt him this year. Right now we’re looking to have him ready to go for the Southern Scuffle.  He is coming off an injury and we’ll be easing him back. We expect him to be healthy and strong and ready to make a deep run at the national tournament.  He has two years of eligibility left and three years to do it in.

NYWN: Joe Booth, who wrestled for Drexel, has also been rumored to be transferring to Hofstra.  Is there anything you can share on that?

ZT:  Joe has been accepted into grad school at Hofstra, so it’s just a matter of waiting to hear whether the NCAA will grant him a sixth year of eligibility.  He’ll be at Hofstra next year in grad school, in a business-related program that they didn’t have at Drexel.  We feel pretty confident that the NCAA will grant him the extra year, but you never know. We’ll just have to wait and see.  We have some experience with sixth year guys, like Justin Accordino last year. It’s great to have guys like that around the team.  Justin was a role model and a leader; a voice the guys listened to.  Having those sixth year guys around has benefits beyond wins and losses.  If Joe gets the year, he would wrestle at 165.

NYWN: In addition to Tessari, Booth and Maverick Passaro, who we profiled a few weeks ago (here), do you expect any other transfers on your team this year?

ZT: I’d say our roster for next year is full.  Those three transfers are the only ones we expect this year, and I’ll definitely take it.  We’re really excited about them.

NYWN: There are some other new faces that could see mat time this year.   One wrestler who had a good redshirt year and some success in freestyle in the offseason is 2012 state champion Jamel Hudson.  What expectations do you have for him this year?

ZT: The plan right now is for him to go 133.  It looks like he will be competing with Maverick Passaro for the spot. He had a good redshirt year with some impressive wins.  Probably the best win was against Franklin & Marshall’s Ricky Durso, who made the Round of 12 at NCAAs.  Jamel was one of Durso’s few losses coming into the NCAA tournament.  Jamel showed signs of being able to perform at a very high level.  He’s a performer – he really enjoys the spotlight. I think the sky’s the limit if he has his weight under control.  He needs to grow throughout the season and mature wrestling-wise.  But he’s a very confident young man and he could have an impact on the national scene.

NYWN: Another newcomer familiar to New York wrestling fans is Smithtown West state champion Mike Hughes at 285.  Do you expect him to step on the mat right away?

ZT: It will be a competition between him and Zeal McGrew, two New York guys. We’ll see how it goes. They’ll wrestle off.  It looks as though Mike is the frontrunner at this time. But Zeal’s been working and is motivated to try and get in the lineup.  We’re excited about that weight class because we feel like we’ll be scoring points there this year.

NYWN: What can you tell us about [184-pounder] Dwight Howes, who spent time at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) after graduating high school?

ZT:  Dwight spent the majority of 2012 and 2013 at the OTC competing in freestyle, trying to make a US World Team.  He’s done a nice job and really developed with some great wins on the freestyle circuit. Now, he’s adapting to college wrestling.  He’s done a great job so far; he really loves wrestling.  He also loves Hofstra. He wants to put that singlet with an ‘H’ on his chest and represent this university. He’s excited to come to the room every day – he doesn’t care if you’re 125 pounds, 225 pounds or 325 pounds, he wants to wrestle and wrestle hard.  He needs to get his conditioning up and work on his mat wrestling like most freshmen.   I feel optimistic about his future in this program.

NYWN: You mentioned Jamel Hudson and Maverick Passaro at 133 earlier.  Is Jamie Franco moving down to 125 for his senior year?

ZT: Yes.  It’s a little more of a natural weight for him. He built himself up to be a 133, but 125 is his natural class.  I think he’s right around the weight he should be right now.  He’s done a great job. He’s really focused and motivated and taking all the necessary measures to be an All-American.

NYWN: Will Luke Vaith be back at 141 pounds?

ZT: Yes. I think Luke is going to have a breakout year.  He’s a very self motivated wrestler. He’s always asking to work.  He had a great season last year; although a little inconsistent at times.  The biggest thing he learned is that he belongs at this level.  He belongs in the conversation with All-Americans and national champions.

The biggest change this offseason for him is his mat wrestling. He’s worked a lot with [Edinboro NCAA champion] Gregor Gillespie, who was one of the best in the NCAA in top wrestling.  Luke has been hammering the mat work.  We’ve had lots of conversations that at the highest level, you have to be able to ride those last 15 seconds or you have to be able to escape in those last 15 seconds. It’s pivotal and he gets that.

He’s a really tough critic of himself.  He almost didn’t believe how good he was until after he looked back at his total body of work last year. When he looks back at last season, he sees he beat All-Americans like [Minnesota’s Nick] Dardanes and [Cornell’s Mike] Nevinger.  He has a lot more confidence and I think he’s poised and ready to make a deep run this year.

NYWN: Anything else going on at Hofstra that you’d like to share?

ZT: We’re just soaking up these last two weeks, and before you know it, school’s here. Everyone is on their summer programs and we’ll be hitting the ground running in a few weeks.  We’re excited for a new year. We feel like we have a nice mix of guys, new and veteran, who will help us do much better and outperform what we did last year.