Roar of the Lions: Columbia Looks to Build Upon Historic Year (The 2013-14 Season Preview)

One of the loudest ovations during the Saturday morning medal rounds at the 2013 NCAA Championships came after Steve Santos topped Dylan Ness for third place at 149 pounds. The announcer told the crowd that the bronze medal showing by Santos was the highest finish in the history of Columbia wrestling.

Matt Bystol, Courtesy of Brock Malone

That stellar performance by Santos in Des Moines was one of the many highlights for the Lions in 2012-13.  The squad sent five wrestlers to Nationals and had three EIWA finalists. Santos won the conference title while Matt Bystol (133) and Josh Houldsworth (165) nabbed silver.

Santos, Jake O’Hara (157) and Stephen West (174), all longtime starters and leaders for the Ivy League program, have graduated, but their final season with Columbia set the tone going forward.

“I think what happened last year paves the way for the younger guys,” said head coach Carl Fronhofer. “The expectations are now higher as a result.  It’s a good thing – we don’t have to preach it all the time because the guys saw what was accomplished and they know what’s expected here.  There’s a higher bar to jump over now.”

The squad will look to jump over that bar during a challenging schedule.

“Early in the year we’ll have some pretty big matches at the Northeast Duals,” Fronhofer said. “Midlands is obviously always a huge test – a good measuring stick.  We have a solid dual schedule in February – Ivy duals are always exciting and important to us.  We’ll be ready to go by the end of the year.”

What does he expect the team to accomplish after last year’s achievements?

“Our goals really don’t change,” he said. “We’ll be a younger team this year, but we always are trying to win the Ivy League title, the EIWA title and be a top 10 team nationally.  We’ve put a lot of pieces in place to do that.  We’ll be young and exciting this year with some fresh faces.”

Those fresh faces include a rookie group that has made an impact already in the room.

“We’re really excited about the freshman class that’s getting after it with a great work ethic and attitude,” Fronhofer said. “They’ve bonded really well.  We’ll have a lot of spots up for grabs this year and there will be an opportunity for some of those freshmen to get into the lineup.  We only started one freshman last year [Alec Mooradian at 141], but I’ll be pretty surprised if that happens again this year.”

The following is a weight-by-weight look at the Lions for the upcoming campaign:


Penn Gottfried has been the starter at this weight for multiple seasons.  A year ago, he posted eight victories.  Fronhofer expects Gottfried to be challenged in the room, but believes the Section 1 native has made significant strides going into the 2013-14 campaign.

“Penn looks good and strong,” Fronhofer said. “I expect him to make a jump this year. I’ll be really surprised if we don’t see better results.  He does everything right and eventually that pays off for you.  He will be pushed by a couple of guys.  Johnson Mai, a California state champ and double Fargo finalist, made some improvements and put on some size last year.  He’s still a little small at the weight, but he has the ability to win a bunch of matches at Open tournaments this year.”


Last year, Matt Bystol began the season at 141.  However, in the second semester, Bystol made the transition down to 133, where he went on an impressive run, making the EIWA finals and qualifying for the NCAA tournament (He won a match in Des Moines over Davidson’s Anthony Elias).  The same approach may be on tap again this year.

“The current plan is to follow a similar strategy,” Fronhofer said. “He’s big for 133, so he’ll probably start the year at 141.  If he’s winning at a high level, he might consider staying, but the plan now is to have him be ready to get down to ‘33’ by Midlands.  We have a few guys in the room who could see time at this weight.  Joey Moita is also big for the weight, but he looks pretty good this preseason.  We have two freshmen from Long Island, Chris Araoz and Matt Leshinger, who could see some time here.”


Alec Mooradian took over the 141-pound job in his first year as a Lion, picking up dual victories in Ivy action against Princeton and Brown.  As mentioned earlier, Matt Bystol will likely be in this class initially as well.

“When all is said and done, I think we’ll see Alec at 141, at least in the second semester. He’s definitely a competitor.  [Matt] Leshinger might find himself here as well.  People keep asking me what the lineup will look like and I say – your guess is as good as mine,” Fronhofer said jokingly. “That’s a good thing because we have lots of guys competing hard in the room and lots of talented wrestlers.”


Taking over for the highest placer in school history (Steve Santos) won’t be an easy task. But both Ryan Ponte and Connor Sutton are looking to take on the challenge.

“Ponte had a great summer, put on some mass and trained really hard,” Fronhofer said. “Connor Sutton was at 157 last year but was small at that weight. He’ll be competitive for the spot as well.”


Longtime starter and multi-time NCAA qualifier Jake O’Hara graduated, leaving an open battle for the 157 slot.  According to Fronhofer, there is a line of candidates looking to get the nod.

“We probably have 4-5 guys competing for that spot,” the coach said. “We have some guys who have been in the room for a while and have collegiate experience.  They couldn’t break into the lineup because of Santos or O’Hara but they’re good kids who work hard and want their chance. I’m talking about guys like Chad Ryan, Jake Kazimir, Kevin Brown and Ben Villaret. We also have freshman Markus Scheidel [2013 Fargo Freestyle National Champion], who will be competitive right out of the gate.  He has a big gas tank and will make the transition quickly. We’re going to hold a mini tournament and see what happens and then go to MSU Open and see what happens there. We have options.”


Josh Houldsworth had a breakthrough season in 2012-13, winning 20 bouts and taking second at the EIWA championships.  He made his first appearance at the NCAA tournament and looks for another leap in performance this year.

“Josh had an awesome summer and put more mass on,” Fronhofer said.  “Obviously, he made a big move from 149 to 165 last year and he has continued to fill into the weight.  We expect a lot of big things out of him and he’s thinking the same way. His freshman year we needed a ’41’ pounder and he struggled with cutting so much weight.  His sophomore year he was behind Santos at 149.  We always knew he could wrestle and the potential was there.  Last year, he didn’t have to worry about the weight and with growing and lifting he was able to do the things he did. He’s done some critical work this summer and I think you’ll see another big jump out of him.”


Like Santos and O’Hara, Stephen West was a mainstay in the Columbia lineup, starting for years at 174 pounds.  His departure leaves an opportunity for wrestlers such as Adam Fondale, Eric Fajardo and Drew Rebling to see significant time.

“This is another place where we have a bunch of guys looking to step in,” Fronhofer said. “Adam Fondale has been in the room for three years. A few years ago he did a really good job as a backup ’65’ pounder – winning about 20 matches and placing at good tournaments like the Penn State Open.  He’s grown into a 174. Eric Fajardo is coming off a medical redshirt. He’s a pretty talented guy – a good athlete who will certainly compete. Drew Rebling started for us at 184 last year, but he was never big enough for 184. We just needed him there.  He’ll be a factor as well.  We have some other guys who will wrestle off at 184 but will certify at 174 and be possibilities too.”


With Rebling going to 174, the next weight has an opening.  A pair of returners and a fresh face will be among those looking to take the mat in that position for the Lions.

Zack Hernandez is a great kid and great athlete who came in pretty inexperienced as a wrestler,” Fronhofer said. “He made some big jumps in the room last year as a freshman and will be in the mix. Shane Hughes is getting back to form. He started two years ago, but struggled a little last year. He seems focused and ready to go. Freshman Troy Hembury will certainly make things interesting. He’s very competitive in the room already.”


Nick Mills has been the 197-pounder for Columbia in recent years, but with his graduation, two Keystone State natives are among the contenders to take over.

Matt Idelson has been in the room for two years and has some experience for us,” Fronhofer said. “Another freshman from Pennsylvania, Mike Fetchet, was a ‘70’ pounder this year in high school.  But he hit a huge growth spurt and will battle it out with Matt for the spot.”


2012 Greco Roman Junior World Team member Wyatt Baker returns for the Lions, looking to be a regular for the first time. As a freshman, he trained while sitting behind NCAA qualifier Kevin Lester.  A year ago, he battled injuries and senior Chris Manna.  A transfer from Bucknell will also be available in the second semester.

“I thought Wyatt Baker would be in the lineup last year, but he really couldn’t stay healthy,” Fronhofer said. “He missed almost all of preseason, was pretty banged up and went into wrestleoffs with very little training. This spring and summer has been different – he’s had a long stretch of training consistently and stayed healthy.  He looks better than he’s ever looked.”

Can Columbia send five or more qualifiers to the NCAA tournament again?  Will the Lions once again have an EIWA champion? How many freshmen will break through to the starting lineup? We’ll find out when the Lions begin the campaign on November 9 at the Michigan State Open in East Lansing.


Columbia Posts 2013-14 Schedule, Including the Midlands and Duals With Buffalo, Binghamton and Cornell

In 2012-13, Columbia featured a trio of EIWA finalists (champion Steve Santos and second placers Matt Bystol and Josh Houldsworth) and saw Santos achieve the highest finish in program history at the NCAA tournament when he took third.

What will 2013-14 bring for the Lions?  The team’s schedule is now available for the upcoming campaign.

Head coach Carl Fronhofer‘s squad will begin at the Michigan State Open on November 9 before going Upstate for the New York State Championships in Ithaca on the 23rd of that same month.  The Lions will take part in two top notch events before the end of 2013, competing at the Northeast Duals in Troy and the powerful Midlands.

Columbia will square off with three Empire State teams in duals during the second part of the season, with Binghamton and Buffalo coming to New York City in January and the Lions traveling to Cornell in February.

To view the schedule, see here.

Columbia Announces Recuiting Class, Including Three NYers and Fargo Champion Scheidel

On Monday, Columbia University announced the freshman class that will begin in the classroom and on the mat in the fall of 2013.  The nine person group includes a trio of New York wrestlers – state champion Matt Leshinger of Sayville, 2012 NHSCA National champion Chris Araoz of Wantagh and 2013 New York state placer Andrew Psomas of Monsignor Farrell.  Markus Scheidel of Ohio, who captured a prestigious Junior Freestyle crown over the weekend in Fargo, also is part of the class.


Courtesy of Columbia University Athletics

NEW YORK – Andrew F. Barth Head Coach of Wrestling, Carl Fronhofer, has announced the addition of nine incoming first-years for the 2013-14 season. The incoming class features a pair of grapplers that have won national championships, as well as a plethora of state placewinners over multiple years.

“We are very excited about this class of young men,” said Fronhofer. “They are a talented group of wrestlers with the ability to win at this level. The entire staff is looking forward to the fall when we can start working with them.”

Chris Araoz – Wantagh HS – Wantagh, N.Y.
Araoz became the first Wantagh, Section 8 and Nassau County wrestler to win a national title when he claimed the 120-pound championship at the NHSCA Junior Nationals his junior season. Araoz has been competing at national events for multiple years, winning matches at the Iron Horse Invitational and the Super 32 Challenge.

His Wantagh team has also been very successful, winning the New York State tournament, crowned Dual Meet champions in 2011-12 and winning three Section 8 titles in four years.

For the remainder of the release from Columbia University Athletics and details on the remaining members of the Class of 2017, see Columbia Recruiting Full Release link.


Hall of Famer Al Bevilacqua: NY's Influence Powerful From the Sidelines to the Mat



At the NCAA tournament in Des Moines, the eyes of wrestling fans will be fixed on Cornell’s Kyle Dake as he aims to make history by winning his fourth championship at his fourth different weight class without the benefit of a redshirt. To do so, he will likely have to beat returning Hodge Trophy winner David Taylor of Penn State for the third time this season and fourth this calendar year (if the All-Star Dual and the Olympic Trials are counted).

Dake, a Lansing native, has been a bright star for New York wrestling over the past several years but he won’t be the only Empire State representative threatening to make waves in Iowa. For example, his former training partner at the Shamrock Wrestling Club, Donnie Vinson of Binghamton, will be in the mix at 149 pounds after taking third there a year ago.

If history is any indication, they will be among the many New Yorkers on the podium. According to data from, the Empire State ranks eighth among all states since 1961 in most individual national champions (24) and seventh in total titles (32). Last year, 26 New York natives took the mat at Nationals in St. Louis, the third most of any state behind Pennsylvania and Ohio and produced the third most All-Americans (six).

Simply put, there’s no question that New York is one of the top players on the NCAA scene.

But perhaps less appreciated is another way New York is making its presence felt. And that’s on the sidelines.

Tom Ryan, Courtesy

From Tom Ryan’s young team in Buckeye Country to Steve Garland (Virginia) and Kerry McCoy (Maryland) in the ACC, the impact of the tough wrestling taught in this state is felt around the country.

And that’s just part of the story. A number of other programs are led by those who grew up in the Empire State, including Buffalo (Jim Beichner), North Carolina State (Pat Popolizio), Duke (Glen Lanahan), Columbia (Carl Fronhofer), Boston (Carl Adams) and Cal Poly (Brendan Buckley, who spent some time in New York). In addition, both Bloomsburg’s John Stutzman and Hofstra’s Rob Anspach did their college wrestling in the Empire State (at Buffalo and Hofstra, respectively).

Remember, there are less than 80 head coaching positions in Division I . . . and there are 49 states with wrestling. But a lot of leadership seems to be emerging from New York.

Kyle Dake will complete his Big Red career as one of the greats on the big stage.

But he will be only one of the New Yorkers to make headlines at NCAAs this year and in years to come.

On to the Next Goal: Columbia's Steve Santos Wins EIWA Title and is Now Focused on the NCAA Podium

On Feb 16, Steve Santos scored a dramatic takedown and back points in the waning seconds of the third period to defeat Penn’s Andrew Lenzi, 7-4, in a bout he trailed most of the way.

A rematch seemed imminent when the EIWA Tournament brackets were released with Santos as the top seed and Lenzi in the eighth spot. Could Lenzi finish off the upset this time?

Santos never gave him a chance. Late heroics were unnecessary as the Columbia senior got out to an early lead and then made quick work of the Quaker with a second period fall.

“I was really looking forward to improving on my performance,” Santos said. “It was a totally different match. I was able to get a takedown and a couple sets of back points to build up a lead before the pin.”

Photo courtesy of Brock Malone/Columbia Athletics

“Steve had a couple of close matches in February so I’m sure some people in the weight thought they had a shot at him,” said Columbia head coach Carl Fronhofer. “He was pretty dinged up then, but we finally got him healthy at the right time. Steve’s pretty hard to beat anytime. But he’s really hard to beat when he has extra motivation like he did [against Lenzi].”

Extra motivation was also there for his next bout with Cornell’s Chris Villalonga in the semifinals, the wrestler who topped Santos in the EIWA third place bout in 2012.

“I was looking forward to facing him again,” Santos said. “It’s always good to get revenge for a loss. I wasn’t able to wrestle him in the dual meet this year because I was still injured, but he’s had a good season. Getting the win was a big confidence boost for me.”

Villalonga got on the board first with a takedown, but Santos controlled the latter portions of the match, something Fronhofer said has happened many times over the years.

“Without question, his work on top in that match was key,” Fronhofer said. “But Steve’s good in every position. The thing is, if you look at his matches, they’re all pretty competitive for the first three or four minutes. But at the four-minute mark or so, the tide turns in his favor. He just has another gear to go to that I think some guys have a hard time keeping pace with.”

That trait has helped Santos compile a 26-2 record this season and the EIWA championship over Army’s Daniel Young. And, according to Fronhofer, this was one of the reasons Santos made an instant impact for the Lions as a highly-touted rookie out of Brick, New Jersey.

“He was thrown right in there as a freshman and he could compete with the best right away,” Fronhofer said. “He didn’t always win, but you know you have a special kid when he’s in every match. He’s a guy who doesn’t care how good you are. He wrestles his match regardless of who you are. He’s always had the ability to finish matches strong. Sometimes early in his career, he’d be down big after the first period and still come back to win or at least make it really interesting.”

“As a freshman, I made up for inexperience with being able to wrestle hard and wearing guys down,” Santos added. “Just having good conditioning and really being able to win that third period really helped me have some level of success right away.”

But on top of that seven-minute intensity, Santos had another characteristic from the start that the head coach said set the captain apart.

“Steve doesn’t get scared or nervous; even at the beginning of his career that was true,” Fronhofer said. “He’s just excited to compete. That’s an attribute that can’t be overstated in its importance.”

“Generally, I love to compete, especially in big matches,” Santos said. “I’m always excited to have a chance to knock someone off. I feel like I generally keep my cool and don’t take myself out of matches no matter what the score is because I’ve come from behind to win so many times.”

He certainly has embraced some big moments in the past. He has beaten some highly ranked competitors such as Mario Mason when he was in the nation’s Top 10, Donnie Vinson (twice) and David Habat.

His victory over the Edinboro grappler was a part of his run at the NCAA tournament last year, in which he came within one victory of making the podium, dropping a 5-0 decision to Oklahoma’s Nick Lester in the Round of 12.

“I was definitely upset about my performance,” Santos said. “The goal is always to be an All-American and a National Champion. I came close to the first one but didn’t get it. Right after that match, I thought about having only one chance left. I went right to work. I put in a lot of time this summer thinking about reversing some outcomes and getting on the podium this year.”

Much of that training came with frequent workout partner (and fellow two-time NCAA qualifier at 157) Jake O’Hara. In addition, the presence of former All-American Adam Hall in the Columbia room played a key role.

“Having someone on [Hall’s] level definitely helped me a lot,” Santos said. “He’s able to share his experiences and the fact that he’s still training hard for his own personal goals pushes everyone harder. It brings a whole extra level of competitiveness to our team.”

That team improvement was evident this past weekend. The Lions had three conference finalists (Santos, plus Matt Bystol and Josh Houldsworth, who took second at 133 and 165, respectively). That trio plus O’Hara, who grabbed fourth at 157, secured four bids at the NCAAs for Columbia. (174-pounder Stephen West could make it five Lions heading to Des Moines, as he is a strong candidate for an at large bid and will find out his fate on Wednesday).

“I think the program has really turned around since my freshman year,” Santos said. “We had a really small team then and every year it has grown and we’ve made progress. Having four NCAA qualifiers and possibly five is a great thing and shows all the hard work this team has put in.”

There are a lot of reasons for the results, but Fronhofer pointed out that Santos and his classmates are one of them.

“Steve is a true pleasure to coach,” Fronhofer said. “He and the rest of our senior class did a lot to shape the culture of Columbia wrestling. It’s a special group to me because it’s the first class I had a chance to help recruit as an assistant. All eight of them are still on the team and will be graduating. Those guys as a whole will definitely be missed. Steve is a leader among leaders. He’s quiet; he doesn’t say too much because he doesn’t need to. All the guys should strive to have a work ethic like him in the wrestling room and in the classroom. If guys follow what he does, they’ll be successful.”

Santos was successful at the EIWAs, making the finals for the first time and earning the championship. He said that was one of his senior year goals and with that checked off the list, making the medal stand at NCAAs is next.

He ended the campaign as the nation’s fifth ranked wrestler in both the Coaches’ Panel and the RPI. That will likely translate into a seed that should put him in good position to end his career on a high note. Fronhofer believes it could be a very high note.

“Steve’s goal has been a National Championship from the start of the year,” Fronhofer said. “He has the experience and the ability to get it done. It’s clearly a loaded class like the middleweights usually are and there are some uber talented wrestlers. We’ll have to have a good gameplan and he’ll have to wrestle smart to get there.”

Santos believes he’s prepared for his last few days as a college wrestler, before likely staying in New York City to work in the finance field.

“I think that I’m really starting to peak at the right level,” he said. “I had a break in the middle of the season when I was hurt and it took me a little while to get back. But my performance at EIWAs gave me a lot of confidence. I come from a wrestling family and have been competing since elementary school. I know I’ve worked hard toward my goals and I think I’m ready for the big matches.”

He’s ready. Whoever steps on the mat with him better be ready too – for seven full minutes.


Steve Santos wished to thank his parents for all their support. “My mom and dad took me to all those tournaments, pushed me and gave me the opportunities to do something I love.”

He also wished to thank his coaches and Columbia wrestling for “providing me with everything I needed to compete at this level and being a huge part of my success.”

Columbia Lands Top 100 Recruit Garrett Ryan of Wyoming Seminary


By Matt Diano

While most of the East Coast spent the early hours today fretting the impending damages that will accompany the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, one man, Columbia University head coach Carl Fronhofer, was no doubt smiling ear to ear this morning when he received word that premier big man, Garrett Ryan, had opted to verbally commit to the Lions as a part of their 2013 recruiting class.  The addition of Ryan comes less than one week after the Ivy League Institution landed 2012 NHSCA Junior National Champion, Chris Araoz, to bolster the lineup down low.  Now with Ryan on board, EIWA foes have every reason in the world to fear Columbia’s bookends for years to come.  While still very early in the recruiting season, as the #76 overall prospect in the current senior class, it is possible that the Scottsdale, Arizona native will end up being the crown jewel of the class.

The 170-pound 2012 Arizona state champion, after posting a pair of fifth place showings in his first two years on the Horizon High School varsity at 145 and 160 pounds, respectively, Ryan made the decision prior to the start of his senior campaign to transfer to Pennsylvania prep powerhouse,Wyoming Seminary for the 2012/2013 season. He cited the quality of workout partners and the more competitive national schedule among other factors in expressing his sentiments that the Scott Green-led program will best position/prepare him for success on the next level.  His commitment to Columbia is the second huge one in the past four days for the Blue Knights, as teammate Eric Morris (the #21 rated senior) decided upon Harvard as his future destination late last week.  In doing so, Ryan became the third blue chipper this fall to select the New York City based school, joining the aforementioned Araoz and 2012 120-pound NYS DI bronze medalist Matt Leshinger in representing the first wave of talented student-athletes flocking to the EIWA conference member.

Experiencing something of a David Taylor growth spurt (in reference to Penn State’s current returning national champion who jumped several weights in a short period of time and still enjoyed unmatched success), the bigger Ryan gets, the better he seems to perform.  In fact, despite the 50 pound difference in weight classes, Ryan would complement his state title last season by becoming a double All-American on the Junior level, finishing fourth in Greco-Roman and fifth in Freestyle at 220 pounds.  He would also earn gold medals in both international styles at the FILA Cadet National Tournament, affording him the privilege of representing the Red, White, and Blue at the FILA Cadet World Tournament this past August in Baku, Azerbaijan.  Here, he would add one final bullet point to a successful summer resume, finishing fifth in FS.  Ryan will head into his swan song as the #5 ranked wrestler in the country at his weight class, per FloWrestling.

A 3.97 student with monster scores on the the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), as that special breed of dual threat (killing it in the classroom as well as on the wrestling mat), Ryan had his pick of top notch academic colleges/universities, choosing Columbia over the likes of fellow Ivy League members, UPenn and Princeton, as fellow as nationally acclaimed universities Cal Poly and Northwestern.   With 2012 Junior World representative (finished 10th), Wyatt Baker, only a sophomore, already on the Lion roster, the path to the starting lineup will not be an easy one for Ryan.  However, in much the same way that the move to Wyoming Seminary fit his interests from a developmental standpoint, so too will the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with Baker and Columbia assistant, Hudson Taylor (3x NCAA All-American for the University of Maryland).

This article was originally published on

Head Coach Carl Fronhofer Previews the 2012-13 Columbia Lions

In 2011-12, Carl Fronhofer’s first season as head coach, Columbia took third place in the Ivy League (losing a 19-18 nailbiter against second place Penn) and sixth at the EIWA tournament.  The Lions sent three wrestlers to the NCAA tournament, where Steve Santos came within one win of becoming an All-American at 149 and 157-pounder Jake O’Hara and now graduated heavyweight Kevin Lester each won a pair of matches.

What’s next for the Ivy League squad in 2012-13?  Fronhofer gave New York Wrestling News a preview of what to expect in the upcoming campaign, beginning with a weight-by-weight look at the team.

125 Pounds – Former Section 1 standout Penn Gottfried returns after taking last season off with a shoulder injury.  He’ll be in a battle with Robert Dyar, who won 16 matches last year, for the starting role in 2012-13.  Adding depth is California state champion Johnson Mai.

Coach Fronhofer: “Penn and Dyar are pretty competitive in the room and at this point, it’s hard to tell what will happen.  Penn’s rehab went great and his arm is strong.  But, he’s only been back on the mat for a couple of weeks.  I think it’s close enough between those two guys that I’ll remove myself from that situation and see how it plays out. As for Johnson Mai, he’s a tremendous athlete who is very skilled.  He’s good enough to find ways to win.  But he’s probably at least a year away from getting big enough to compete nationally.  It’s similar to Dyar when he first came in – he needed time to grow enough to compete at 125 pounds.”

133 Pounds – The departure of starter Kyle Gilchrist, who went 27-15 a year ago, leaves a spot that several wrestlers are hoping to grab.

Coach Fronhofer: “It’s definitely wide open. We have Andrew Grabfelder, who was a starter earlier in his career.  He took a year off, was injured when he came back and is a senior now.  If he can stay healthy and keep it together, he can do well.  We also have some young guys from Ohio – Ryan Murdock and Angelo Amenta who are pretty talented kids who work hard.  Also add in California freshman Joe Moita.  This is the most wide open race for a starting spot in our lineup this year.”

141 Pounds – Last season, Matt Bystol, Ryan Ponte and Elijah Sullivan all manned the 141-pound spot at times, until Bystol earned the nod down the stretch.  He and Ponte will be back, with Sullivan taking the year off. But it may be a three-way race again as Top 100 recruit Alec Mooradian, a Michigan native, will also look for time.

Coach Fronhofer: “We had several wrestleoffs last year at 141 and it went in circles. When the dust settled, it was Bystol who won the job.  He was really steady and consistent and that’s why he found himself in the lineup at the end of the year.  Ponte will battle with him again and so will Mooradian.  [Mooradian] was a four-time state finalist and a three-time champion and lost only a few matches in his entire high school career.   He’s tough and he’ll be fighting for the spot too.”

149 Pounds – Unlike the first three weights, 149 isn’t up for grabs.  Four-year starter Steve Santos will be back a year after making the Round of 12 at the NCAA tournament.  Santos has racked up several impressive victories during his career, including wins over Mario Mason, Donnie Vinson and Edinboro’s David Habat.  In 2011-12, he compiled a 26-11 record and took fourth at the EIWA tournament before winning three bouts at nationals.

Coach Fronhofer: “Last year, Steve was solid.  When he was a freshman and sophomore, he was a little inconsistent. He took some bad losses here and there.  But if he continues to be consistent, he’s a top 10 guy in the country and is capable of more than that.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he took top four at NCAAs this year.  He has what it takes to be an All-American.”

157 Pounds – Like Santos, fellow senior Jake O’Hara got his hand raised at nationals in 2012.  The Pennsylvania native won two matches in St. Louis to cap off a 30-victory campaign.  According to Fronhofer, he and Santos will be the team captains and are the leaders of the squad who “take care of business inside and outside the room and do everything right”.

Coach Fronhofer: “Jake made a big leap last year.  I think the difference between Jake as a sophomore and as a junior was pretty astronomical.  It’s a credit to him.  He works very hard – he stays the course and gets better every day.  I think having [assistant coach] Adam Hall [an All-American at Boise State] to work with was very beneficial.  Without question, Jake’s goal is to be on the podium in March.  There’s no doubt in my mind that he can do it.  The middle weights are always loaded but you have to show up and wrestle.  He’s capable of placing at the NCAAs.”

165 Pounds – NCAA qualifier Eren Civan graduated and a number of young wrestlers are lining up to take his spot.  Michigan native Josh Houldsworth, who started at 141 as a freshman in 2010-11, is moving up a few weights while 2012 spot starter Adam Fondale is in the mix with sophomore Eric Fajardo.

Coach Fronhofer: “Josh Houldsworth is pretty tall and we always thought he could grow. We’ve gotten such consistent work out of Steve [Santos] and Jake [O’Hara] that we asked Josh to move up and he’s making that move. Fondale won about 20 matches last year, wrestling in duals, opens and all over the place. Fajardo is a super talented kid who did a lot of judo growing up.  He didn’t have the pure wrestling experience of a lot of other guys, but he’s a great athlete who has developed well.  He took second at the FILA Junior Nationals this spring in Greco and has made some big gains in a short time.”

174 PoundsStephen West joined the lineup as soon as he arrived at Columbia and is ready to enter his fourth year as a starter.   Despite 33 wins last season, he didn’t receive a bid to the NCAA tournament and looks to qualify for nationals and more in his final season in a Lions singlet.

Coach Fronhofer: “It was almost unbelievable that [West] wasn’t at the tournament last year. It was shocking to me after he qualified a spot for our conference and placed only one spot out [of automatic qualifying]. He had the most wins at the weight in the country.   He was completely devastated – we all were.  But he has the right attitude about the sport and life and he snapped out of it pretty quickly and went back to work in the spring and summer.  He has the right focus.  I assume that in March he’ll be competing at a pretty high level nationally.  He’s shooting to be an All-American. He has the experience, the athleticism and the skill set that makes it possible.”

184 PoundsShane Hughes came in as a freshman and racked up 22 wins.  He was an exciting wrestler to watch, recording 11 pins and going for big moves at 184 pounds.  Several other freshmen, such as Zack Hernandez, Austin Coniker and Chris Loew are also listed at the weight.

Coach Fronhofer: “Shane is definitely very dangerous in certain positions.  To make a jump this year, he’ll have to be more consistent and tighten up his game a little bit.  You can’t put the reins on guys like him because part of why he’s good is that he’s so open.  But he’ll have to improve a little on fundamentals and managing matches to take the next step.”

197 Pounds – In 2011, Nick Mills made Second Team All-Ivy at 184 pounds and took fifth at EIWAs.  He began last season at the same weight and then transitioned to 197, going 12-15 overall.

Coach Fronhofer: “Nick had a rough year last year. He puts a lot of pressure on himself and was trying to figure out how to compete that way.  If he does that, he’ll be back in a position to get to the NCAA tournament. He’s a great athlete and physically can compete with anyone.  Chris Manna and Matt Idelson are two other guys who will be at that weight.  They haven’t figured out a way to beat Mills yet, though.”

285 PoundsWyatt Baker notched a 13-5 record in his first year with the Lions while backing up NCAA qualifier Kevin Lester.  He was busy in the spring and summer competing in the international styles.  Baker represented the United States at 120 kg in Greco Roman at the Junior World Championships in Thailand, taking 10th place.  The native Californian is looking to make his mark in the EIWA and nationally in his initial campaign as a starter.

Coach Fronhofer: “Wyatt has made a huge leap.  He’s a kid that comes from Servite, a major football factory and he was a big time football player.  He only wrestled a few months of the year.  He has a tremendous attitude – he’s a happy kid that gets the most out of every situation.  I think it’s really hard to start right out of the blocks at heavyweight, so he was in a good position last year to come in and develop with Kevin Lester here.  Having that year of development plus the great summer he earned by making the World Team really benefitted him and we expect him to compete at a high level right away.”

A Few More Questions . . . 

What do you feel were the biggest things you took away from your first year as the head coach?

Coach Fronhofer:  I think I learned about managing the guys.  It’s a bit of a balancing act.  A guy like Stephen West probably wrestled too many matches last year.  He’s just so tough and so consistent, you can lose sight of the fact that he could use some time off.  I think you learn as a head coach when to put the hammer down and when to pull back a little bit; how to manage individuals and keep the team’s best interest in mind.  The decision making process is constantly evolving.

I also got to see that as a head coach you manage to wear a lot of hats at once.  You have responsibilities to the team, the administration, the parents, recruiting, alumni and so on.  You’re constantly learning on the job as you go through different experiences.

What goals have you set for the team for 2012-13?

Coach Fronhofer: I think we’ve done some great work in the offseason.  You saw our guys wrestling a lot of freestyle and Greco.  Our attitude is that if there’s a wrestling tournament, we’re going.  We’re passionate about the Olympic movement in our country and we’re going to wrestle as much as we can.

I think our goal as a team at the EIWA tournament is to finish top 3.  After that, I think we’re capable of sending six-plus wrestlers to the NCAAs.  We have a few guys with very high level individual goals.  They expect to become All-Americans and their goals are to win national titles.  We can achieve some big things this year. I’m always excited in the fall, preparing for what’s coming next.  We’re really looking forward to getting started.

Columbia's Wyatt Baker Ready for the International Stage at the Junior World Championships

Photo courtesy of Columbia University Athletics

When Columbia sophomore Wyatt Baker defeated Parker Betts in the 120 kg title bout of the Greco Roman Junior World Team Trials in May, he made the United States team that will travel to Thailand this week to compete against the best competition from all over the globe.

But his victory did more than that.

It got rid of a feeling he’d been carrying around with him for over a month after losing to Betts on his way to third place at the FILA Juniors in Wisconsin.

“When I lose, I just get sick to my stomach and it doesn’t go away until I redeem myself against that person or someone better,” Baker said.  “I’m really, really competitive and I hate losing so much.  I told myself I definitely wasn’t going to lose to the kid who beat me a few weeks before, even though he beat me pretty badly.”

He was right.  Baker got his redemption against Betts to make the World Team, winning straight bouts, 1-0, 1-1 and 1-0, 0-4, 1-0.

So, what was the difference?

For starters, Baker learned a lot more about Greco in the time between the two tournaments.  He said he didn’t do much in that style while at Servite High in California, where he played three sports and spent more time on football than he did on the mat.

In fact, his Greco experience in high school wasn’t what he categorized as successful.

“I was on a Junior Duals team,” he said.  “I think I lost almost every match. I had no idea what I was doing.  I was basically wrestling folkstyle.  At FILA Juniors, when I lost in freestyle, I knew exactly what I did wrong, but when I lost in Greco, I didn’t really know what to fix.  It lit a fire under me.  I was uncomfortable in some throwing positions during the college season and I thought if I focused on Greco, it would help me in my college career too.”

So Baker got to work, training with Columbia head coach Carl Fronhofer.

“[Fronhofer] did a lot of Greco and he was super helpful,” Baker said. “He knew I was really new to it and he didn’t get frustrated with me at all.  We just worked on the basics and things I would be good at based on my strengths.”

Baker further prepared by spending time at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where he interacted with many experienced Greco competitors.

“I had a lot of help from resident athlete Rob Smith, who worked with me everyday.  Slowly, little by little, I caught on to Greco,” he said.  “I also had some of the Olympians helping me and the coaches there were great.”

The efforts paid off with his Junior World Team Trials title.  And he followed that by briefly going home to California before returning to Colorado Springs for the remainder of the summer.

“It’s been eye opening to see what the next level looks like and what you need to do to get there,” he said.  “I know now that’s what I want.  I was here [Colorado Springs] almost the whole summer, except for a few days back in New York.”

Baker returned to the Empire State to make sure everything was in place for the fall semester of his sophomore year.

He expects to be the starter at 285 for the Lions in 2012-13 after backing up NCAA qualifier Kevin Lester in his debut campaign.  Baker compiled a 13-5 record with nine bonus point victories as a freshman.  He won the New York States B title at heavyweight and also placed in the Freshman/Sophomore division at the Michigan State Open.

“I felt the difference between high school and college wrestling was huge,” he said. “You go from the top of the totem pole in high school to the bottom where you’re getting beaten up every day.  The first year is really a character builder.  You have to have the mentality to say, ‘I’m going to keep getting better and if he’s going to beat me, he’ll have to work for every single point’.  Kevin [Lester] and I would go at it everyday and he taught me a lot.  As the season went on, I started believing a lot more.”

His belief has continued to grow, especially with his success in the college offseason.

“My goal is to be an All-American next year,” he said.  “I feel like the Ivies are wide open right now at my weight and I know that the EIWA has some good heavyweights, but I think I can be at that caliber if I stay hungry and humble.”

Helping him do that is assistant coach Hudson Taylor, a multiple-time All-American at Maryland.

“Hudson beats me down pretty much every day and it’s a really good situation,” he said. “I’m used to heavyweight wrestling – matching strength for strength.  But Hudson is goofy and he’s like Gumby.  It’s really different.  He’s teaching me so much and what’s great is that every day we pick one thing to work on when we go live.  It makes things so much more tangible and makes me so much better.  I’m more and more prepared for the college season.”

The California native was also prepared for the East Coast weather when he arrived to college.  When he was on a trip to visit the Columbia campus as a high schooler, he experienced a severe blizzard.  So when he decided to attend the Ivy League institution, he got himself ready.

“I spent my summer earnings on Arctic certified jackets and snowboots and everything like that,” he said with a laugh. “Everyone was really happy that last winter wasn’t terribly cold, but I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to use the things I bought.”

Still, there’s little else that has disappointed him about his time in New York City.

“California is a lot more laid back, but the people in New York are really good people,” he said. “Being in this city is really awesome.  And the team and the coaches are great.  I think what really put things over the top for me was the alumni support we have at Columbia.  It’s amazing.”

While he loves New York, he excited to be heading to Thailand for the September 4-9 FILA Junior World Championships.  He’s hoping to see some of the country, but is focused first on what he needs to do on the mat.

“I’ve never been to any part of Asia before and I think we’ll have fun when the wrestling is done.  But we’re there for business and to win.  The scenery doesn’t matter; all that matters is winning.  I’m itching for the competition and ready for the international stage for the first time to see how I stack up against the rest of the world.  It’s a huge honor to represent the United States. I feel really blessed.”