Binghamton 2013-14 Season Preview: Bearcats Ready for New Conference, New Opportunities

The Binghamton Bearcats enter their second season under head coach Matt Dernlan with some exciting changes.  There is a new conference, an expanded home schedule and the arrival of a top 25 recruiting class.  Assistant Jasen Borshoff spoke to New York Wrestling News about the upcoming campaign, including the projected lineup and expectations for 2013-14.

New York Wrestling News (NYWN): It will be your first year in the EIWA conference. What does that move mean for the program?

Jasen Borshoff (JB): We couldn’t be happier. The EIWA is a better place to be for us.  There are great teams and we’re more aligned from an academic profile standpoint.  It also helps our travel budget – we can get to so many of the schools within three hours.  There are also more qualifying spots for nationals, which will give our guys a lot of opportunities. We’re really excited to be part of the EIWA.

NYWN: What are some of the highlights of your schedule this year?

JB:  We have seven home matches this year instead of one.  That’s exciting.  For the most part, we’ll be wrestling most of the EIWA teams in duals and we’re excited about the Journeymen/Asics Northeast Duals in Albany.  Going to Midlands is always a good test for the guys.  Right off the bat, we’ll get good gauge of where we are with the Bearcat Open at home.  We typically cut off the field at 300 wrestlers, but this year, we have a goal of 500 kids.  We’ll do 12 mats at the Events Center and there will be a lot of really good wrestlers there.  Cornell usually sends most of the team.  This year, Penn State will be sending guys and so will Ohio State, Lehigh and other really good teams.  It will be big for our team, especially because it will decide a few of our weights for the early season.

NYWN: What are the expectations for the team this year?

JB: We’d like to have half our team qualify for nationals and have some All-Americans.  The way I see it, we can’t do any worse than last year because we didn’t have any All-Americans.  We’re looking to change that this year.

Let’s take a look at the weight-by-weight to see who will try to break through to the podium for the Bearcats in 2013-14:

125 Pounds:

A number of the spots in the lineup have a strong favorite.  This isn’t necessarily one of them.  A pair of wrestlers who racked up large win totals last year – David White and Mike Sardo – continue to battle it out at the lightest weight.  (White redshirted while Sardo took over at 125 when starter Patrick Hunter was injured). White has some experience in the EIWA, having placed sixth at 125 for Army at the conference tournament in his freshman season before transferring.

“This weight is up in the air,” Borshoff said. “Both guys have gotten a lot better over the past year.  Mike had the fourth most wins on the team last year and David also won at least 25 matches.  That will be a weight to watch at the [Bearcat] Open.”

133:

Nick Tighe, Photo by BV

A familiar face to Empire State wrestling fans is likely to man 133 pounds as a true freshman.  New York’s 2013 Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award winner, Nick Tighe of Phoenix, looks to carry over his high school success to the college level after finishing his career with his third straight state title in 2013 (at 138 pounds).

“Nick has gotten his weight down and is a wrecking ball,” Borshoff said. “He’s really tough and hard to wrestle. We’re excited to see how he’ll look at the Open in his first competition.”

141:

While Tighe won the state championship at 138 pounds in Division II a year ago, Nick Kelley accomplished that feat at the same weight in Division I.  Kelley has impressed so far, but will most likely redshirt.  Looking to start at 141 are a trio of grapplers – Dylan Cohen, Dylan Caruana and David Almaviva.

“This will be a very young weight for us,” Borshoff said. “[Caruana] redshirted last year and has put on a lot of size this summer. [Cohen] was pulled out of redshirt during the season last year and is now at a better weight – he struggled to make 133 last year.  [Almaviva] is a true freshman. He may only have one year in him at 141 before moving up, so we’ll see how he does. The question is who will show up most at the Open?  We’re not sure what will happen here yet.”

149:

Joe Bonaldi started last season with a bang.  At the Binghamton Open, he defeated returning All-American Mike Nevinger in his opening bout and won the title, also topping NCAA qualifier Dan Neff.  In the process, he entered the national rankings and looked primed for a breakout campaign.  Unfortunately, an injury prevented that from taking place.  He made a return to the lineup very late in the season, competing just once before the CAA tournament. The Bearcats are excited to have the Rochester native back.

“Joe’s doing really well,” Borshoff said. “He was doing really well last year early on too.  He came back for the CAAs last year, but it was too long of a layoff before that. It will be interesting to see how the move to 149 works – he’ll be tested right away at the Open. He’s a guy to keep an eye on this year. He’s definitely very talented and he gives [assistant coach] Teyon [Ware] trouble in the room and we know how good Teyon is.”

157:

Last year’s starter Jack McKeever will redshirt, and three wrestlers will look to get the nod in this class – Nick Mauriello, Ben Price and Brian Conrad.  Conrad was a spot starter last season, while Mauriello redshirted.  In high school, Mauriello earned fourth in New York as a senior for Hauppauge while Price was a two-time Vermont state champion and Conrad won the Section 8 title, according to the Binghamton athletics website.

165:

Vincent Grella returns after handling the starting duties in 2012-13.  He topped Drexel’s Connor Moran at the CAA championships.

“He got a lot better at the end of last year,” Borshoff said. “He wrestles hard and got some good experience.  We think he’ll have a good year for us.”

174:

In 2011, John Paris was the CAA Rookie of the Year.  But injuries have interrupted him since then. However, he’s expected to be the starter once again after winning the job for the postseason a year ago.

“John’s a talented wrestler but he’s always been plagued by injuries,” Borshoff said. “Last year, John and Caleb Wallace kept flip flopping back and forth as our starter, but John won the final wrestleoff to take the spot.  Bringing in [two-time New York state champion] Zack Zupan, who is doing very well but probably redshirting, has made John a lot better.  He’s been fighting hard – he sees the competition and wants the spot.”

184:

After battling both Paris and injuries last season, Caleb Wallace is ready to take hold of the 184-pound role.  Wallace began the 2012-13 campaign well, defeating eventual EIWA champion Nathaniel Brown of Lehigh in an early dual by fall.

“Caleb is another good wrestler for us who has had trouble staying healthy,” Borshoff said. “We’re excited to see how he does moving up a weight after having a decent cut to make 174 last year.”

197:

Cody Reed is the only projected starter who wrestled at the NCAAs last year.  In fact, he has been to Nationals twice. In 2012, he registered one of the big upsets of the first round in St. Louis when he topped fourth-seeded Christian Boley of Maryland at 197 pounds, before finishing 2-2.  Last season, Reed dropped down to 184 and once again qualified for the “Big Show”, going 0-2 following an 18-win campaign.  Now, he’ll be back at 197 again, looking to win a few more matches on the national stage.

“Cody went down to 184 last year when Nate Schiedel moved up, but Cody’s much better off at 197,” Borshoff said. “He’s very capable – I wouldn’t count him out at Nationals.  He was up and down last year, but got the job done in the qualifier.  He wanted to do better at Nationals, but he has his senior year to look forward to.”

285:

Tyler Deuel moved from 197 to heavyweight before last season and wound up with the third most wins on the team, according to Borshoff.  Now, with a year of experience at the heaviest weight class, the coach thinks he’s ready to show even more.

“Tyler’s a great kid, always working out extra and trying to learn,” Borshoff said. “He had a good year last year and he’ll do even better this year because he’s acclimated to the weight.  This year he’s a very solid 245 pounds – he’s ripped for a heavyweight.”

Borshoff had very positive things to say about the standout rookie class. Some were mentioned above.  Others, such as multiple-time New York State champion Kyle Kelly, NYS placer Robert Person and two-time silver medalist Bryce Mazurowski, will likely redshirt.

—————————-

How will the first year in the EIWA go? How many wrestlers will Binghamton qualify for the NCAAs this year?  We’ll find out more as Binghamton opens the season on November 10 at home with the Bearcat Open.

Note: the Bearcat Open has been renamed the Jonathan Kaloust Bearcat Open to honor the memory of Navy Seal (and former Binghamton wrestler) Jonathan Kaloust, who died during a training accident this spring.

 

Binghamton Recruiting 2013: A Look Back at the Making of the Highly-Ranked Class

 
 
Recruiting for the Class of 2014 has been officially underway for a little over a week.  However, before we completely shift our focus forward, we took a quick look back at the class that Binghamton put together for the fall of 2013.

According to the rankings produced by a number of wrestling publications, Binghamton had the best recruiting class of the Division I programs in New York this year. Flowrestling slotted the Bearcats into the #25 spot nationally while D1 College Wrestling.net, placed the team at #24. (Columbia also made an appearance in Flo’s article, garnering an honorable mention nod).

When looking at the Binghamton class, what immediately stands out is the strong Empire State presence. Among the seven New Yorkers are eight state championships, 21 All-State showings and more than 10 All-American performances. There’s representation from Section 3 with three-time state titlewinner Nick Tighe and two-time champion Zack Zupan as well as a pair of Shenendehowa standouts – 2013 state gold medalist Nick Kelley and third placer David Almaviva. Adding to the mix in the lightweights are two-time state champion Kyle Kelly from nearby Chenango Forks and Nassau County’s Robert Person, with the upperweights adding Bryce Mazurowski, who was the Division II state runner up as a junior and senior at 195. When the “Top Seniors in New York” feature was done prior to the start of the campaign, Zupan, Kelley and Tighe were ranked 1-2-3.

So, how did Binghamton land many of the Empire State’s best and a top 25 class nationally in Matt Dernlan’s first year as head coach? The program’s recruiting coordinator, Jasen Borshoff, provided some insight.

“We sat down and talked about how we wanted to keep the best kids in state and get them to Binghamton,” Borshoff said. “If you look at the results from the last 10 years, you see New York is way up there in All-Americans. We felt that if you can keep the best New York kids here, you can succeed at the national level. That’s not to say we won’t recruit some kids from out of state. We probably will since we’re close to Pennsylvania and Ohio. But we believe we need to keep New York’s best here and we can win with New York wrestlers.”

Borshoff continued by referencing the 30 for 30 ESPN special about the University of Miami football team during their championship years.

“That part of Florida produces all these awesome football players,” he said. “Miami set up a 200 mile radius and said they weren’t going to let those kids go anywhere else. They were determined not to be outrecruited in their area.  That’s the mentality we have here with New York wrestlers. We don’t want to let anyone outrecruit us for the best around here.”

The Bearcats were able to do it by targeting a relatively small set of wrestlers.

“In the past, I probably called over 100 kids in the summer and hadn’t seen many of them wrestle,” he said. “But last year, before the New York State tournament, we were looking at around 16 kids, who we watched wrestle and got to know pretty well. We kept a pretty small focus.”

With that focus, they were able to emphasize the direction that the new staff planned for the Bearcats going forward.

“Most of the guys weren’t really interested in Binghamton at first – they wanted to go out of state or had other schools in mind,” he said. “Coach Dernlan got in front of them at their houses and told them all about the vision and philosophy. Things went from there and they came on board. Hopefully, we can reproduce that success with this year’s class and set ourselves up even more for the next several years here.”

The wrestlers are excited to get started, as all will be spending the summer on campus, getting their feet wet both academically and on the mat.

“We think we have a bunch of tough kids coming in,” Borshoff said in late June. “They’ll all be here in early July. They’ll be taking classes. They’ll be putting in work. We believe some of them will be starters this season. The great thing is, every single one of them asked to come up for the summer. They want to be here, getting started. That’s exactly what we want. We believe we have the best recruiting class in Binghamton wrestling history.”

 

NY College Updates: Army Hires Francois; Binghamton and Hofstra Wrestle-Offs This Week

With the college season just a few weeks away, teams are getting closer to naming their starting lineups for the early season action.  This week, both Binghamton and Hofstra will hold wrestle-offs.  In other New York college wrestling news, Joe Heskett has added Enock Francois to the Army coaching staff for the upcoming campaign.  See more details on those stories below.

Binghamton Wrestle-Offs to be Held on Saturday

Donnie Vinson, Photo by Boris V

According to assistant coach Jasen Borshoff, Binghamton will be holding wrestle-offs this Saturday, October 27th at 1 p.m. in the West Gym.  The Bearcats open the season on November 8th at Lehigh.

As Borshoff discussed in the Binghamton season preview, there are a number of weights where the battle for the starting job is very competitive, including the first few weight classes (125-141) as well as 174 pounds.

One other important date to keep on the calendar is Sunday, November 11.  That’s when the Binghamton Open will be held, beginning at 9 a.m.  300 wrestlers are already signed up from 16 Division I teams.

 

Hofstra Wrestle-Offs Beginning on Wednesday

According to assistant coach Zach Tanelli, preliminary wrestle-off bouts will take place on Wednesday, with the finals on Sunday, October 28 at 5 p.m. in the Physical Education Building.  The event is open to the public.

Tentative matchups are as follows:

Wednesday, October 24th at 3:30 p.m.

157: Russell Benner vs. Mike Caputo
Jay Lysne vs. Dalton Ahern
133: Joe Gosinski vs. Jamel Hudson
141: Dan Manley vs. Cody Ruggirello
149: Matt Spataro vs. Cory Goshkagarian
Jahlani Callender vs. Sam Schwartzapfel
165: Nick Terdick vs. Dan Spurgeon
174: Frank Affronti vs. David Heitman
Hwt: Zeal McGrew vs. James Trull
157: Winner of Benner/Caputo vs. Winner of Lysne/Ahern

Sunday, October 28th at 5 p.m.

125: Steve Bonanno vs. Loser of Gosinski/Hudson
133: Jamie Franco vs. Winner of Gosinski/Hudson
141: Luke Vaith vs. Winner of Manley/Ruggirello
149: Winner of Spataro/Goshkagarian vs. Winner of Callender/Schwartzapfel
157: Tyler Banks vs. Winner of 157 Mini-Tournament
165: Jermaine John vs. Winner of Terdick/Spurgeon
174: Winner of Affronti/Heitman vs. Loser of Terdick/Spurgeon
184: Taras Luzhnyy vs. Loser of Affronti/Heitman
197: Tim Murphy vs. Victor Pozsonyi
Hwt: Paul Snyder vs. Winner of McGrew/Trull

 

Army Adds Enock Francois to Coaching Staff

WEST POINT, N.Y. – Army wrestling head coach Joe Heskett has added Enock Francois to his staff for the 2012-13 campaign. Francois, who arrives at West Point after spending the past two seasons as a graduate assistant at University of the Cumberlands, will take over for Terry Madden as the Black Knights’ volunteer coach.

“I am so excited to be here at West Point and look forward to working with these young men,” said Francois. “The wrestlers here are eager to learn and continue to improve as a unit, and that is very exciting to be around.”

During his time at Cumberlands, Francois assisted head coach Matt Lowers in all aspects of the program. He helped coordinate practices, aided with recruiting and assisted with daily strength and conditioning activities.

Francois was a dominant wrestler during his collegiate days at both Northwestern College and California Baptist University, earning three NAIA All-America certificates. He was a two-time All-American at NWC, placing fourth at NAIA Nationals as a sophomore and taking fifth during his junior campaign. Francois, who still holds the Northwestern College single-season records for wins (45) and takedowns (150), piled up more than 100 wins at NWC before transferring to CBU for his final season.

He capped his collegiate career by placing second at the NAIA Nationals en route to his third All-America certificate. Francois, who is still actively wrestling, has World and Olympic Team aspirations. He will continue to train for the 2016 Olympic Games while coaching at the Academy.

“Training for the World and Olympic Teams has always been something that I have wanted to do,” said Francois. “I’m now able to do that through the West Point Wrestling Club, and I am thankful to have that opportunity.”

Francois authored an impressive high school career, posting 124 wins in four years. He was a two-time state qualifier in Florida, placing sixth in the state during as a senior. A three-time all-conference selection, Francois won three district championships and a pair of conference titles.

Francois graduated from California Baptist University in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. He earned his master’s degree in Teaching from University of the Cumberlands in 2012. (Courtesy of goarmysports.com) 

Binghamton 2012-13 Season Preview With Assistant Coach Jasen Borshoff

Binghamton had a terrific 2011-12 season, winning 15 dual meets and earning the best NCAA finish in program history (14th).  The Bearcats boasted two All-Americans (Donnie Vinson at 149 and Nick Gwiazdowski at 285) and had three other wrestlers win at least two bouts at nationals.  The team has undergone change over the past several months, as head coach Pat Popolizio and assistant Frank Beasley moved to North Carolina State and Matt Dernlan and Teyon Ware came on board to replace them.  (Gwiazdowski joined the Wolfpack as well).

Assistant coach Jasen Borshoff is back and he spoke to New York Wrestling News about the upcoming season, beginning with a weight-by-weight look at the lineup.

125 Pounds  – Last year’s starter Derek Steeley returns, but he’ll be challenged by two accomplished wrestlers — former 125-pound Junior College national champion Patrick Hunter (who manned the 133 spot for the Bearcats in 2011-12) and Army transfer David White, who placed at the EIWAs in 2011 as a true freshman.

Coach Borshoff:  “We have a three-way race for 125.  Right now, I’m not sure who will win the job.  Steeley is back and White has three years left after coming in from Army.  He beat a handful of Top 25 guys last year before transferring and redshirting.

Pat Hunter may have been the smallest 133 pounder I’ve ever seen in my entire life.   When [Hunter] came in to Binghamton, he had a lot on his plate.  We wanted him to focus on starting a new school, meeting new people and wrestling without having to worry about weight. But he’s really matured a lot in the year he’s been here and he’s ready to be back at 125.”

133 Pounds – Two years ago Dan Riggi filled the 133 slot and after a redshirt campaign, he’ll try to earn the nod again.  But he’ll have competition from another wrestler who took a redshirt last year – Tyler Pendergast.

Coach Borshoff:  “Just like at 125, it’s not clear who will win the spot.  Riggi had a pretty good year last season and he’s a goer who always wrestles hard. Tyler wrestled in the second half of the season and got hurt.  He was a three-time Delaware state champion and a Beast of the East finalist.  So, he has a very good pedigree and has the chance to show it in college.”

141 Pounds:  Joe Bonaldi and Derak Heyman know each other pretty well.  The Empire State natives wrestled in high school and now they will compete for the Binghamton starting job. Another potential contender is junior college national runner up Vinny DiGravio, who transferred in from Mercyhurst Northeast.

Coach Borshoff: “There will be a lot of competition at this weight.  Joe Bonaldi wrestled as a true freshman and I think he faced more ranked opponents than anyone else on the team.  He’s ready for the next step.  Derak was injured last year but he did wrestle at the Penn State Open and placed as a true freshman.  Those two are very close in the room – they really battle it out and make each other better.  It’s possible that Vinny may redshirt.”

149 Pounds – While the first three weights are undecided, 149 isn’t in question.  Donnie Vinson comes off a third place finish at NCAAs in which he won seven matches in a row following a first round loss.  He also captured Most Outstanding Wrestler honors at the CAA tournament and compiled a 40-5 record overall with 28 bonus point wins.  He will be among the favorites to stand on top of the podium at nationals in 2013.

Coach Borshoff:  “Donnie’s the man at 149.  He’s taken ownership of being a team leader, which is great to see.   He’s been working on some little things like head and hand position. He’s so aggressive and explosive that he opens himself up sometimes.  The third place match at NCAAs was a perfect example. He took it to his opponent but made little mistakes at crucial times. Last year, he thought he was good enough to win nationals.  The difference this year is that he knows he’s good enough to win.”

157 Pounds/165 Pounds – Justin Lister and Matt Kaylor were two very successful multi-year starters for the Bearcats in the middleweights.  Three candidates are in the mix to replace them – Joe Chamish, Vinny Grella and Adam Lepkowsky.

Coach Borshoff:  “It will be interesting to see how these weights play out for us.  Joe Chamish spot started for us last year at 157.  Vinny and Adam are both redshirt freshmen.  They’re all young and none have ever been there.  It’s a new frontier for them.  They have to go out and work hard and capitalize on their opportunity to start.”

174 PoundsCaleb Wallace (11 wins in 2011-12) and John Paris (the 2011 CAA Rookie of the Year) squared off for the spot last season at 174 and they’ll do it again.

Coach Borshoff:  “Last year, the guys were so close and Caleb actually won the wrestleoff.  But it was such a close match and John had such a great season the year before, we were planning to start whoever did better in competition.  Then in his second match of the year, John tore his ACL and was out for the year.  Caleb stepped in and did very well.  He took third in the CAA and showed a lot of improvement. Now, John’s back and healthy and they’ll battle it out.  They’re very different wrestlers.  John’s more explosive from the outside and Caleb likes to roll around. Both wrestle hard and are young and improving.  This is a weight where we’ll be more mature and better than last year.”

184 PoundsCody Reed, who has racked up 47 victories while starting at 197 pounds the past two seasons, will move down to 184 for the upcoming campaign.

Coach Borshoff: “Cody Reed was an undersized 197.  He was trying to keep his weight up during the season.  Cody had a great end of the year, upsetting the #4 seed [Maryland’s Christian Boley] at the NCAAs.  It was a huge confidence builder for him.  He saw that he was good enough to compete at the national level and he’s been working on a lot of little things to get better.  I think he’s good enough to be an All-American but that’s up to him.  He’s very strong and explosive for the weight.”

197 Pounds – After three seasons of wrestling well and qualifying for nationals at 184, Nate Schiedel moves up to 197 for his senior campaign.  He sported a 30-10 mark in 2011-12.

Coach Borshoff:  “Nate’s a leader and a captain and guys really respect him.  In hindsight, he was too big for 184 last year.  He’s a house right now.  When [head coach Matt Dernlan] got here, he couldn’t believe Nate made 184.  Honestly, we were contemplating having him go heavyweight.  Last year, he was always in great shape, but you could see him hurting at times.  He sucked it up and won matches because he’s a winner, but it was tough.  He’s had a good career so far where he’s been ranked in the top 10 several times.  At 197, we’re expecting a huge, huge year from him.”

285 Pounds – With the departure of All-American Nick Gwiazdowski to North Carolina State, New York native Tyler Deuel will step into the heavyweight role.

Coach Borshoff: “Tyler spot started last year at 197 but he’s a big-sized heavyweight now, probably around 250.  Starting in May, we put him on a weightlifting program and he’s put on a lot of good weight.  He’s doing pretty well so far; his body is getting used to carrying around the extra weight.  The spotlight will be on him and we’ll see how he handles it.  He’s young and inexperienced, but he’s talented and capable of doing a great job.”

A Few More Things . . .

Tell us a little bit about being part of the new coaching staff.

Coach Borshoff:  “It’s been awesome. We’ve meshed really well.  We have the same philosophies and are focused on working hard but working smart.  We want to make sure guys are enjoying competing.  Sometimes you get to the national tournament and guys are done. They’re sick of the season and the grind.  Our job is to make sure that doesn’t happen and that’s the philosophy and training [Dernlan] brought in.

One thing I thought was cool was to see the guys who competed at the Olympics call [Dernlan] to thank him for helping them reach their goals.  When you see the guys who are competing for World and Olympic titles, you realize there’s another level out there and that winning national titles isn’t the biggest thing.  It takes some pressure off the guys and it lets them see that [Dernlan] has impacted very high level wrestlers.”

What are the team’s goals for this year?

“We were excited about last year, but we’re not satisfied with being 14th in the country.  There were 13 teams ahead of us and every year we want to plug away and get better and better.

We want national champions and All-Americans.  But the goal setting is the job of the guys on the team.  Ultimately, if our goals as coaches are bigger than theirs, it won’t matter. Binghamton is on the map now and I think everyone wants to keep Binghamton moving up the totem pole.”

Who are some of the freshman entering the room this year?

“One of the main reasons Coach Dernlan took the job was that he believes New York State is untapped.  There’s so much talent here.  We believe you can do really big things with New York kids and we brought in a lot of good ones.

Tristan Hamner (Medina) never won a state title and that’s surprising when you see how talented he is. We also have state runner ups Brady Baron (Pittsford) and Dylan Cohen (Williamsville East) as well as Dylan Caruana (Kenmore West), who took fifth.  Nick Mauriello (Hauppauge) was fourth in a tough weight last year and Jack McKeever was third in New England.  All the guys are pretty talented and they’re all good, hard working kids.  They’re real student-athletes who are here to compete in the room but also understand that they need to work hard in school because wrestling doesn’t pay the bills for most people.”

What else should we look for from Binghamton this season?

“We can’t wait for the season to start.  We’re ready to start practice and get the guys in the room.  They worked all summer and we’ll see where we are.  We’re excited for another great year.”

 

"Winning Big With New York Kids": Matt Dernlan Excited to Get Started at Binghamton

By Betsy Veysman

Matt Dernlan was focused on his Clarion wrestlers at the 2012 NCAA tournament in St. Louis, but like many other coaches and fans, he couldn’t help but notice the performance of Binghamton’s Donnie Vinson.

The 149-pounder dropped his initial bout to Nick Lester of Oklahoma before rattling off seven straight victories to take third place.

“I think it’s the toughest tournament in the world, especially if you lose your first match,” Dernlan said. “It’s not the achievement of third place that was so impressive.  It was the resilience and resolve he showed to come back and keep fighting and winning.  With that type of character and his talent, he’s got everything it takes to be a national champion.”

Dernlan now has an opportunity to be a part of Vinson’s run at a title in his new position as head coach at Binghamton.  In fact, when talking to Dernlan, the phrase “national champion” comes up quite a bit.

The Ohio native has some experience with reaching the pinnacle of the college wrestling world.  As the Director of Operations, he was part of Penn State’s NCAA title team in 2011.  He witnessed the key ingredients that brought that crown to State College and believes he sees many of the same pieces in place at Binghamton.

“When the job first opened up, it wasn’t something I pursued because there were a lot of good things going on at Clarion,” he said of the institution he coached for nine months.  “But Binghamton reached out to me.  The more I talked to them, the more I saw all the elements necessary to build a national championship program.”

Those elements, according to Dernlan, go beyond the athletes and coaches.

“Coming from Penn State, I have an understanding of everything that has to come together to get to the top,” he said. “You need to have committed support from everyone – from the President, the athletic department, the alumni and the community.  You need to have support systems in place for the student-athletes.  I wouldn’t have left a top 20 program with the history and tradition of Clarion if I didn’t think all of that support was here.  When I spoke to the President about his vision for the university and to the Athletic Director about his vision and plans for the next five years, I got really excited.  Conversations with the alumni made me even more excited.  It became an easy decision.”

Another reason the decision was “easy” is the current state of the Bearcat program.  When now-North Carolina State head coach Pat Popolizio took the reins six years ago, Binghamton was a winless team.  Fast forward to 2011-12, when the Bearcats earned a top 20 dual meet ranking in addition to an 14th place finish at the NCAAs fueled by five qualifiers and a pair of All-Americans (Vinson and freshman heavyweight Nick Gwiazdowski).  Dernlan spoke with admiration about the foundation Popolizio developed.

“A lot of credit needs to go to Pat,” Dernlan said. “He did so much to elevate the program to national prominence.  He created the right kind of culture.  We want to take advantage of that and build on all the momentum.”

To do that, Dernlan will look for a holdover from Popolizio’s staff, Jasen Borshoff, to play a key role.

“I’ve been spending time with Jasen, picking his brain and getting to know him,” he said. “I am very impressed with his intelligence and passion.  He’s everything I think college coaching should be about.  Retaining Jasen was a priority. He is committed and driven towards the same goals as I am.”

Dernlan said he also would like to utilize the expertise of volunteer assistant Andy Seras, whom he has not spoken to yet in detail in his few days on the job.

“Andy’s resume and track record show that he brings a lot to the table,” he said. “If he wants to continue on, that would be attractive.  He has roots in New York.”

New York roots are another topic Dernlan talks about with enthusiasm.  He has watched several Empire State grapplers succeed in the postseason over the past several years and believes that homestate wrestlers should form the backbone of the squad.

“It is very appealing to be in New York, which is one of the best scholastic states in the country,” he said. “That’s been proven by performance at the NCAAs.  If we can get the talent in this state on our team, I don’t anticipate going outside the borders that much.  I believe we can win and win big with New York kids.”

Dernlan knows it won’t always be easy getting those top Empire State grapplers on campus.  There aren’t double digit in-state programs competing for talent like in Pennsylvania, but the coach knows that programs such as Cornell, Hofstra and Buffalo are competitors on the recruiting trail — and on the mat.

“Rob Anspach has done a great job at Hofstra,” he said.  “They have great tradition and I am sure we will push each other to be great and continue to elevate the stature of CAA wrestling.  And I know there’s a team up the road in Ithaca that’s been doing special things. You want to compete against teams like Cornell.  Rob Koll is one of the best coaches in the nation and he’s created the standard.  We’ve got a bullseye on his team.  Having several elite teams in this state can only be a great thing.  But our goal is to become the face of New York wrestling.  If we can do that, we’ll be contending for national titles because that’s what Cornell is doing now.”

Trying to take that step next year will be a fairly experienced Bearcat team.  While longtime standouts Justin Lister and Matt Kaylor have graduated, and heavyweight Nick Gwiazdowski is likely to transfer, Binghamton could return the remainder of its starters, including NCAA qualifiers Vinson, Nate Scheidel and Cody Reed.

“I think we’ve got great experience and a collection of individuals that have gone deep into March and know what that environment is like,” Dernlan said.  “Everyone is proud of what Binghamton accomplished last year but now we’re aspiring to go beyond. There’s a lot that goes into that; a lot of intangibles you can’t control at the national tournament.  But my expectation is that with the talent we have returning and the incoming guys, we can improve upon last year if we prepare the right way.”

An integral component of that, according to Dernlan, is optimizing the level of competition throughout the campaign.

“We need to elevate our schedule and compete against the best,” he said. “The CAA tournament and Nationals are the two target weeks of the season.  We won’t be doing our program or any of our wrestlers favors by padding records heading into the conference tournament.  We need to test ourselves early, often and consistently so that when March rolls around, we’re ready for those big moments. We know what the intensity and the fight of March are all about and we need to be prepared.”

Part of that preparation, the coach said, is encouraging an aggressive style of wrestling.

“We want to go out to dominate, put up points and break our opponents,” he said. “If you do that, you build a reputation and it spreads.  It creates a tangible element at the national tournament.  People step on the mat with you and they already know what they’re in for.  They know you won’t back down and you’ll be in their face for seven minutes.  That’s what makes you succeed against the best.”

Succeeding against the best is something Dernlan values.  When asked about his most memorable match, he almost immediately brings up one of his toughest high school battles in the Buckeye State against fellow state champion John Marchette.

“Competing against him is something I remember to this day because he pushed my limits in every capacity,” he said.  “We laugh about it at this point and appreciate and respect each other for pushing each other to new levels. Fortunately, I was the winner, but we were both better for the battle and it helped us both later on.”

Dernlan sees that competitive fire in the Binghamton room.  He has spent his first few days meeting the team and laying out the gameplan for the summer and next season.  He joked about his endless to-do list, which includes things like figuring out summer camps, talking to this year’s incoming class, selling a house and hiring another assistant coach (Frank Beasley accompanied Popolizio to the ACC), all while shuttling back and forth to Pennsylvania.  But he’s enjoying every minute of it and his optimism is obvious.

“[Popolizio] won and he did it the right way,” he said. “He wanted to win with character kids who were a positive reflection on the program.  That’s fundamental for me; doing things in a way that the university and the community will be proud of.  With what we have in place here, I think Binghamton should be a top 10 team every year. But that won’t be enough for me.  I’m driven to win a national title.   If we attract the right kids with all we have to offer, I believe we can get there.”