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.

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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.”

 

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.”

 

Shenendehowa's David Almaviva Makes Verbal Commitment to Binghamton University

The commitments keep coming for the Binghamton wrestling program.

After landing Canastota’s Zack Zupan and Shenendehowa’s Nick Kelley, the Bearcats picked up another of the Empire State’s top seniors over the weekend when David Almaviva gave his verbal pledge to the CAA school, according to an e-mail from his family.

Almaviva earned All-America honors this summer in freestyle at Fargo when he took eighth at 145 pounds.  That performance followed a standout showing at the New York State freestyle championships where he defeated Fargo runner up Quinton Murphy, who is now a freshman at Indiana.

The Shenendehowa senior, who projects at 141 or 149 pounds, has twice made the medal stand at the New York high school state tournament, taking third at 138 pounds this season and sixth as a sophomore in 2011.

For more on Almaviva’s commitment, check back later in the week.

Update: Nick Kelley Discusses His Commitment to Binghamton (Over Iowa, Among Others) and Working Towards a State Title

Photo by BV

 

Shenendehowa’s Nick Kelley has achieved quite a bit in his athletic career.  He was a taekwondo national champion when he was 10 and was also successful in judo.  And he has piled up numerous medals in wrestling, ranging from his trips to the podium at the New York state tournament (fourth at 130 in 2011 and third at 132 in 2012) to his All-America performances (third at NHSCA Freshman Nationals at 125, fifth at FloNationals as a sophomore and fourth at Fargo this past summer in freestyle at 132 pounds).  But when asked what he considered to be his best accomplishment to date, he didn’t hesitate.

And he didn’t choose any of the previously mentioned accolades.

“I think it’s committing to great college like Binghamton and getting ready to take the next step,” he said.

The Section 2 star’s verbal to the Bearcats gave Coach Matt Dernlan and his staff the pledges of two of the Empire State’s top seniors, as Canastota’s Zack Zupan committed a few weeks ago.  The competition for Kelley, Intermat’s #93 ranked recruit nationally, was fierce, as he gave consideration to Iowa, Virginia Tech, Rutgers and North Carolina State before informing the Binghamton coaches on Friday that he would be staying in his home state after graduation.

“It’s a really good fit for me,” Kelley said of the CAA institution. “The coaches have the same philosophy as me – working hard and working smart.  I like the campus, the program and the coaches.  Really, I like everything about it. I feel like the staff really cares about the wrestlers.  I know there will be some tough New York kids there and we think we can make some real noise across the country.”

The future Business major is first concerned with making noise for one more season as a member of the Plainsmen.  He emerged on the Empire State wrestling scene as a seventh grader when he qualified for the state tournament.  Over the years, he has won over 200 matches and several Section 2 titles.  In his mind, there’s only one thing missing.

“The main focus is definitely to win states this year,” Kelley said, adding that he will likely compete at 138 pounds. “I am completely focused on winning a state title.”

As a junior, Kelley compiled an impressive 45-1 record, with 40 bonus point wins.  His sole setback was a one-point semifinal defeat in Albany against eventual state champion and Most Outstanding Wrestler Jamel Hudson, now a freshman at Hofstra.

“I think I was good at states, but not my best,” Kelley said.  “I put all my athleticism out there and I wrestled hard, but I could’ve wrestled smarter, especially in the semifinals.  I kept going after him and made some mistakes doing it.”

Going after opponents throughout the match is characteristic of Kelley’s style, one that has been fostered in the Shenendehowa room and at the Journeymen Wrestling Club.

“Our room is so tough and competitive,” Kelley said.  “It has been since seventh grade and it’s helped me so much.  I kept getting better and stronger by wrestling the bigger guys and the older guys and with workout partners like [2012 New York third place finisher and Fargo All-American David] Almaviva. Now, after all these years, I feel like I’m one of the stronger guys.”

He certainly is, but he believes it will take more to reach his ultimate high school goal.

“I’ve been wrestling a ton since the season ended,” Kelley said. “I got a lot of matches at the Disney Duals in Florida and at Fargo and training camps.  I’ve been working with Journeymen and coaches Rob Weeks and Frank Popolizio.  I’ve been running and getting stronger.  I’ve also spent a lot of time focusing on my match strategy.”

Kelley has still found time to paint houses over the summer with Weeks.  And he often finds good spots to engage in another of his favorite activities – fishing.  In fact, he was on the water while answering questions for this story.  But while he said that he loves fishing, few things compare to wrestling.

“My dad got me into combat sports early – I think I started when I was three,” he said. “Taekwondo and judo helped me with balance and core strength and they made me tougher.  But I stopped those other sports by eighth grade to focus on wrestling.  To me, wrestling is the best. It’s harder and requires so much commitment.  You can’t stop working.  I’m doing everything I can to get ready for the season and I can’t wait to do some damage in college.”

Shenendehowa All-American Nick Kelley Gives Verbal Pledge to Binghamton

Nick Kelley Photo by Boris Veysman

In an interview earlier this summer, Binghamton All-American Donnie Vinson talked about how committed the new coaching staff was to compiling a top recruiting class this year.

The Bearcats are certainly off to a great start, as Shenendehowa All-American Nick Kelley gave his verbal pledge to the CAA school on Friday, a few weeks after Canastota’s Zack Zupan did the same.

Kelley, a future 141 pounder, made a splash this summer when he took fourth place at 132 pounds at the Freestyle Junior Nationals at Fargo in a bracket full of acclaimed grapplers.  It wasn’t the first time on a national podium for the Section 2 star, as he took fifth at FloNationals in 2011 and third at NHSCA Freshman Nationals in 2010.

Intermat’s #93 senior recruit has been a standout in New York for years, as he first qualified for the state tournament as a seventh grader.  He has made the podium in the Empire State on multiple occasions, including a third place showing at 132 pounds in 2012.  Kelley is currently ranked #9 in the country by Flowrestling at 132 and will look for his first state title in February, likely up a weight, for the Plainsmen.

Please check back for a full story on Nick Kelley’s commitment in the coming days.

Zack Zupan of Canastota Discusses His Commitment to Binghamton and His Drive For Another State (and National) Title

Photos by Boris Veysman

Zack Zupan celebrated his commitment to Binghamton this weekend by getting some much needed, and rare, time off.

“One of my buddies has a camp up North with a big fishing area,” he said. “We went up there and hung out a little bit.  It’s nice to go away and do some relaxing activities because my schedule has been pretty jam-packed.”

It would be fair to say that Zupan has been busy. Five days a week this summer, he’s been doing speed sessions and weight training for five hours, beginning at 8 o’clock in the morning, under the guidance of Todd Cutrie.  When he’s finished, he heads to work on a nearby farm for several hours before either teaching pee wee wrestling or participating in football practice in the evening.

The work he’s put in has been obvious on the mat throughout his high school career, as he has made his presence felt both in New York and on the national scene.  His accolades include a national title at the NHSCA Freshman tournament in 2010 at 160 pounds and two other All-America finishes at national events.  He also placed at the New York states on three occasions, including a championship at 170 pounds in 2012, which he believes had a lot to do with the training he put in with Cutrie.

While Zupan was happy to get his first New York crown in February, his performance in the title bout against Nick Mitchell of Frewsburg [a 3-2 decision] left him less than totally satisfied.

“I was a little disappointed with my finals match,” Zupan said. “I didn’t wrestle the entire six minutes like I could have. I definitely hesitated on some opportunities and could have scored more points than I did.  I’m looking to put on a better show next year.”

Before he takes the mat for Canastota, however, he has some business to take care of on the gridiron.  He is excited to begin double sessions with the football squad shortly, as he hopes to reach some milestones this fall.  He said if things go as planned, he believes he can break the state record for tackles and go over 5,000 yards rushing in his last days wearing his helmet and shoulder pads.

“I’ve played football for a long time and it’s not easy knowing I won’t be able to play anymore,” he said. “I know it’s hard to get recruited in New York as a 5-10, 200 pounder.  But you have to realize what you were given and commit to the amazing opportunities you have and make the most of them.”

That’s what Zupan plans to do.  He expects to compete at 182 pounds on the mat as a senior, wrestling for his father Nick (also a Section 3 champion), his coach who has taught him so much in the sport.

“My father went about it the right way,” he said. “He didn’t force me to wrestle.  He was busy coaching high school and getting back late on Saturdays from tournaments.  He told me if I really wanted to wrestle, I should set an alarm and wake him up on Sundays.  That way, it was my choice.  I always set the alarm.  We traveled all over the country and he coached me all the way through.”

So, do father and son still go toe-to-toe in the room?

“I wrestled with him a lot when I was younger, but he knows what’s good for him now,” Zack Zupan said. “He knew when the day would come and he retired when he was undefeated against me.”

When he goes off to college, Zupan feels he will be surrounded by familiar instruction.  In fact, similarities between his father’s Canastota staff and the Bearcat coaches contributed heavily to Zupan’s commitment.

“I think the coaching staff at Binghamton has the same philosophy,” Zupan said. “They believe in training smarter, not harder.  I think I’ll have a nice adjustment to college with the staff they have in place.”

Head coach Matt Dernlan took the reins of the program a few months ago and Zupan takes pride in being the first recruit of the Dernlan era.

“It’s absolutely significant to me,” he said. “I feel like I’m going to help start a great thing.  I get to be one of the first stepping stones in where this program wants to go.  The coaches believe there is so much talent in New York and they want to keep the best in state and win national titles that way.  I’m excited to be part of that.”

Zupan added that he chose the Bearcats over schools like Cornell, Virginia, North Carolina State and Lehigh for other reasons as well.

“I took an unofficial visit and liked that it’s not huge,” he said. “I mean, 16,000 people is a lot to me — it’s more people than are in my town.  But it’s on the smaller side for college and I feel like I’ll be taken care of there and I’ll be one of their main guys and I really appreciate that.  I don’t think I’ll be just another piece of meat which sometimes happens in Division I wrestling.”

He also is excited to follow the path of Section 3 alum Justin Lister, an All-American for Binghamton.

“I watched [Lister] a lot growing up,” he said. “He was coming out of high school when I was coming in.  I just liked the way he wrestled.  What I always remembered about him was that he was a really mean kid on the mat.  Off the mat, he was polite and nice.  But when it came to wrestling, he wasn’t shy.  He was a Section 3 All-American and I think it will be cool wrestling at the same school as him.”

But first things first.  Before he tackles the college scene, Zupan has a few more wrestling honors in mind.

“I want to be a dominant state champion and then win FloNationals,” he said. “Then, I can’t wait to go to college.  I’m really looking forward to working toward a national title at Binghamton.”