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

 

BY AL BEVILACQUA

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 wrestlingstatistics.com, 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 ohiostatebuckeyes.com

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.

Back to the Bearcats: Donnie Vinson Discusses His Return to Binghamton and the Push for a National Title

Donnie Vinson at the 2012 NCAAs; Photo by Boris Veysman

Binghamton’s Donnie Vinson was an All-American for the first time in St. Louis in 2012, and he didn’t take an easy path to get there. After a first round loss to Oklahoma’s Nick Lester, Vinson won seven straight matches to capture third place at 149 pounds.  The 2012 CAA Wrestler of the Year talked to New York Wrestling News about a number of topics, including the departure of Pat Popolizio to the ACC, the impact of new head coach Matt Dernlan, and his final season in a Bearcat singlet.

 

New York Wrestling News (NYWN):  You have one year of wresting eligibility left.  Is it true that you already graduated from Binghamton?

Donnie Vinson (DV): Yes, I got my management degree with a concentration in marketing in four years.  I will be a graduate student at Binghamton next year, going into Administration and hopefully getting into Public Affairs as well.

NYWN: When two of your coaches, Pat Popolizio and Frank Beasley, went to NC State, did you consider leaving Binghamton?

DV: When it first happened, I wanted to wait for things to settle before making a decision.  [Assistant coach] Jasen [Borshoff] told everyone it would be okay with the administration and alumni behind us.  He was great, especially for a guy who didn’t know what would happen with him when the new coach came in. Jasen kept things positive, which is really what we needed at the time.

I also took my role as a leader on the team seriously.  I tried to talk to everyone – members of the team and recruits I could get ahold of, and tried to calm everyone down too. In the end, we only lost one team member, granted a very good one in Nick [Gwiazdowski, who transferred to NC State].  I think a lot of trust got built among the team during that time.

NYWN: Did you wind up looking at other institutions at any point in the process?

DV: I was recruited by a few schools.  I looked a little bit and took one visit.   In the end, I knew I was going to end up doing well at Binghamton in the near future and further out in the future since it’s such a great academic school.  When it came down to it, I started at Binghamton and I plan on finishing here. This is my home.  I’ve been in the area all my life and I guess I don’t like change that much.  It’s the best option for me, especially with all I’ve seen from Coach Dernlan so far.  He has a great thing going.

NYWN: What are your early impressions of the program under Coach Dernlan?

DV: There’s a great mentality in the room.  He has the wrestling background everyone would expect; he really knows his stuff.  After coaching under the Penn State staff for all those years, he’s seen great things and he’s sharing them.  He’s a motivator and he knows what needs to be done at the right times.

The main focus with Pat [Popolizio] was on intensity, which is great.  This summer, instead of being intensity focused, we’re going over a lot of technique, probably more technique in the last three months than all of last year.  It’s been a different approach but I think it’s been great.

NYWN: What were your first interactions like with Coach Dernlan?

DV: When he came in, I wasn’t into grad school yet and the application process was a little messed up.  He helped me through and convinced me to stay.  He told me if I stayed, we’d be a top 15 team again. He also kept Jasen [Borshoff] on board, which was important and kept the team together.

I like his views on leadership.  He’s talked about me being a grad assistant next year.  He’s put a lot of faith in Nate [Scheidel], Cody [Reed] and I as leaders.  Leadership has big meaning with him.  We have a lot of responsibility, running practice at times, which I really like.

NYWN: You mentioned Jasen Borshoff remaining on the staff as an assistant.  What role has he played in your development over the past few years?

DV: Jasen’s a great coach and workout partner for me.  When I’m sucked out and miserable, he’s the one person who will push me and correct me. He makes me work harder.  He may think he has something to prove since his career didn’t end on the greatest note.  He won’t let that happen to me.  He’s my go-to guy when I need to break a barrier or be pushed more.

NYWN: Do you plan to stay at 149 pounds next year?

DV: That’s the plan as of right now.  I think that’s the weight where I have my best shot to win it all.  I’m trying to keep my weight low this summer. I believe I was a contender last year and I gave up my shot early in the tournament with my first round loss, but I expect to be right there again.

NYWN: You mentioned losing your first match at the NCAAs last year.  Most wrestling fans know you then put together seven consecutive wins to take third.  What do you think about that run when you look back at it now? 

DV: It’s still shocking when I think about it.  But I think it makes me more angry than anything else.  I lost to Lester in the first round then majored him in the wrestlebacks.  I knew it shouldn’t have happened the first time.  Obviously, [Penn State national champion] Frank [Molinaro] was the top guy last year but I believed I was a real contender and what I did in the first round really ticked me off.  I let it affect me. In my first wrestleback [against Michigan State’s Dan Osterman], I got put on my back and the referee was close to slapping the mat.  I wound up coming back to pin him, but Jasen really got on me, driving me to get the right mindset.  After that, I got focused and did what I had to do.  I had a goal in mind of being third and I accomplished that.  My sights are set higher for next year. I want to be a national champion.

NYWN: What are you focusing on improving to reach that goal?

DV: I’m looking to fine tune everything.  I gave up a lot of points at the national tournament; lots of points I shouldn’t have.  The third place match [against Ohio State’s Cam Tessari] was a great example.  I need to wrestle smarter, more compact and keep the same intensity throughout.  I can’t give up cheap points at the ends of periods.

I’ll be working on fine-tuning my technique but I’ll also be doing an internship in Panama for a month this summer.  I’ll be trying to develop new marketing plans for my dad’s company down there, which connects hardware and software with a remanufacturing process.  I’m trying to get in touch with the Panamanian national team to train with them and do some freestyle.  I’ll also be doing a lot of cardio and some lifting while I’m there.

NYWN: The 149-pound class returns six All-Americans from 2012.  Is there anyone you are hoping to wrestle before the postseason?

DV: [Boise State’s] Jason Chamberlain and [Minnesota’s] Dylan Ness are two kids I’ve never wrestled in college.  I’d like to see them before nationals to see where I stand.  Chamberlain has proven himself over the years and Ness is a young stud.  I may try to meet him at the Southern Scuffle – our team isn’t going but they may send me down there alone.  If I’m going to be in the hunt at NCAAs, I want to see guys like that before nationals.

NYWN: Before last year, perhaps your biggest win was a dual meet victory over Kyle Dake in Ithaca. Do people ask you about that match with Dake a lot?

DV: Unfortunately, yes.  Our hometowns are about 25 minutes from each other and we both trained at Shamrock with [now Wyoming Seminary head coach] Scott Green when we were growing up.  We were on every team together; spent so many practices together.  We’ve known each other for a while and we’re still friends.  But on the wrestling mat, it’s another story.  He’s a three-time national champ, so he has more credentials than I could ever imagine.  It was a good win for me, but I didn’t want to talk about it much because I didn’t want my whole wrestling career to be based on that one match.  Coming back for third last year finally gave people something else to talk about.

NYWN:  At Shamrock, you did a lot of Freestyle and Greco and you were an accomplished wrestler in the international styles prior to college.  Would you like to get back into those styles after you finish your college career?

DV: I think I could do it.  I put all the international wrestling away when I got here so that I could get better at folk, and it’s paid off.  If I put the same level of attention and focus into those styles I don’t think it would be out of the question to make a World team or something like that.   But honestly, if I stick with wrestling in the future, I think I’ll concentrate on coaching.  If I coach, I want to be focused on helping the kids rather than training myself because the kids need the full attention of the coaches.

NYWN: Binghamton has come a long way as a program since you’ve been there.  What are the changes that really stand out to you?

DV: I was there early enough to see how bad the team was years ago.  Pat [Popolizio] started to recruit guys like Nate Scheidel and me and was able to weed out the people who didn’t really buy into the mentality and the system.  The partying was cut out and the focus on wrestling moved in.  You could see the obvious changes that came.  Everyone bought in, everyone fed off each other and we came together as team.  It’s apparent how far we’ve come with the All-Americans we’ve had and the finish at NCAAs last year.  Hopefully we’ll keep that going.  Coach Dernlan is recruiting really hard right now; he’s been on the phones literally 12 hours a day. The goal is to have a top three recruiting class next year.

NYWN:  Two former NCAA qualifiers, Justin Lister and Matt Kaylor graduated and Nick Gwiazdowski transferred, but you bring back the remainder of last year’s starters.  What are your expectations for next year’s team?

DV: I believe that we can do extremely well at NCAAs, which is the main goal. We’ll be a young team and dual wise, we’re expecting to take some blows.  Lister and Kaylor leave holes to fill, but from what I’m seeing, we’ll have some tough kids coming in who will fight for seven minutes.  I think we’ll have just as many or more All-Americans this year.  We’ll miss the people who left, but we’re moving past that.  We’re happy with what we have here right now and I’m really happy with my decision to be a part of it.

The Newest Member of the Wolfpack: All-American Nick Gwiazdowski Discusses His Transfer

When Pat Popolizio took the head coaching job at North Carolina State in April, freshman Nick Gwiazdowski, who reached All-American status in his first season with the Bearcats, started mulling his future options.  In early May, the Delanson, NY native got his full release from Binghamton. 

On Saturday night, while on a visit to the Raleigh campus, Gwiazdowski announced that he was transferring to the ACC school.  He answered a few questions for New York Wrestling News from the airport on his way back to the Empire State.

New York Wrestling News: What has happened over the past few weeks since Binghamton gave you your release?

Nick Gwiazdowski: I received some calls from other schools – some were coming after me pretty hard. I wasn’t that interested – you can’t jump on the ship after it sails. It came down to a small chance of staying at Binghamton or going to NC State.

As far as NC State goes, I needed to come down and look at the school, meet with the academic advisors and straighten out some financial things.  On my visit this weekend, everything fell into place and I knew NC State was where I wanted to be.

What were some of the things you really liked on your trip to Raleigh this weekend?

This place is awesome.  It felt like a vacation with the warm weather.  I had fun with all the people I met.

The coaching staff was the biggest factor for me.  I know [Popolizio] and Frank Beasley really well and they know me.  They were so important in helping me be an All-American this year. I just met Jamill Kelly this weekend and he seemed like a great guy.

The facilities were great.  Everyone I talked to said that [Athletic Director] Debbie Yow is all about winning and she’ll do whatever it takes.  People told some stories.  Like about her letting go a strength coach that had been around for a while but who wasn’t getting the job done; wasn’t putting winners out there. The coaches said that she’s basically put every coach on campus on notice. She’s serious about winning and that type of commitment to winning is exciting.

I also thought academically it would be a good fit for me. (Editor’s Note: Gwiazdowski made the NWCA All-Academic team this season).

What are you interested in studying?

I didn’t declare a major yet at Binghamton. My meetings with the academic advisor here were good. NC State has some programs I’m interested in like sports management and a parks, recreation and tourism major.  I spoke with some people who were in those areas.  One wrestling alum talked about his experiences after college with minor league baseball teams, USA Baseball and now as a young athletic director.  There are a lot of good opportunities for graduates.

Did you meet a lot of the team?

I met a few of the guys who were on campus. I hung out with [Long Island native] Ryan Fox who committed to Binghamton but switched to NC State a little while ago.  I plan to go back to NC State in July and I’ll probably meet more guys then as everyone adjusts to how [Popolizio] runs things.

What’s next for you this summer?

Honestly, I’m a little out of shape.  I won’t be going to the University Nationals.  I’ll be working out and getting back into shape.  My next thing is the Adam Frey Classic where I’m supposed to wrestle Ryan Tomei.  I was excited that Josh Liebman asked me to participate.  It will be great to wrestle for a cause like that in front of a lot of people. Then, I’ll head back down to Raleigh.  Right now, the plan is for me to redshirt next year.

Congratulations on your decision.  Is there anything else you want to add?

Thank you.  I will miss my family and friends in New York. It’s a little hard to leave and it will be an adjustment, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it.  I felt good about NC State for the last few weeks but after visiting this weekend, everything came together. I knew I liked the coaching staff but everything else is there too – the academics, athletic department, the campus, financials.  I’m sure that it’s the place I want to be.

———————-

Gwiazdowski went 30-9 as a true freshman at heavyweight for Binghamton.  He was the CAA Rookie of the Year after capturing a conference championship and earned All-America honors after taking eighth place in St. Louis.