Hofstra sent three wrestlers to the NCAA tournament in Iowa in 2013. Two of those grapplers, Jamie Franco and Luke Vaith, return and with the addition of some fresh faces to the lineup and the development of some returners, there is a lot of optimism in Hempstead about what could be in store. New York Wrestling News spoke to assistant coach Zach Tanelli about changing conferences, the addition of transfers and the projected lineup for the 2013-14 campaign.
New York Wrestling News (NYWN): You had a lot of success in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). How do you feel about the move to the EIWA conference this year?
Zach Tanelli (ZT): We’re really excited about the opportunity to be in a conference as prestigious as the EIWA. Nothing against the CAA, but we just feel that this is a conference that better suits our team and will provide us with some tough challenges.
NYWN: Last year, you began the season with Minnesota and Wisconsin and faced a number of other top teams in the first half of the campaign, such as Iowa and Ohio State. What are some of the highlights of this year’s schedule?
ZT: We toned down our schedule a little bit, in part because we’ll be seeing some better teams in the EIWA. A lot of our rivalries were with EIWA teams anyway, so we’re looking forward to those matches having added meaning.
You always want to have a good dual meet team but unless and until scoring is changed at the NCAAs, you need individuals to perform in the tournament setting where there’s adversity and you have to know how to respond if you take a loss. So it’s always important to go to some of the top tournaments in the country because they’re test runs for the NCAAs. We’ll be doing that by going to [The Cliff Keen Invitational in] Las Vegas and the Southern Scuffle. These tournaments give you an opportunity to show you belong with the top guys. To win those tournaments or place high, you have to beat some of the best. Our team will have that opportunity.
NYWN: What do you think are the expectations for the team this year?
ZT: Expectations are lower for us externally, with only Luke Vaith in many of the rankings, but we feel differently. We feel like we’re a darkhorse. We think we’re definitely a top three team in the conference. We know there are tough teams like Cornell and Penn, but we feel that we match up well. We need to win those head to head matchups, but we think a top three finish is likely and that we can sneak in higher in our first year. We definitely think we have guys who have what it takes to be All-Americans this year and other guys who will be national qualifiers. Time will tell. We’re really excited about the season.
NYWN: The season is right around the corner. You have the Hofstra Wrestling Kickoff Banquet [6:30 p.m. at the Long Island Marriott] this Saturday, followed by the season opener against Rutgers at home on Sunday. Tell us about those two events.
ZT: We like to do our kickoff to bring people together before the high school season starts, to get everyone excited about the season. It will be an opportunity for people to meet [former Hofstra wrestler and UFC champion] Chris Weidman and see what he has to say. He’ll also be at the match. The Rutgers match should be a good dual to start off the season against a local team that we want to be facing every year.
NYWN: Let’s take a look at the wrestlers who look to play key roles for the Pride in 2013-14.
Jamie Franco started for Hofstra at 133 for the past few years, making NCAA tournament appearances in 2012 and 2013. This March, he won a pair of bouts in Des Moines. For his senior season, the former Section 9 star will move down to 125, where he hopes to end his career on the podium.
“Jamie feels great at this weight,” Tanelli said. “I’m amazed at how he’s progressed and how strong he is. It’s a natural fit for him. He’s not getting much respect in the rankings, but we don’t care about that. It’s a good spot to be in – low expectations for now. He wrestles well as an underdog and will prove himself early on.”
Jamel Hudson and Maverick Passaro were both Division I New York state champions in 2012. Hudson had a successful redshirt year for the Pride and looked strong in freestyle, placing at events such as the University Nationals. Passaro returned to Long Island from Rutgers after an year disrupted by injuries. Hudson won the wrestle-off last week by a 7-2 score and will take the mat for the Pride against the Scarlet Knights.
“We think our lower weights are very strong and 133 is a big part of that,” Tanelli said. “Jamel is a really exciting wrestler and we think he can do very well this year.”
Luke Vaith topped multiple All-Americans last year and won a bout at the NCAA tournament. The staff believes he has what it takes for a breakthrough senior campaign.
“Luke will be tested right off the bat, especially on our trip to Virginia [November 8-10],” Tanelli said. “He’ll face All-Americans Devin Carter (Virginia Tech) and Evan Henderson (North Carolina). They’re both ranked in the top five. It’s a heck of a time to show the country you’re a true contender. We feel confident he can beat both of those guys and we feel strongly as a staff that he can win a national title.”
Cody Ruggirello and Cam Tessari faced off in last Friday’s wrestle-offs with Tessari winning by a 5-3 score. It will be Ruggirello who will begin the season as the starter, however, as Tessari plans to return to action later in the campaign.
“They’ll probably wrestle off again close to the second semester,” Tanelli said. “Cody is our starter for the first half of the year. He looks good. Cam will be ready by the Southern Scuffle. He’ll acclimate and adjust and be ready to go for the second part of the year. The National Duals are at Ohio State this year and he’s hoping to compete in front of his family.” [Tessari is from the Buckeye State].
Nick Terdick started for the squad as an undersized 165 pounder a year ago, but has moved down to 157 for 2013-14.
“Nick is a super talented guy who has come a long way with his confidence,” Tanelli said. “He was in a weight class that wasn’t ideal for him last year, but he’s put in a nice offseason and is hitting his stride. I think he’s ready for a big jump.”
Joe Booth’s sixth-year of eligibility was officially granted by the NCAA a few weeks ago. Now, the former Drexel grappler, a multiple-time NCAA qualifier, will look to take advantage of the opportunity in his last season as a college wrestler.
“It’s refreshing to have Joe in the room,” Tanelli said. “He’s a guy who really wants to be there because he has perspective from not fulfilling all of his goals. He was training for the first month without knowing if he’d get the year from the NCAA. He was training blindly, just hoping to get his shot. It was a big sigh of relief for him and he views it as a second chance to finally accomplish his goals. I think he struggled in the past with workout partners and maybe got in his own way sometimes. Having [assistant coaches] Dan Vallimont and Ryan Patrovich to work with has given him a whole new confidence. We feel very strongly about what he can do in March – we expect him to be an All-American. He’s a pleasure to have in the room.”
Last Wednesday, a 174-pound wrestle-off took place, including last year’s starter, Jermaine John, Dave Heitman and Victor Pozsonyi. A year after splitting time at higher weights (184/197) as a true freshman, it was Pozsonyi, the sophomore from New Jersey, who defeated the other two competitors (3-2 over John and 5-3 over Heitman). Tanelli said earlier this week that either Pozsonyi or John will start, with the other redshirting.
“Victor has made huge gains since last year,” Tanelli said. “He’s come a long way and we’re excited to see what he can do. Jermaine has been on a steady incline since he got here. He’s gotten better every year. He’s a fighter who is a very good listener and hard worker.”
After Pozsonyi won the initial 174-pound competition, the previously mentioned John, Heitman and freshman Dwight Howes took the mat in a round robin event at last Friday’s wrestle-offs. Howes went 2-0 in the mini-tournament, topping Heitman (6-2) and John (6-5). The freshman from Colorado arrived in Hempstead this year after spending time after high school training at the Olympic Training Center and Tanelli said he will be the starter at this weight.
“Dwight doesn’t mind people shooting on him – he’s actually comfortable when guys get in on his legs,” the assistant coach said. “He scores off other people’s attacks. He’ll have to make adjustments as the season progresses, but it’s always exciting to watch him compete because he loves to wrestle live. It’s a good thing – you want guys who enjoy competition as much as he does.”
There weren’t any 197 pound wrestle-off bouts last week. However, according to Tanelli, Heitman will take this spot for the Pride. In addition, Tanelli said Zeal McGrew, who competed at heavyweight a year ago, has begun to make the move down to be in the mix for the 197 spot.
“[Heitman] has a lot of heart and works very hard,” Tanelli said. “You never have to watch him and wonder – he’s always on track, doing the right things. He’s a great guy for the room who has earned his shot.”
Mike Hughes had a perfect high school season for Smithtown West in 2012-13, winning a state championship with 42 wins and 31 pins. He has separated himself in the Hofstra room and will get the nod as a true freshman at heavyweight.
“Mike Hughes is our starter,” Tanelli said. “He’s come in and done a great job. He looks very good in the room. We’re excited about his future here. We just need him to stay healthy and keep moving forward.”
Can Jamie Franco and Luke Vaith end their Hofstra careers on the podium? How high will the squad place in its first season in the EIWA? We’ll see very soon what the Hofstra Pride will look like in 2013-14, as the season kicks off this Sunday at home against current EIWA foe Rutgers at 1 p.m.