Wrestling team’s rookies lead the way to big Championship victory

The wrestling team repeated as the Metropolitan Conference Championship (METs) winner on Sunday at Wilkes University, posting a top-three finisher in eight of 10 weight classes.

The No. 17 Lions’ total of 90 points was top in the nine-team tournament that included five nationally ranked squads. No. 14 New York University (NYU) finished second with 82 points.

The Lions’ rookies led the way as freshmen John Barnett (149 pounds) and Justin Bonitatis (165 pounds) finished as the team’s individual champions. Freshman Dan Hughes (125 pounds) added a critical second-place finish.

“We got a great effort from the young kids,” head coach David Icenhower said. “For Bonitatis and Barnett to be our champions, and Hughes coming in as a sixth seed and getting second, that was awesome.”

Barnett, seeded third, earned his crown in a 5-3 decision over NYU’s freshman Matt McGill. Barnett scored two takedowns in the third period to seal his victory. Earlier, he pinned Wilkes’ junior Erik Smith to gain a spot in the championship match.

Bonitatis, whose team-leading 31 regular season wins earned him a top seed, edged Wilkes’ sophomore Frank Heffernan as he held onto a 2-1 lead through the final period.

“I wanted to stay aggressive,” Bonitatis said. “I did a lot of hand checking. I didn’t want to overwork and give up a silly takedown.”

As METs champions, Barnett and Bonitatis earn automatic berths in the 2008 NCAA Division III Championships, to be held March 7-8 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“I’m very excited,” Bonitatis said. “Being a freshman, it’s a dream come true.”

In addition to the automatic berths, two of the METs’ seven “wild card” nominations went to members of the Lions’ squad. Senior co-captain Ray Sarinelli (133 pounds) and junior Greg Osgoodby (174 pounds) were selected by the METs’ head coaches to compete in the NCAAs. Both wrestlers took part in the NCAAs last year.

Sarinelli joined Hughes as a second-place finisher on Sunday, notching a 15-5 major decision in the semifinals over second-seeded Centenary College senior Mike Gummerson. Sarinelli ultimately fell to defending METs champion Dave Morgan, a junior at King’s College.

Meanwhile, Hughes’ impressive run was almost over before it even began. In his opening bout, Hughes faced a three-point deficit to begin the third period. He recorded a takedown with less than 10 seconds left to take the lead.

Hughes then outlasted NYU’s sophomore Kyle Christensen in the semifinals to clinch a 3-2 decision before dropping a decision in the finals to defending champion Kyle Flickinger, a junior at York College.

Osgoodby, sophomore Dan DiColo (157 pounds), senior co-captain Steve Carbone (285 pounds) and junior Chris Prihoda (141 pounds) added to the team score with third-place finishes.

“I’m proud of everybody,” Prihoda said. “We all had each others’ backs the whole tournament.”

Osgoodby, a 2007 METs champion, dropped a semifinal decision but came back with two convincing wins to capture third place. He later added a 6-1 decision over Hunter College’s sophomore Andre DeCristo to earn true second place.

His true second-place finish, coupled with a 29-4 regular season record, earned him a spot at the NCAAs alongside Barnett, Sarinelli and Bonitatis.

“We’ve had six months of hard work leading up to today,” Bonitatis said. “The (METs) and (NCAAs) is what it all comes down to.”