The cornfields are calling.
Following stellar performances at Sunday’s Metropolitan Conference Championships, the College will be sending five grapplers to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the NCAA Division III Championships in two weeks.
The Lions crowned three individual Metropolitan champions on Sunday, and two others competed in the final match in their respective weight classes to earn bids to the big show at U.S. Cellular Center.
With a 7-3 victory over York College’s senior John Niedrich, senior Dan DiColo was the first champion of the day for the Lions at 157 pounds.
Sophomore Justin Bonitatis, currently the No. 5 nationally-ranked grappler in Division III, followed DiColo with a pinfall in 2:15 in the 165 pound weight class to give the Lions their second Metropolitan champion.
The third and final individual champion came in the form of freshman Scott Kelley at 184 pounds as he shut out Wilkes University’s freshman William “Buddy” Grouger, 4-0.
Head coach David Icenhower was impressed with his athletes. “They brought their ‘A’ game and their conditioning was good as well. They kept pushing the pace,” he said.
Joining DiColo, Bonitatis and Kelley will be senior Tyler Branham and sophomore Ed Broderick, who each finished second in their weight classes. Branham was bested by Wilkes’ senior Eric Smith in the final, 4-1 at 149 pounds, while Broderick fell to top-seeded Wilkes junior Zach Pizarro, 5-2 at 197 pounds.
“I feel fortunate to have earned a spot to nationals, but I wasn’t overly pleased with my performance,” Branham said. “Luckily I can put the Conference tournament behind me, and concentrate on the biggest tournament of the season.”
Lions senior Greg Osgoodby had a strong showing on the day, finishing fourth overall at 174 pounds, and heavyweight sophomore Adam Koziol claimed third place in the 285 pound weight class, pinning his opponent in 2:48 in the consolation bracket.
Although strong individual performances were the theme of the tournament for the College, the day was somewhat bittersweet, as they were unable to defend their Metropolitan title. After standing atop the podium for the previous two years, the Lions finished second with a team score of 86.5, unable to match Wilkes’ score of 98.
“We went there to win and it was disappointing when we didn’t win,” Icenhower said. “A couple of guys didn’t have their best days and we could have wrestled better.”
Icenhower said he was especially impressed with Bonitatis who had recently come back from surgery to repair an injured meniscus to win his weight class. The Lions’ coach was also pleased that the No. 7 seeded Koziol was able to finish third.
The College’s coaching staff will now focus on their five potential champions and prepare them for the national stage which will take place on March 6.
“We are going to focus on individual work and coach them as individuals opposed to how we would as a team. We are going to focus on the things they are good at,” Icenhower said.
DiColo added, “Physically, we have to continue to do what we have been doing all year and just work on perfecting as much as we can. Since there are only five of us going to Nationals, we will all be able to work individually with coaches every day. As we work hard physically, the mentality of doing well in Iowa will come naturally.”
According to Branham, “All of our coaches reminded us before the tournament that we have put in so much hard work this year, more than other teams throughout the country. This is the time of year to make it all pay off.”
Bobby Olivier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.