Lions will send handful to nationals

The Lions wrestle to a No. 2 finish. (Krystal Spencer / Staff Photographer)

Despite a second-place finish and a failed title defense in the Metropolitan Conference Championships at King’s College on Sunday, the No. 12-ranked Lions still qualified five wrestlers for the NCAA Division III Championships, a considerable consolation.

“We were there to win, and we are never happy when we don’t but I thought we did a great job,” head coach David Icenhower said. “Two of our top guns (seniors Justin Bonitatis and Mike Denver) both came back, and getting five guys to nationals is huge.”

Although No. 10-ranked Centenary College, who the College defeated at home on Feb. 11, took the MCC title with 104 total points, freshman Steve Godine and Bonitatis each won their tournament weight classes to claim spots on the national stage.

Three at-large bids — set aside for non-weight class winners — were snagged by Denver and sophomores Dan Herr and Brian Broderick as well.

Godine was a perfect 4-0 at 125 pounds, finishing his day with a 3-1 overtime victory over Elizabethtown College’s junior William Bentley. Godine was named the tournament’s co-rookie of the year for his performance.

“I knew I had a shot, but I don’t think anyone really expected it,” Godine said. “It’s a good feeling to know that all of the hard work paid off, not just for me but for the team.”

Godine pointed to his preparation as a key to success.

“I wrestled most of the kids earlier in the year and I lost to some of them, but I wouldn’t say I was wrestling at my best then,” he said. “My coaches helped me work on what we knew those kids would be doing.”

Icenhower gave credit to his freshman star.

“As a No. 4 seed, he surprised a lot of people,” Icenhower said. “It’s a great accomplishment for him, and not many kids get an opportunity to go to nationals as a freshman. He’s been getting better all year, and he picked the right day to have a great tournament.”

No. 1-seeded Bonitatis also ran his bracket without a loss at 165 pounds, scoring a late takedown against New York University’s senior Matt Magill for a dramatic 11-9 victory.

“Bonitatis is a two-time national qualifier and a one-time placer, so you know he is always going to come through in big matches, and the fact that he was down and came back was big,” Denver said.

The 4-0 performance gives Bonitatis 132 wins for his College career, surpassing almnus Tim Jacoutot for the most wins for a Lion since 1985.

Denver, also a No. 1 seed, managed to escape disaster at 184 pounds and still qualify for nationals, despite an upset defeat at the hands of York College’s junior Alex Martocello, 11-8. Prior to the bout, Denver was 7-0 in his career against Martocello, including a victory over him in the MCC finals last year.

“Yesterday was just his day,” Denver said. “He brought it to me, had a good match and wrestled better than me. I am grateful for a second chance.”

Denver was the College’s lone All-American at nationals last year.

Herr earned his bid at 133 pounds, finishing second as a No. 2 seed.

“My mindset was to not be afraid and to go out there and have fun,” Herr said. “If his best was better than my best, then so be it.”

Broderick finished third at 174 pounds, winning the consolation bracket after a fall in his opening bout. Broderick qualified after the title bout was decided by an injury default.

According to Icenhower, for the five grapplers headed to the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, the group was given Monday off, lifted and ran hard on Tuesday and will begin to “wrestle hard” today through Friday. Next week will call for more verbal and tape-based preparation and much less physical training.

“We want to have two good, hard weeks (of training),” Godine said. “We have so many good wrestlers in the room, everyone makes everyone else better.”

Bobby Olivier can be reached at olivier6@tcnj.edu.