The College’s wrestling team took sixth overall at the Division III Championships on March 10, but the stage belonged to senior Mike Denver that day, who took the National Championship for the 184-pound weight class at the event.
Denver went 5-0 at Nationals to take the title, besting rival Mike Reilly from King’s College to take his first title in five years at the College. Denver was ranked No. 1 in the country in his weight class since late December.
“It’s something that you really have to experience,” Denver said of winning the title. “I’m kind of speechless. You work so hard towards a goal, and I’ve been working five years toward the national title and I finally accomplished the goal. I don’t want to say it’s a relief, but it’s an amazing accomplishment.”
Denver delivered on the biggest stage of them all, and he credits a strong support system within the coaching staff for his ease of mind during the finals. On staff are Dave Ilaria, who won the 2003 National Championship at 133 pounds for the College, and Sean Flynn, who won over 100 matches in his time at the College.
“I was talking to those guys and they were giving me insight on what to expect with all of the hype with the cameras on you, the warm mat, you’re on the big stage,” Denver said. “They kind of just told me to block all that stuff out — it’s just one more match, just another match. Just like in the beginning of the year, this is just one more match, just keep training, keep doing what you’re doing and good things will happen. So I just kind of went out there with that mentality.”
Denver credited the coaching staff for the season as well, saying they kept the team well prepared for the big moments.
“I can’t say enough about the coaching staff, they really made us peak at the right time and be able to perform at the right time,” Denver said. “It’s not really how you start, but how you finish.”
In particular, first-year coach Joe Galante took the team far in his first season, earning the honor of being named Division III Rookie Coach of the Year for wrestling following the team’s sixth-place finish.
“I think he did great things with the program this year,” Denver said. “He’s starting new things, he’s getting alumni back in the program which I think is great. He’s getting people more involved with the program.”
Galante’s conditioning program was also effective, leaving the players feeling strong — but not tired — for big matches all season.
“It’s not workouts where we kill ourselves every day, he’s working us out smart,” Denver said. “We’ll come in one day, maybe get a light drill, and then the next day we’ll go really hard, but then the next day we’ll go kind of easy. I think the way he set up the workouts and everything just made it so that when it came down to conferences, came down to nationals, where everything is on the line and that’s where you’ve got to peak, I think that’s what he did. For a first-year head coach I think he did a great job this year.”
At Nationals, junior Dan Kerr finished fifth at 133 pounds and fellow junior John Darling finished sixth in the 157-pound weight class. The finishes of those two, combined with Denver’s first-place effort, propelled the College to its sixth-place overall finish.
Now that his career is over here at the College, Denver was thankful to those who supported him in his time here, through the ups of his National Championship run and the downs of being injured almost his entire sophomore year.
“I just want to say ‘thank you’ to all of my friends and all of my family who have supported me and supported the program along the way, and to the people who have been with me from the very beginning since I got to TCNJ,” Denver said.
While Denver’s time at the College as a wrestler may be over, people shouldn’t forget his name.
“I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about Mike Denver in the coaching realm in the years to come,” Denver said. “So don’t count me out just yet.”