With nearly all of its pieces retained from an enthralling 2011 campaign and successful postseason, the 26th-ranked wrestling team hinted that more good things are to come with a second place finish at the annual Fall Brawl.
Seniors John Darling (167-pound weight class) and Kenny Amponsa (197) went undefeated to lead the Lions, while four others placed to lift the team over a long list of opponents that included Division I school Franklin & Marshall College.
“What the team can take away from the Fall Brawl is the potential strength and power of our best line up,” Darling said. “As a team, we finished second behind Ursinus (College), and some of our best guys didn’t get a chance to wrestle this weekend.”
Amponsa’s return to the fold after taking his junior year off could not have gone smoother, as he picked up a pin and three decisions for his first career tournament title.
“Kenny is a natural athlete,” Darling said. “On the wrestling mat, he can be extremely explosive and hard to stop in the neutral position. We are fortunate to have Kenny back in the lineup this year.”
The lone subtraction from the roster this season will be 2012 champion and guaranteed point-earner Mike Denver, who in 2011 was named the NCAA Division III Wrestler of the Year, but this is still a veteran-laden squad with double-digit winners across the board.
Amponsa and Darling are two examples of returning wrestlers, with former NCAA qualifiers Steve Godine (125), Dan Herr (133) and Brian Broderick (184) — who have a combined 165 career wins — are also ready to help the team achieve its perennially lofty ambitions.
“It is going to be different without Mike Denver in the room because he is a great competitor to look up to,” Darling said. “This year, we will have wrestlers throughout the lineup that have wrestled in the national tournament and wrestlers who are coming off strong seasons last year.”
Sophomore P.J. Schmidt (141), another returning game-changer who earned 25 bouts at 125 pounds last year, added five more wins and a third-place finish at Fall Brawl to his résumé in a new role for the Lions.
Joining him was junior Zach Zotollo (165), who showed off the team’s depth at the 165-pound weight class with his second consecutive third-place finish at the tournament, while juniors Justin DeAndrea (184) and Kevin Churchill (125) nabbed fourth in their positions.
Adding up the six top-four finishes gave the Lions a grand total of 134 points, just a mere 10 behind host Ursinus, three more than Franklin & Marshall, and more than double the average score of 61 points among the 15 teams participating in the event.
High expectations will travel with the Lions to No. 30 Stevens Institute of Technology this Wednesday, who ended a long losing streak against the College in last year’s season opener, and to the East Stroudsburg University Open on Saturday for another taste of tournament action. The Lions look to use these early meets as a springboard to their ultimate goal.
“Just like any other season, we train for the national tournament,” Darling said. “We’re looking forward for the ESU Open.”