By Matt Bowker
Senior Zach Zotollo is a man of routine. On each match days, Zotollo arrives focused and confident, ready to give his all to help the College’s wrestling team win.
Alongside Zotollo is coach Joe Galante, not only preaching patience and strategy, but also ensuring Zotollo remains focused. About midway through a typical meet, Zotollo then picks up his water bottle, places it next to assistant coach Len Goduto and gives him a tap on the shoulder. Zotollo is ready.
He takes the mat, weighing in at 174 pounds, and goes to work.
Zotollo’s routine has helped him punch a third-consecutive ticket to the Division-III NCAA Championships on Friday, March 13, and Saturday, March 14, to be held in Hershey, Pa. Zotollo came in fourth-place in 2013 and sixth in 2014 at the national championships. This year, however, Zotollo believes he has what it takes to go a step further and become a national champion.
“I love (my chances),” Zotollo said. “I know I’m prepared, I know I’ve worked as hard as I can and everything else will take care of itself.”
Zotollo, currently ranked sixth in the nation in his weight class, is looking to become the 22nd individual national champion in Lions’ history.
“This is what I work for all year,” Zotollo said. “It’s really just another tournament. I’m just continuing to do the training I’ve been doing and (staying) focused.”
Zotollo, a criminology major, led the team with a 19-1 record during his senior season at the College. He will be joined in Hershey by fellow senior Nathaniel Leer and junior Antonio Mancella, both making their first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Wrestling came natural to Zotollo. Following in the footsteps of both his father and older brother, Zotollo first started wrestling at the age of five and immediately fell in love with the sport.
“My dad was head of our town program (in Paramus, N.J.). I would just go to practices with my dad and brother, and it just caught,” Zotollo said.
Zotollo stuck with wrestling and eventually chose the College for the program’s storied history and its supportive coaching staff.
After finishing his freshman season with a 5-4 record, Zotollo challenged himself to become the All-American he knew he would one day become.
Zotollo put on weight, moving from the 149-pound division to the 165-pound class for his sophomore season. With stiff competition to get in meets at 165 pounds, Zotollo again decided to move up a weight class midway through the season.
In Zotollo’s first full season at 174 pounds, he earned a career-high 24 victories, his first All-American honor and a fourth-place win in the NCAA tournament.
“I had never intended to go 174, but it’s the best decision I’ve ever made,” Zotollo said.
Galante applauds Zotollo’s work ethic for his ability to put on 25 pounds and excel in a higher weight class.
“(Zotollo) is always in shape, always down to weight and always ready to compete,” said Galante, a former two-time All-American. “You don’t have to get ready if you stay ready.”
It was not all smooth sailing for Zotollo, however. Zotollo’s career hit a road bump entering his senior year.
“At the beginning of the year, I had a pulled hamstring, and it kept me off the mat for the first three weeks,” Zotollo said, a pack of ice tied around his arm from a different injury he sustained earlier in the season. “I’ve been in and out of the room with injuries.”
“Staying healthy is hard but staying tough is harder,” Galante said. “(Zotollo) is a tough dude.”
Zotollo overcame his series of injuries to defend his title at the NCAA East Regional Tournament on Sunday, March 1, and qualify for the NCAA Championships.
During his time at the College, Zotollo has racked up 85 career wins, back-to-back regional championships and two All-American honors, with a third likely on the way.
Zotollo will go down as one of the most prolific wrestlers in Lions’ history, and with a Division-III National Championship coming up, he’ll be given a chance to cement his place in history as he takes the mat one final time.