By Connor Smith
Social Media Editor
With the success of their 18-3 dual match record in the rearview mirror, the wrestling team traveled to Washington and Lee University to compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III (D-III) Eastern Regional Championship — which took place on Saturday, Feb. 27, and Sunday, Feb. 28.
The College earned one first-place finish and three second-place finishes, securing the Lions four NCAA National Championship qualifiers and second place overall team honors out of 18 schools.
“I wanted the guys to wrestle hard and to have fun,” head coach Joe Galante said. “If we do those things, then the accolades and placements take care of themselves.”
The tournament began on Saturday, where the Lions’s talent was on full display. Sophomore James Goldschmidt (133) and senior Steven Schneider (149) both earned opening round technical falls.
Sophomore Ryan Budzek (141) began the tournament with a major decision (13-1) and a decision (2-0) to propel himself into Sunday’s semifinals. Budzek is currently ranked No. 6 in the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) D-III poll.
Looking to add “two-time All-American” to his list of accolades, senior Antonio Mancella (157) proved to be as reliable as ever, winning both decisions on the opening day.
“I expected myself to place and proceed onward onto nationals,” Mancella said. “It’s what our coaching staff and team have been training and improving all season to do and I think most of us went out expecting the same thing because that is the way we trained.”
Ranked No. 4 by the NWCA, junior Nick Herring punched his ticket to the semifinals with a major decision and a technical fall of his own.
In total, five Lions proceeded to the semifinals of the winners’ bracket. With an automatic bid to the NCAA D-III Championships at stake, all wrestlers understood the magnitude of their upcoming bouts.
Sunday’s action yielded mixed results for the Lions. Having dealt with his fair share of injuries and adversity this season, Budzek was prepared to fight for his bid to Nationals. In a bout that included blood time, Budzek managed to carve out a second-place finish, setting him up for his own run at nationals.
“He wanted to continue to compete,” Galante said. “There’s just something in him that’s tough and mean.”
Senior Doug Hamann (174) won his quarterfinals bout in a rematch with Phil Woods of Stevens Institute of Technology. Although he barely escaped Woods with a tight 3-2 decision in November, Hamann’s growth was visible by bringing home a 10-5 decision in the semifinals.
“Doug Hamann beat his opponents really bad on Saturday,” Galante said. “He woke up and had a great match against a tough opponent.”
Hamann did not escape his bout unscathed, as he was forced to sit out the finals with an injury — settling for second place at 174. Hamann is expected to be ready to go at the nationals, according to Galante.
Mancella worked for a 15-8 decision in the semifinals, setting up a First-Place match with Logan Meister of Ferrum College. With his bid to nationals already secured, Mancella lost his final bout by a 7-3 decision.
Junior Dan Wojtaszek and Schneider were sent to the consolation bracket by wrestlers from Stevens. The local rivals managed to earn top team honors at the competition, setting the stage for a clash in the upcoming National Championships. By battling through the consolation ladder, both wrestlers were able to earn a shot at third place. Unfortunately for the Lions, neither third-place match went their way, cutting both wrestlers’ seasons short.
“Stevens wrestles tough, and kudos to them,” Mancella said. “In the weights where we ran into them, I’m sure there is a sense of rivalry, but that comes with the nature of the sport.”
Although Stevens had its fair share of reasons to celebrate, Herring proved the Lions won’t go down without a fight. In his first-place match with the Stevens Ducks’s Colin Navickas, Herring brought home the gold with an intense 6-3 decision.
“I think there was disappointment, but that is to be expected when you train for months on end for a goal and you come up short,” Mancella said. “Naturally, a couple guys were bummed out and that is perfectly OK to be, in my opinion. All in all, I believe everyone was happy for those who qualified.”
With four Lions placing and a second overall team finish, the Lions will have a week off to prepare for the NCAA D-III Championships on Friday, March 11, and Saturday, March 12, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.