Each session, TheMat.com will post a notebook with interesting things from that session and from the 2017 NCAA Championships in St. Louis, Mo. We lead off with our Session V observations.
Minnesota’s Eggum has best finish among rookie Div. I head coaches
With just one session to go, it is a great time to access the NCAA performance of teams which had rookie head coaches leading programs at the 2017 NCAA Championships. Many of these men have extensive experience as assistant coaches, but this year the team is their responsibility.
Minnesota rookie head coach Brandon Eggum
Eggum, longtime assistant for the Gophers and a past World silver medalist in freestyle, became interim coach with the suspension and departure of Hall of Fame coach J Robinson. Eggum and his staff led the team through a period of transition. As the season progressed, Eggum was named as the permanent coach for the traditional wrestling power.
A number of wrestlers were suspended in the first semester as fallout from the Xanax scandal that led to the series of changes in the program. In spite of this, Eggum kept the Gophers in the national conversation and in the rankings, and placed fifth in the Big Ten with nine qualifiers.
The Gophers pushed a pair of stars into the NCAA finals tonight, No. 6 seeded Ethan Lizak at 125 and No. 2 seed Brett Pfarr at 197. Lizak will battle No. 4 seed Darian Cruz of Lehigh, while Pfarr has drawn No. 1 seed and two-time champion (and Olympic medalist) J’Den Cox of Missouri
Two other Gophers were All-Americans, finishing up on Saturday morning, seventh-place Michael Kroells (285) and eighth place Thomas Thorn (141).
Just missing out in the round of 12 were freshman Mitchell McKee (133), Jake Short (157) and Nick Wanzek (165). Freshman Bobby Steveson won a match at 184, and Christopher Pfarr also competed at 174. Eggum, who inherited a strong program, easily had the best finish of the rookie coaches, holding onto seventh place going into the finals. Wins by Lizak or Pfarr would push them past Virginia Tech into sixth place.
“It was a big loss for all of us losing J at the beginning of the season. J was a huge inspiration to me, a mentor and a friend. The biggest thing our team did was do a good job of deciding once that was over, it was over. There was nothing we could do to change it. We looked at the program and asked what could we do to get back to what Minnesota wrestling is known for,” said Kroells.
Oklahoma rookie head coach Lou Rosselli
Another prominent hire came at Oklahoma, when former Ohio State and Edinboro assistant coach Lou Rosselli took over the Sooner program in the fall, shortly after returning from the Rio Olympic Games as one of Team USA’s freestyle coaches. OU stayed in the rankings throughout the year, and had a prominent dual meet victory over Missouri along the way. The Sooners were second in the Big 12, and pushed eight wrestlers into the NCAAs in St. Louis.
It is Saturday, and no Sooner reached All-American, falling out during the consolation process. Coming into Session V, the Sooners were tied for 32nd place with 9.5 points. Yoanse Mejias (165), Brad Johnson (197) and Ross Larson (285) went 2-2 in the tournament. Mike Longo (141) was 1-2, and Christian Moody (118), Davion Jefferies (149), Clark Glass (157) and Matt Reed (174) finished 0-2.
CSU Bakersfield rookie head coach Manny Rivera
Rivera, who was a star at Minnesota as a wrestler, took over the program after head coach Mike Mendoza accepted the job as Boise State head coach. Rivera’s Roadrunners placed third in the Pac-12, and placed four wrestlers into the NCAA Tournament.
Bakersfield had no All-Americans and placed in a tie for 53rd with 1.5 points, tied with Army, Drexel and Utah Valley. Matt Williams had the longest run in the tournament, going 3-2 at 197, losing in consolation round three to Shawn Scott of Northern Illinois. Coleman Hammond (149) went 1-2, while Sean Nickell (125), Russel Rohlfing (141) and Lorenzo De La Riva (165) finished 0-2.
Michigan State rookie head coach Roger Chandler
Head coaching positions don’t come up very often in the Big Ten., and when longtime coach Tom Minkel retired after last season, the Spartans decided to hire from within, promoting Minkel’s top assistant Roger Chandler to the post. He brought in some new energy with assistant coaches Chris Williams and Wynn Michalak.
The Spartans finished 10th in the Big Ten and brought three wrestlers to St. Louis. Drew Hughes had the longest run, going 3-2 at 165 pounds, before losing to Rider’s Chad Walsh in consolation round four. Austin Eicher went 1-2 at 133 pounds, while Javier Gasca III lost both of his 141 pound bout. Michigan State finished in a tie for 41st with American and North Carolina with 4.5 team points.
Columbia rookie head coach Zach Tanelli
The Lions hired a new head coach this year, with former Wisconsin wrestler and New Jersey native Zach Tanelli taking over the Ivy League program. The team had a rocky start to the year, when some of the wrestlers were included in group-texting activity that was unacceptable. The Lions missed some matches as part of the university’s punishment for the behavior.
Tanelli’s troops qualified for two wrestlers for the NCAAs at the EIWA Championships, where they finished 12th. Heavyweight Garrett Ryan went 1-2, including a loss to his former roommate at the Olympic Training Center, Ohio State’s NCAA and Olympic champion Kyle Snyder. Tyrel White went 0-2 at 165 pounds.
Bloomsburg rookie head coach Marcus Gordon
Gordon’s team placed seventh out of seven teams in the EWL this year, scoring 5 points and did not qualify any athletes for the NCAA Championships.
Gary Taylor finishes career at Rider after 39 years, with two All-Americans in final season
Rider University in New Jersey has been coached for 39 years by Gary Taylor, who took a small program and developed it into a consistently competitive team on the Div. I level, one that developed All-Americans and challenged for conference titles. He registered an amazing 442 career dual meet wins. His team won the EWL title in 2016, halting Edinboro’s dominance of that conference.
Rider brought four wrestlers to St. Louis this after a second-place finish at the EWL, and brought home two All-Americans, both with seventh place finishes, Chad Walsh at 165 and Ryan Wolfe at 197. Just missing out with a loss in the round of 12 consolations was former All-American B.J. Clagon at 157. Michale Fagg-Davies went 0-2 at 184 pounds for the Bronchos.
“This is the first time in our history that we put three in the quarters, so that was a big highlight of the week. To have BJ Clagon beat the eighth and ninth seed and come so close to being our third All-American this year makes me proud of how he wrestled. I am very proud of Chad Walsh, who became only our second two-time All-American this weekend. I am so proud of Ryan Wolfe, who has worked so very hard to be an All-American. To see that accomplished, that is what I take out of this weekend. We brought four, and two became All-Americans and the third one came as close as you can come,” said Taylor.
Taylor can recall his first year with Rider and how that team and its athletes helped set a foundation for a successful program.
“I remember the first year. I will never forget the first year. It was a very special time to begin a career. I remember the kids on the team. My first All-American was in my second year. We never had him place in the state tournament and we had never had a nationally ranked wrestler or team or an All-American. Our first All-American was Louie DeSerafino, and he set the stage to where the program could take off. That is exactly what I wanted to see happen. Nobody could say you can’t go to Rider and be an All-American. Lou did it. He never placed in the state tournament, but he placed third in the entire nation,” said Taylor.
Longtime assistant coach John Hangey has already been named as the head coach moving forward, allowing for continuity in the program.
“Two things were extremely important to me. One was that John Hangey would become the head coach when I left. And also, that the program would be in a good place, a good position. I believe next year’s team will be stronger than this year’s team. Those were important for when I wanted to exit. Our administration worked with me on that. John was the right person for the job. He not only put his time in, but John earned it. He has been very instrumental in the success that we have had. We were really fortunate to get Nic Bedelyon as his head assistant. He had done an outstanding job in his five years with us. The timing was perfect, and that is why I did it this year,”
Taylor has high praise for Rider and his career with the university.
“It couldn’t have worked out any better. You have to understand that at a small private university, they are doing everything they can do to support programs. But there are limitations for sure. Rider University has been very supportive of myself and our wrestling program through my 39 years. That is through three or four presidents, several vice-presidents and different athletic directors,” said Taylor.