UB wrestler, Max Soria, recounts his storied career and his relationship with coach John Stutzman

Wrestling with the future

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Head coach John Stutzman remembers the first time he met Max Soria.

It was a match in 2011 against Bloomsburg, where Stutzman was the head coach at the time, at Niagara County Community College. Soria, a redshirt freshman at the time, defeated Bloomsburg’s Sean Boylan in a decisive 5-2 victory in the 125-pound weight class for the first victory of the day. Upon completion of the match, Stutzman had only one word to say.

“Wow.”

Stutzman, who became the Buffalo head coach prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, coached Soria for two seasons as a member of the Bulls. Now a senior, Soria has wrestled his final match at Alumni Arena under Stutzman.

“The first time I watched him wrestle, I competed against him at my past institution. I remember saying to myself, ‘Wow, this kid is pretty good,”’ Stutzman said. “When I took the job over, I remembered his positive personality. And he did a really good job with the coaching change and buying in to the program.”

On Sunday, the wrestling team celebrated Soria’s illustrious UB career. Prior to the beginning of the meet against Eastern Michigan, Soria and teammate Wally Maziarz were honored with commemorative plaques and a small ceremony.

“Every athlete has been in that situation before,” Stutzman said. “It’s emotional. You get your parents and the people around you for one last time at Alumni Arena. It’s a special moment.”

Soria is one of the most decorated wrestlers in Bulls history. He currently holds the record for most escapes in program history (85) and accumulated 104 takedowns, which leads the team. He also leads the team with 21 wins this season.

In his four years at UB, he earned two appearances at the NCAA Tournament. During his redshirt freshman year, Soria was victorious over No. 20 Nick Smith of Northern Illinois. He currently leads the team with 12 career conference victories and holds a career record of 81-53.

But Soria’s accolades are only a testament to the journey he took to get to that point. At the beginning of this season, the wrestling program was punished by the NCAA because of a low Academic Performance Rate (APR). Due to the sanctions, the team is unable to compete in the 2014-15 postseason – including Soria, who was on pace to compete in this year’s NCAA tournament.

“After hearing the news, it was heart crushing,” Soria said. “I’ve been there twice and I wanted to go there again and do some damage.”

At the beginning of this season, Soria was given the opportunity to transfer schools to compete in the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year. In the end, he decided to stay in Buffalo.

Soria said it was an easy decision. It wasn’t about the accolades or the awards that he yearned for. It was about the opportunity to lead a team.

“This whole year, just sticking around with the team as a captain allowed me to make so many memories over the year,” Soria said. “I’m glad I stayed to help out the UB program. I can look myself in the mirror with no regrets.”

Soria also decided to stay because of the influence of coach Stutzman.

Stutzman took over the program from former head coach Jim Beichner in 2013. Before he was hired, Soria and the rest of the team were able to submit their input about the new hire.

Soria explains that potential hires were brought in and the team was able to question them about their philosophy and their plan for the program. Stutzman stood out. Two years later, Soria is pleased with the program’s decision.

“We had faith in what he was going to do,” Soria said. “After two years, I see the progress that he was trying to make and I have full faith in his plan … He was very passionate, very loud when he was coaching for Bloomsburg. Now, that he’s our coach, we see that passion first hand.”

Soria wrestled for the final time at Alumni Arena on Sunday. Despite a 22-10 team loss, Soria picked up a 14-3 major decision victory over Eastern Michigan’s Blake Caudill.

But the victory wasn’t satisfying for Soria. He said he would have swapped his final individual win for a team win.

“I wanted to go out with a [team] win,” Soria said. “I feel like it’s over, but it’s not. I want to go out with a win. I want the team to win. I want the team to experience it.”

Soria will wrestle for the final time in a Bulls singlet on Friday when the team takes on Northern Illinois.

After the season concludes, Soria said he is not sure what will happen with his wrestling career, but he hopes to be a liaison for the team in the future.

Soria acknowledges he will likely not wrestle on a team in the future. He knows he will not be part of the team that he helped build. He also realizes he will not wrestle under Stutzman again. And Stutzman acknowledged he would never coach Soria again.

“We’re going to miss him,” Stutzman said. “We’re going to miss his leadership, his personality. Max is everything you want in a wrestler.”

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