Wrestling reflects on postseason-less campaign

Despite a postseason ban, Buffalo aims to build for the future

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When Northern Illinois’ Arthur Bunce won a 2-0 decision over Bulls freshman Mike Silvis on Friday, the 2014-15 Buffalo wrestling season was officially over.

That’s because while the other Mid-American Conference teams will compete in the MAC Wrestling Championships in Columbia, Missouri on March 7-8, Buffalo will be at home.

The Bulls were banned from both the MAC Tournament and NCAA Nationals due to academic ineligibility. The NCAA requires each team to register a minimum academic performance rate (APR) of 930. The Bulls registered a 925 over a four-year period, making them ineligible for postseason play. Buffalo finishes the season with a 5-14 record, an increase over last season’s three-win campaign, but it also failed to win a conference dual meet for the second straight year.

Head coach John Stutzman said the penalties were a perfect time to reinforce academics and getting the players to be accountable for both them and their fellow teammates.

“Our season is over,” Stutzman said. “This is a teaching moment for our players. We need everyone to be accountable at all times. These players had nothing to do with it, but it’s NCAA rules. The coaching staff and I will take it as a learning experience and move forward. We’re making it a positive.”

Senior Wally Maziarz said he doesn’t think the current Buffalo wrestlers should be punished for what was done in the past, but that it could be a learning experience for the underclassmen.

“I disagree with the whole academic performance rate,” Maziarz said. “They kicked off the guys who got suspended and forced this postseason ban. Hopefully, the younger players on the team understand this is punishment for not performing in the classroom.”

With no postseason, the Bulls were able to use the regular season to get acclaimed freshmen and sophomore classes adjusted to college wrestling. The Bulls entered the season with the 18th best freshman class in Division I athletics, according to TheOpenMat.com, a website that ranks high school wrestling prospects.

“Progress was being made throughout the season,” Stutzman said. “When you look at the big picture, we’re at better place now than when I got hired. We’re getting people to come out to the games and I’m excited for the future of UB wrestling.”

Boding well for the future, the Bulls saw numerous freshman, redshirt freshmen and sophomores have promising campaigns.

Freshmen Jake Gunning and Trevor Hoffmier each finished with a team-leading 28 overall wins on the season. Four of the five leaders in overall wins this season were freshman, with Brandon Lapi finishing third with 25 wins, while Jake Weber finished fifth with 20.

Freshman Colt Cotten’s season was shortened due to an injury, but he still pulled off a winning season, nonetheless.

After reconstructive surgery on a torn lateral collateral ligament (LCL) and hamstring knocked him out early, Cotten returned and finished his redshirt freshman campaign with a 20-12 overall record and a 5-3 MAC record. He was tied for first on the team this season for reversals with three.

With an offseason to improve and recover his physical stature, Cotten said that he and his fellow underclassmen will make a leap in 2015.

“We’re on the rise,” Cotten said. “We’re growing and the numbers say that we’re improving. Next year, we’ll push for 10 wins and then 15 to 20 the year after that. With the coaching staff and the team’s work ethic, I truly believe that we will be a top-10 program.”

Cotten – a transfer from Stutzman’s former school Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania – said the transfer to Buffalo, a team with a younger roster, will allow him to grow into a better player.

“At Bloomsburg, there were a ton of juniors and seniors there,” Cotten said. “Here, we’re all in the same age range and it’s fun to have people your age to work with, improve on the mat with and overall practice and go through weight training with. We’ve already bonded and that has helped us on and off the field.”

Maziarz and fellow senior Max Soria, both wrestled their last matches in a Bulls singlet in Friday’s 26-10 loss.

Soria ended his season with a 21-8 record and a career record of 81-54, saying that this was the best season of his college career.

“Honestly, in all of my five years at UB, this was my best and most consistent year,” Soria said. “I don’t know if it was the offseason training or entering the season with a focus, but this year was my best. I give most of my credit to coach [Stutzman].”

Soria’s senior night against Eastern Michigan on Feb. 15, in which he won by major decision in his final Alumni Arena match, will always remain one of the most memorable moments of his career, he said.

“I’ll never forget senior night,” Soria said. “Other nights where I defeated ranked opponents. I was ranked in the top 12, the highest I was ever ranked. It was bittersweet. We haven’t had a home win in a couple years and my parents were there. It was surreal, even though we couldn’t come away with the win.”

Maziarz – who also wrestled his last match on Friday – was rehabbing a broken leg for six months. After suffering the gruesome injury this offseason, he completed his goal of returning to the mat and competing in his last season as a Bull.

Although he was physically ready for the season, he said he felt he was unprepared.

“I didn’t do much walking – usually walked with crutches,” Maziarz said. “My rehab was four, five times a week and I got back quick. My explosiveness just wasn’t the same.”

Maziarz finished with a 6-17 record this season and ended his career with a record of 55-72. Maziarz made two goals for himself this season: compete again and work with the younger players on the roster. He was successful in both.

“I was glad to get back to help the young guys,” Maziarz said. “I know how the transition from high school and college is. Every match turns into a grind and there’s not too many pins in Division I matches. I wanted to work with them and help them find a way to win close matches, rather than looking for pins.”

After another sub-.500 season, the Bulls will look to compete next season. Stutzman – who will enter his third year as head coach of the team – doesn’t plan on stopping at the MAC Tournament.

“I want to compete for NCAA trophies,” Stutzman said. “That’s my goal and vision for the program. We need our players and their families to buy in 100 percent, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. If we can get that cooperation, we could be dangerous moving forward.”

Quentin Haynes is the sports desk editor. You can reach him at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com