Wrestling team looking for ‘progress’ in year three of Stutzman era
Talented underclassmen look to propel Bulls after lackluster seasons
When John Stutzman came to UB three years ago, he knew the wrestling program needed a change. The head coach wanted to see national titles and conference championships in his tenure, but with a record of 0-16 in the Mid-American Conference through two seasons, his aspirations have fallen well short.
Finally in year three, Stutzman believes he has what he needs to meet those lofty expectations.
The Bulls will travel to the University of Maryland to participate in the Terrapin Duals on Nov. 1 to kickoff the 2015-16 season and year three of the Stutzman era. It will be Buffalo’s first chance to showcase a young roster made up of 23 freshmen and sophomores and perhaps finally make Stutzman’s vision for UB wrestling come to fruition.
“We’re trying to progress [this year],” Stutzman said. “We got to get to a national tournament, punch a few All-Americans, build on win total from last year – both out of conference and in the MAC.”
If the Bulls do that, it will be with underclassmen.
The Bulls have a slew of young talent, including sophomores Sean Peacock and Colt Cotten, who combined for 23 wins last year and were Buffalo’s only two returning wresters with winning records in conference play. Buffalo also welcomes one of the most touted prospects in recent memory.
Freshman Nate Rose enters the program as a two-time New York State Champion during his high school run at the Eagle Academy for Young Men in the Bronx, where he racked up 130 career wins and an All-American nod. He earned a spot at the World Wrestling Championships last month and accumulated a 1-1 record. He was the only representative from UB and also represented Trinidad and Tobago.
Buffalo also gets a full season from its top redshirts from last season.
Jake Gunning and Brandon Lapi had successful redshirt runs last season in which they could only compete in open tournaments, but they are now both eligible to compete during every match. Gunning had a record of 28-8, while Lapi had a record of 25-14.
Stutzman knows can’t do it alone. Along with a youth movement came a revitalized coaching staff, including first-year assistant coaches Justin Grant and Craig “Boomer” Fechko.
“We’ve got a bunch of redshirt freshmen and this new coaching staff provides some high energy,” Stutzman said. “They bleed blue and white already.”
Stutzman brought his winning philosophies to UB from Bloomsburg – the same philosophies that earned him Eastern Wrestling League Coach of the Year awards in 2007, 2010 and 2013 – but he was also able to bring over one of his own wrestlers in junior Tyler Rill.
Rill is one of the few upper classmen on the team and will serve as a leader for the Bulls in his third season in Buffalo after transferring from Bloomsburg. More importantly, he buys into Stutzman’s tough, physical philosophies.
“Coach brought everything he used at Bloomsburg over here, especially a new intensity,” Rill said. “We’re expecting to win this time around.”
Rill will be hoping to bounce back after a season-ending injury last year that left him with a record of 2-1. Rill said he is ready for the season and is more excited than he’s ever been for the start of a season.
As for the young talent on the roster, redshirt freshman Brian Lantry looks to be a young talent on the rise, starting his Buffalo career in the 133-pound weight class.
“I expect us to win, I expect us to compete,” Lantry said. “[Stutzman] prepares us. He gives us the keys to win. I believe in what we’ve been trained with.”
Although the hope for the team is to bring a MAC championship to UB, it won’t be an easy task. Last season, six of the nine MAC teams posted conference records of .500 or better. It will be a tough mountain to climb in the MAC, as Buffalo sat at the bottom of the ranks with a 0-8 record.
It will also be a year in which UB will compete without one of its premier competitors, Max Soria, who posted a career record of 81-54. But the Bulls will still have one of their other successful seniors from last season in Wally Maziarz.
Maziarz, who wrestled from 2011-15, is now an advocate from the sideline rather than the mat as a volunteer assistant coach. Maziarz amassed 55 wins throughout his UB career, making him one of the most prolific wrestlers in program history.
This could be Stutzman’s make-or-break season at UB. The team’s five wins in his first two seasons put pressure on him and the team to start to show some progress. But he may finally have the roots of that MAC Championship-caliber team he’s always talked about.
“I want everyone to progress to the best of their ability,” Stutzman said. “I’ve always said, ‘Success is if you get the maximum out of your body.’ Our job as a staff is to wring that towel and get everything out of these guys.”
The season kicks off on Sunday at 9 a.m. when the Bulls face Maryland. A matchup against Davidson will follow at noon.
Reuben Wolf is a sports staff writer. Sports desk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.