UB Wrestling turns the corner
John Stutzman doesn’t just want a team that competes in the Mid-American Conference, he wants a team that can win it all.
The Bulls are in the middle of a resurgence and just set a program record when they defeated Northern Illinois for their fourth MAC dual win of the season. This is the second straight season the team posted 10 dual meet wins.
“You expect to be a MAC champ, you expect to be an all-American, you expect to be a national champion, you expect to be an Olympic champion, you expect to be a world champion,” Stutzman said. “They need to believe it, they need to think about it, they need to be all in on it, and if you’re not then this is probably not the right program for you.”
The team has had a lot of success, but wrestling is an individual sport and some guys stand out as exceptional this season. Several Bulls have found their way into the national rankings throughout the season. Redshirt sophomore Bryan Lantry is currently ranked in the top-25 at 133-pounds. He’s gone 4-2 against top-25 opponents, including a win against the eighth and tenth ranked wrestler in his weight class.
“He has some unbelievable workout partners, he has [redshirt sophomore] Kyle Akins who’s a top-20, top-25 guy down low, he’s got [redshirt freshman] Justin Patrick who’s won a ton of matches for us he’s down low,” Stutzman said. “We’ve done different things to jump start him but he jump started himself, he’s so competitive and so ornery and he just wants to win and whenever you have all that it’s kind of like gasoline and a match, you’re going to produce something.”
Lantry and Akins came into the program together as part of the first recruiting class that Stutzman was fully responsible for. Joined by Jake Gunning and Brett Perry, now all redshirt-sophomores, this class has combined for 54 starts in dual meets this season.
All four redshirted their first season in Buffalo because the team was banned from the postseason that year. The previous coaching staff had problems with academic ineligibility and Stutzman and crew had to pay for it. But things have come a long way since then.
“Whenever that happens you’re kind of sitting you’re best guys,” Stutzman said. “You’re redshirting a ton of guys and you’re not putting your best lineup out on the mat, you’re trying to preserve some eligibility for some kids and we did that and we still won five matches and the guys we put out there they competed really hard and did a good job.”
Buffalo finished that season without a MAC dual win for the second straight year. But once his first class got let loose on the NCAA they proved how good they could be. The Bulls scored two MAC wins the first year their class wrestled and registered the team’s first 10-win season since 2003-04.
“I’d have to say it’s the confidence we accumulated over all those years,” said senior James Benjamin. “Starting out losing like that as we did it’s hard to keep that confidence in yourself and in the team even though we worked harder than probably anyone in the country. The fact that we were able to come from that and eventually start realizing we have what it takes to win and then push yourself to get to that.”
Benjamin knows as well as anybody the growing pains this team went through. His freshman year was Stutzman’s first in Buffalo as well. Stutzman knows that as good as the third year class has been, it would be nothing without the group of seniors that has led them. He mentioned wrestlers like Benjamin as well as redshirt senior Tyler Rill and senior Colt Cotten, among others, as being leaders.
“Those guys have been here for four years and they’ve really helped jump start this place,” Stutzman said. “I think it’s important to give those guys a lot of credit moving forward… they’ve helped us rebuild this thing from the ground up.”
No matter what class they’re in, they’re all there to compete. That’s part of the attitude Stutzman brings to the wrestling program.
“He wants this team to be ultra-competitive, always competing with each other,” said redshirt freshman Nate Rose. “Even when a freshman comes in he wants them to beat us and then he wants us to give them the work. That’s one thing that makes us better, we’re always competitive and always going at it so we make each other better every day.”
The team will be in for a test of their competitiveness. With one dual left in the season they’ll be gearing up to head to Iowa soon to compete in the MAC championship tournament. Stutzman is confident in his team and expects double digit numbers heading into the national tournament.
Daniel Petruccelli is the assistant sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org