On Sunday, members of the University at Buffalo community gathered in Alumni Arena to raise awareness and funds for the fight against cancer. At the same time, the wrestling team had to fight a battle of its own inside the ring.
Buffalo (9-8, 2-3 Mid-American Conference) hosted Northern Illinois (5-11, 1-4 MAC) in the second annual Takedown Cancer event. After struggling against the MAC all season, the Bulls beat the Huskies 22-9 to close out the regular season.
For head coach Jim Beichner, the meet was symbolic of how close Buffalo is to reaching championship potential.
"I've said the entire year that we were capable of winning the MAC Championship," Beichner said. "We're basically an inch away from [accomplishing] that. There were a couple of matches that I wish I could get back… but all-in-all, I think it's a good MAC win."
The meet started dead even, with the two MAC rivals splitting their first four matches. The tide finally turned in Buffalo's favor when sophomore Andrew Schutt wrestled No. 30 ranked Tristan DeShazer in the 141-pound weight class.
Schutt fought his opponent to a 4-4 stalemate going into the third period. Then, with less than 20 seconds remaining, Schutt scored a huge two-point takedown to take the match 6-4.
The sudden takedown sent both the crowd and the team into a frenzy. The victory was particularly notable because of the injuries Schutt has been battling all season long.
"Schutt did a great job," Beichner said. "For him to come back after 5-6 weeks of not wrestling [due to injury] and perform that well was great for him."
The Bulls went on to win four of their next five matches to clinch their final meet of the season.
Perhaps the most remarkable victory was No. 15 sophomore Mark Lewandowski's win over No. 21 Bryan Deutsch. Both wrestlers were jostling for control until Lewandowski appeared to have gained an advantage after scoring two points on a reversal. However, those two points were waived off in a controversial decision by the referee.
Lewandowski remained focused despite the misfortune.
"The [referee's call] didn't really bother me too much," Lewandowski said. "My coaches told me to get focused… and I felt like I was in better shape than him. So, I just used [my energy] toward beating him."
Lewandowski swiftly responded in the second period by overpowering his opponent for two near fall points. Deutsch did not back down, and the two brawlers fought evenly until they were tied 6-6 at the end of regulation. Then, in sudden-death overtime, Lewandowski scored a takedown and the win.
Beichner considered this to be the most impressive performance of the meet.
"[Lewandowski] has been a winner for quite some time now," Beichner said. "I don't even remember the last time he lost. He just keeps winning and that's all he needs to focus on."
In the 149-pound match, No. 6 junior Desi Green dominated Vince Castillo in a 4-0 decision. This marks Green's 98th win, setting him up to become the first junior to reach 100 career wins. Both Green and Lewandowski were undefeated against MAC opponents this season.
The meet also marked the final time Alumni Arena would see seniors Brian Sheehan, Jimmy Hamel, and John Crisafulli.
Hamel and Sheehan bookended the meet. Sheehan started the afternoon with a 3-2 win over Mike Lukowski in the 197-pound match. Hamel ended the competition with a 3-1 loss against Brad Dieckhaus in the 184-pound match.
Despite dropping the final match, the day was considered a success. In addition to the victory, the wrestling program raised over $28,000 for the Jeff Parker Foundation and Carly's Club of Western New York.
After the meet, Beichner had only one thing in mind.
"We are focused on the next step," Beichner said. "That is the MAC Championship."
Buffalo has a week off from competition to prepare for the MAC Championship. The tournament is scheduled to start on March 5.