UB wrestling looks toward future
Coming off their best season in years, wrestling team looks to raise the bar
Since John Stutzman took over the UB wrestling program in 2013, the program has experienced a renaissance. Last year, with a dual-meet record of 10-9, they won the most matches since the 2003-04 season.
Now, with stable and promising young wrestlers, Stutzman wants to see his team jump into the upper-echelon of the Mid-American Conference in 2016.
In the preseason MAC rankings, Buffalo was tied for sixth. This is an improvement over past years when UB was stuck in the cellar, but Stutzman is in no way satisfied. He wants to build Buffalo into a national powerhouse and although his team is young, he expects the team to make big progress this year.
“It’s a stepping stone, it just means that people think you’re sixth best in the league and if that sits well with you then, we got problems,” Stutzman said.
Last year, Buffalo sent three wrestlers to the NCAA Wrestling Championships. Junior Joe Ariola (184 pounds), freshman Bryan Lantry (133 pounds) and sophomore Colt Cotten (141 pounds) all made national waves for Buffalo last year, with Ariola scoring an upset win in the first-round over No. 3 ranked Victor Avery of Edinboro.
Although Lantry made NCAA’s last year, he is not satisfied.
“I mean going there is not the ultimate goal, Lantry said. “The goal is to place and win the national tournament. I’m clearly gonna mark it up as a failure when I went.”
Buffalo currently has three wrestlers ranked in the preseason MAC rankings. Ariola is ranked No. 4 in the 184-pound weight class, senior James Benjamin is ranked No. 4 in the 197-pound weight class and sophomore Jake Gunning is ranked No. 1 in heavyweight in the conference.
“It feels good knowing that some guys’ hard work is starting to pay off, but we expect it,” Stutzman said.
Despite being the top ranked heavyweight in the conference, Gunning still feels he is being slighted nationally. Last year, Gunning nearly qualified for the NCAA Tournament but was defeated in the last round at MAC Championship. He is determined to prove he belongs in the national rankings.
“That kind of sucked a little bit. It just made me think that now I just got to beat some guys, which isn’t a problem,” Gunning said.
Some others wrestlers pegged for breakout seasons by Stutzman include sophomore Kyle Akins (125 pounds), senior Muhamma McBryde (165 pounds), senior Tyler Rill (174 pounds) and sophomore Derek Holcomb (165 pounds).
Stutzman believes these kids can be highly successful this season because of how hard they have worked in the offseason.
“I want a kid that wants to be here more than me. I want to have to kick the kid out,” Stutzman said.
Buffalo will face nationally ranked programs this season, including Cornell, Missouri, and Central Michigan, and will need to see several wrestlers take big steps if they want to live up to Stutzman’s ambition. Stutzman hopes to use the tough schedule as a launching pad for his own program’s reputation.
“It’s a catch-22. I think they’re more confident than ever before, but overconfidence is a bad thing too so I got to try and pull the reigns back a little bit,” Stutzman said.
The team has big ambitions and since the sport is individualistic, each wrestler is thinking big. They hope not only to become near the top of their weight class in the conference, but in the entire country.
“We’re here to be put on the podium at the national tournament, that’s the goal,” Stutzman said. “It’s not about winning MAC championships, it’s about winning NCAA Championships.”
Stutzman sets higher expectations for his wrestlers than many of them would even imagine they’re capable of. He wants to make them a top-20 team nationally and have 10 wrestlers place at NCAA Championships.
“I don’t know if we can get there,” Stutzman said. “But I know we’re gonna die trying.”
Brian Lara is a sports staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org