The big three
Upperclassmen carry wrestling team during program’s toughest season
UB has wrestled the toughest schedule in program history, facing four top-25 teams already, including two top-five programs. The team will be heading to Pennslyvania this month to face the number one team in the nation, the Penn State Nittany Lions.
The Bulls are just weeks away from the end of their season and it has been a down year for the team. The schedule has been hard for the Bulls who are 0-4 in their top-25 matchups this season. Head coach John Stutzman said the team has consistency from their veterans, but the younger wrestlers need to work on their approach and “buy-in” to what the program is trying to accomplish.
“Our big three are still doing what they need to do like always, and then we’re just inconsistent throughout the rest of the lineup and it costs us wins to be quite honest with you,” Stutzman said. “I think we should have been further along this year than where we’re at, … just the level of buy-in from some of these guys has to be greater.”
The big three he’s referring to are redshirt juniors, 125 lbs. Kyle Akins, 133 lbs. Bryan Lantry and 285 lbs. Jake Gunning, who all arrived together at UB. The three wrestlers have combined for 159 wins in their time here as well as four NCAA tournament appearances; Gunning claimed last year’s MAC title in the heavyweight division.
While the future will rely on underclassmen, this season rests mostly on the shoulders of Gunning, Akins and Lantry. All three have recorded individual victories in duals with top-25 teams and have wins over wrestlers ranked individually in the top 25.
Stutzman identified them as the program’s biggest leaders during his time with Buffalo. He said because of the program’s struggles when they first arrived, these wrestlers and the other juniors and seniors have a greater understanding of where this program has come from. All three wrestlers had to redshirt through their first year here because of a postseason ban placed on Buffalo from the previous coaching staff.
“[The big three] came in with the mentality that they wanted to change things and they changed it for the better,” Stutzman said. “But some of the new guys don’t understand where it was, so they’re not progressing as fast as they should. The younger guys are a little spoiled. A new locker room comes in and they didn’t have to grind like some of these other guys.”
Gunning said the new guys came in as blue-chip prospects so they are not used to being the underdog, something he said Buffalo will always be no matter how it fairs in matches with top programs. He said that he, along with Lantry and Akins, have been trying to get these guys to get a chip on their shoulder.
Some underclassmen have adopted this mindset.
Redshirt freshman, 174 lbs. Cameron Caldarelli, feels like some members of the team are wasting their time in practice and it’s keeping the team from improving.
Caldarelli said too many players come in to do what the team refers to as “just getting a sweat,” when wrestlers come in and wrestle around, but don’t seem focused or work on the areas they need to improve.
“I just feel like a lot of people are coming without a purpose,” Caldarelli said. “If you come in the room and hit something you don't usually hit in a match, what was your whole point of coming in to do something you’re never gonna do in a real match?”
Some of the veterans have said the younger guys don't seem to have the same enthusiasm about their level of competition this season. Gunning said the level of competition has helped with his growth and progress, but some guys have been hurt by it because they don’t have the same expectations of themselves.
“We had guys in the offseason that said they were ready, said they wanted to do it but when push came to shove, some guys just didn't step up,” Gunning said. “We’re not looking for talkers; we’re looking for guys that want to go out on that mat and wrestle ungodly hard and compete at a high level.”
Daniel Petruccelli is the sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org