Raising the Bar
The Rider University wrestling program has a strong, tough tradition, with the motto Rider Strong, Bronc Tough.
That tradition is built on 13 conference titles and 13 All-American under head coach Gary Taylor.
Thirteen might have been a lucky number for the Rider wrestlers, but that bar has been raised this year.
“This is what we’ve waited for,” said Taylor, who has compiled 404 dual meet victories at Rider, the second most in Division I among active head coaches. “This is why certain wrestlers have red-shirted in the past. To get a balanced line up where we don’t have a weak weight. We believe that is what we have this year.”
The Broncs have six former NCAA qualifiers on the roster this season and have added two red-shirt freshmen who are expected to be nationally ranked before the season is over.
“Going into this season it feels better than it has in a while,” Taylor said. “This has been a process. This year we have depth in many weights. We have a second wrestler who is not that far off of the starter.”
Deutsch was 32-6 last season at 125, including a stretch of 19 straight dual meet victories before losing 2-1 to two-time All-American Jarrod Patterson of Oklahoma. “Rob showed improvement and consistency last year,” Taylor said. “He was very competitive at Nationals. The Oklahoma match made a big difference. I think he’ll take the next step this year with the potential to be an All-American. That is what he is training for and working hard at.”
Deutsch could still wrestle at 125 this season but most likely will move up to 133.
“He can get a lot better,” associate head coach John Hangey said of Deutsch. “He has a lot of room for growth and he is falling in love with the process.”
Brennan moved up from 157 to 174 last year and compiled a 27-9 record on his way to Nationals, and will move down to 165 this year. “Conor had a breakthrough year last season,” Taylor said. “The light is really just coming on for Conor. We expect him to keep getting better.”
Zeisloft placed third at the EWLs last year at 133, winning three of four bouts, and won a match at Nationals to finish the season with 24 wins. Zeisloft has 47 wins in his last two seasons, and moves up to 141 this year. “Chuck has gotten a lot bigger,” Taylor said. “He’s lifted hard; he’s paid a higher price to get bigger for this weight class.”
Morrison won 19 matches last year despite missing the entire month of December, and went on to place third at the EWLs to qualify for Nationals, where he won a another match. “We will be careful how and when we use Clint this year,” Taylor said. “He just keeps getting better.”
Clint is the last of a long line of Morrisons who have represented Rider at Nationals, including his All-American father, an uncle and two brothers. “It is an end of an era, “ said Taylor, who coached all five of them.
Morris red-shirted last season with a shoulder injury after earning a trip to the 2013 Nationals. That year, as a sophomore, Morris compiled 25 wins, including a team-high eight pins. “Morris is very tough on top,” Taylor said, “and can be very competitive at the National level.”
McNeil also qualified for Nationals in 2013, but his season came to an end last year after an injury at Midlands, where he placed eighth. McNeil begins this season ranked in two different preseason polls. “And he has beaten some of the kids ranked ahead of him,” Taylor said. “He missed the second half of last year with a shoulder injury but has come back healthy. He was competitive at Nationals in 2013 and we feel he’s ready to take the next step. He was just starting to build steam last year when he got hurt. He’s going to make some noise.”
Clagon red-shirted last season after winning four NHSCA National Championships. During his red-shirt season he placed third at the National College Open. “B.J. is probably the most decorated recruit we’ve ever brought in here,” Taylor said. “There have only been three four-time national champs in the history of High School Nationals and he is one of them. He was ranked third in the country coming out of high school.”
Walsh compiled a record of 33-7 wrestling unattached last year, including going 6-2 at Midlands, and won his weight class at the NCO. “Walsh had a great red-shirt season last year,” Taylor said. “He won three tournaments and became the first freshman from Rider to ever place at Midlands. He’s gotten bigger and better and he has a lot of room for growth. He is going to keep getting better.”
Wolfe was named to the Amateur Wrestling News National All-Rookie Team in 2013, ranked fourth in the nation among freshmen 184 pounders, after finishing as the 184 pound runner-up at the Colonial Athletic Association Championships, before red-shirting last season. “Wolfe will drop down a weight this year,” Taylor said. “He lost in the last couple of seconds to finish conference runner-up as a freshman, to a wrestler who he had beaten just two weeks before. Wolfe has a major upside. He is going to be a big 174.”
Other key returnees include red-shirt freshman J.R. Wert at 125, red-shirt freshman Zach Valcarce at 125, sophomore Paul Kirchner at 141, sophomore Wayne Stinson at 157 and junior Greg Velasco at heavyweight.
Wert was ranked fifth in the nation in 2013 after winning a fourth Virginia State Title, and went 10-3 as a red-shirt last season. He was also a champion at the Beast of the East tournament. This season Wert looks to start at 125. “Wert has won some major high school tournaments,” Taylor said. “He is a very competitive kid.”
Valcarce was a New Jersey State Qualifier in 2013 and went 3-2 at the Hokie Open last year as a red-shirt. “Zach is just a hard-nosed kid who is very competitive,” Taylor said. “He is getting better. He’s a hard worker and we’re pleased he is in the program. He’s a very scrappy kid.”
Kirchner won over 100 high school matches, twice qualifying for New Jersey States, and won nine bouts for Rider last season, including a sudden victory that led Rider to a win over cross-town rival Princeton. “Kirchner is a returning starter,” Taylor said. “He gained valuable experience last year.”
Stinson won the NJSIAA State Championship as a senior and was ranked 11th in the nation in 2013. Last year he pinned opponents from Penn and Cleveland State, won a major decision against Binghamton and had a sudden victory over Bloomsburg. “Stinson was a starter last year and it was a tough year for a freshman to come into a very competitive weight class,” Taylor said. “He was between a 157 and a 149 last year.”
Velasco won 11 matches at heavyweight last year, including a victory over the Lock Haven wrestler in the EWL Championships. “In practice it looks like he has improved,” Taylor said. “In the wrestling room he is good. He just has to work on his confidence during matches.”
With one or two strong wrestlers in every weight class, the Broncs are ready to return to the glory days of Rider wrestling, when the Broncs were winning conference titles and turning out All-Americans.
“Potentially and on paper, this is a more talented team than the squads we had in the mid to late 1990s when we took nine to Nationals, came home with three All-Americans, and was ranked in the top 10 in the country,” Taylor said. “That group in the ‘90s was a very stubborn group. This group looks like that is the direction they are heading but we have to see that in competition. Potentially, this group is more talented. We have more state champions now than ever before, more multiple state champions. That’s our job as coaches, to help them make that next step. They have to start believing at the National level. That’s what we are starting to see.”
The non-conference schedule includes home matches with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and road trips to Penn State, Illinois and Lehigh. “Without the tough schedule we have I don’t know if this team would reach its potential,” Taylor said “We need this tough schedule for both the individuals and for the team to grow and learn to fight together. To develop into that team that just doesn’t want to lose.”
The goals of the Rider wrestling team remain the same. “Every year our goal is to qualify wrestlers for Nationals and come home with an All-American or two,” Taylor said. “This year, those goals are more obtainable. We are raising the bar. It is time for more All-Americans. It is time to challenge for a conference championship, even though Edinboro finished fifth last year and returns more points from Nationals than anybody. They are an outstanding team but we feel we are an outstanding team too.”
The bar has been raised. The Broncs hope to raise a championship banner as well.