By Vin Gallo
Deputy Sports Editor
One of the best wins of the 2016-17 season for the Springfield College wrestling team was not a victory. Although the result was a loss, one could ask any of the Pride’s wrestlers, and they would acknowledge their gritty opening home match performance against Roger Williams. It was early December. Springfield was locked into a battle against the No. 6 Hawks within the heart of Blake Arena. Beneath a single hanging light illuminating a mat of deep maroon hue surrounded by darkness, the “Friday Night Lights” match was the contest that brought out the best in the Pride.
Springfield found itself down early in the tilt as Roger Williams’s Nick Barbaria and Jason Jacobi paved the way to an early 7-0 lead for Roger Williams. Barbaria defeated Springfield’s Andrew Mastrangelo via major decision 12-4 and Jacobi outlasted Pride freshman Ian Tolotti 4-2. Springfield and Roger Williams proceeded to trade wins between the 141 and 165 weight matchups. The Pride still found itself down 14-7 entering the 174 match after the Hawks’ Alec Golner defeated Aarin Feliz 13-3. Two clutch victories for Springfield’s Geovanni Medina (pin in 6:55) and Seve Burgos (5-3, 2 OT) put the Pride on top 16-14 late in the competition, but back to back wins by Chris Francis and Kyle Foster iced the 21-16 win for Roger Williams. After giving it all that it had in the thriller, the Pride came out of the match poised to prove itself as one of the most formidable teams on the Division III mat.
“That was the toughest I’ve ever seen the guys go out and wrestle,” said sophomore Drew Nirchio. “That match showed us [that] we have the potential to be nationally ranked and knock off a nationally ranked team. We’re starting to mold together – we have a lot of talent. We just have to tough it out a little bit more.”
Springfield head wrestling coach Jason Holder greatly admired the team’s tenacious display.
“Sometimes you work really hard and wrestle really well, and [still] come out on the losing end,” he said. “We got outwrestled but we were tougher and in better shape. That’s what I’m looking for – effort. If you give maximum effort and then continue to improve the wrestling and technique then we’re going to get better and have a strong end of the season.”
The loss to Roger Williams at home followed three invitational appearances from Springfield. The Pride opened the season by competing in the Ithaca Invitational – a treacherous path of competition – where it faced No. 7 Stevens, No. 3 Johnson & Wales, and No. 4 Ithaca. Springfield claimed fourth place on the first day, and fifth place on the second day. In addition to a hunger for greatness, the team has also begun to find confidence throughout its trials against the nation’s best.
“If we can [compete] with [those teams], we can [compete] with anyone else,” said Tolotti. “[The invitational matches] gave us a bunch of experience. They allow you to see where you’re at – maybe you’re not where you want to be, but you know where you [have] to be. We traveled to Indiana for one where we wrestled a couple of top ranked teams in the country. We may not have beaten them, but we showed that we’re as tough as them, if not tougher.”
The Pride wrestling squad is one of the younger teams on campus and is poised to find its stride. Sophomore Aarin Feliz foresees that Springfield can be a formidable opponent when it fully establishes its confidence.
“It’s cool to know that we have a young team,” he said. “Right now we’re going through a developmental stage, but if we can make some noise now, I think we can be successful [this year] and for the years to come. We don’t view each other as ‘one person is on this pedestal.’ We’re all coming from the same place and have the same goals.”
The team bounced back from the Ithaca Invitational and took first place in the Doug Parker Invitational as the host.
Following the Roger Williams loss, Springfield recorded a win over North Central in the first matchup of the NWCA National Dual Championship. However, after back to back losses to Augsburg and TCNJ to close out NWCAs, the Pride proceeded to drop three straight matches in the Budd Whitehill Duals.
“We started to slide in [the NWCA National Dual Championship], but we’re starting to step it up a notch,” Nirchio said. “After [having] a tough week in Lycoming, we realized that we were wasting talent by not [competing] at our full potential. Now the guys are starting to push themselves and believe in ourselves a little bit more.”
Springfield jumped back into the win column after defeating Thiel 44-9, and earned the program’s 1,000th dual meet victory, the most in Division III history.
“Getting over that [1,000 win] hump was rough, but now we’re over that hump, up to 1,002, so we’re hoping to pile on a couple more wins,” Tolotti said. “Even if we lose some on the way we just [have to] battle and prove that we’re tough, and keep gaining experience.”
Holder says that he is extremely proud of the program. He sees such achievement of great heights as a complete team effort that goes beyond the 2016-17 season.
“People congratulate me on [1,000 victories],” said Holder. “I thank them, but I thank those alumni who come and congratulate me. I tell them ‘thank you.’ 1,000 dual victories. A single team didn’t win that many matches alone. It’s a great tribute to the program itself and there’s so many great people who have contributed to the success of this program.”
Holder believes that the team’s most recent victory over Williams was its most complete team win on the year. The Pride’s wrestlers showed limitless stamina and refused to give in when down in their matches, which prevented Williams from tallying any additional individual match points.
“We had guys wrestling nationally caliber wrestlers, who were losing the match,” Holder said. “I wanted them to push hard but I also wanted them to be a team player, save team points, and not go to their back and get pinned. [The Williams match] was a total team victory. We won that dual by one point, 23-22. The guys who saved those team points really help us win.”
Springfield will be back under the lights at Blake Arena on Saturday against Wesleyan.