During the tail-end of the 2019-20 Springfield College wrestling season, the Pride were red hot. The season was capped off with a tremendous showing at the NCAA Division III Northeast Regional Championships, where Springfield sent four student-athletes to the national tournament – as well as finishing fourth among the 17 teams in the competition with 112 points.
Unfortunately, that was the last time that the Pride wrestled that year. In fact, it was the last time they saw the mat for well over a full calendar year.
The COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the sport of wrestling being deemed as a high-risk sport by the CDC, meant that there were no NCAA Division III Championships in 2020. The following season would also be scratched.
Losing the end of the season was a crushing blow for the Pride. But there were some things to look forward to within the program.
The team was young, and the future was extremely bright.
One of the four wrestlers that had an automatic bid to nationals was first-year Joey Manginelli, who battled his way to the semifinal round of the 125-pound weight class. His twin brother, despite being behind some incredible talent at the 133-pound weight class, still managed to post a 30-5 record that season. Chase Parrott, another first-year, just missed his chance to get to Iowa by finishing fifth overall at 149.
Now, three years later, this group of promising first-years find themselves in their senior season. And on Friday night in the Springfield College field house, these seniors were celebrated for their years of hard work. In front of a very supportive crowd full of family and friends, the Pride hosted WPI in a dual for its senior night celebration.
“This senior class is really, really special,” Springfield head coach Jason Holder said. “We brought a lot of great kids in, and we had somewhat of a cultural shifting. Not that we didn’t before; but we have some great kids who work hard and are very talented.”
That high level of talent was obvious in the head-to-head matchup against the Engineers. In the heart of the Pride lineup, three seniors showed out in three consecutive matches. Gianni Manginelli led the senior parade off with a quick 16-1 tech fall, after nearly pinning his opponent in the opening seconds of the first-period. Joey Parsons followed that performance with a tough 4-3 decision at 141, and Parrott finished the senior streak with a tech fall victory of his own, winning 21-6.
“It’s a great feeling for me and for all the guys involved,” Parrott said. “We’ve worked so hard over the last four years, and really grown together as a family, so it’s nice to close it out one last time at home with the boys.”
As a whole, Springfield was in the driver’s seat for most of the meet. Although a WPI pin had the Pride down early, they rattled off six straight wins in the following matches to race out to an almost insurmountable 26-6 lead.
Springfield dropped two of the last three matches ﹣ one of which was a forfeit at the 184 pound weight class ﹣ but it still pulled away with a 29-15 victory. The Pride closed out the dual meet portion of its schedule with a 14-6 record.
Having the ability to fight back when the team gets down is something that Parrott credits to Springfield’s strong mentality.
“That’s the nature of this team,” Parrott said. “We’ve got a lot of tough guys. Our guys are gritty. We preach that all the time in the room – perseverance and never giving up. We always say ‘no más,’ pretty much meaning that we go until the enemy breaks mentally. So that’s kind of instilled in us – hard work and pushing, and never letting up on the gas until the job is done.”
That gritty mentality was best exemplified by 174-pound junior Brayden Grim. After getting out to an early 4-1 lead, Grim found himself down by one late in the third period. With just seconds remaining, he broke away from his opponent to earn an escape point. Tied at five, Grim went into an additional overtime period, where he bested his opponent 7-5.
With such great talent at the senior level, and with the season nearing its end, the question of the future looms over Springfield. But Gianni Manginelli doesn’t believe that the team should be worried.
“After this year, we are graduating about 10 seniors,” he said. “We’re young, but tough. We got some higher quality kids, and they aspire to be Springfield athletes right off the bat. They’re gonna be in a good spot in the next four years.”
With the dual meet portion of the season concluding, the next stage for the Pride is the NCAA Division III Northeast Regional Championships in Portland, Maine.
“We’ve been getting ready for it all year,” Parrott said. “All the other matches have just been preparation for the big one at the end of the year. The rest of the season was important, but all that ‘rah rah’ doesn’t mean anything when it comes down to it in two weeks. That’s the end goal there.”
Three years ago, Holder knew that the first-year class he recruited was going to be great. Now that the run is coming to its end, he is nothing but grateful for the experience he’s had with them.
“[They’re] a great group of young men, and, and you know, it’s awesome,” he said. “It’s one of those groups that you think about as a coach and think, ‘Wow, that was a special group that came through.’ It’s crazy how quickly it goes.”