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Playing For Postseason, Volume 1: EIWA Wrestling Edition

Lehigh athletes don't "play for pizza", but they do play for the postseason: the NCAA's, if you will.

This weekend, Lehigh is playing for conference superiority in all their winter sports: Patriot League men's basketball, Patriot League women's basketball, and EIWA wrestling.

Saturday and Sunday at Stabler Arena (or the STAR, as it's being called now), literally eighteen hours of athletic events will be happening - sixteen of them wrestling.  The EIWA championships - which, like basketball, determine the qualifiers for the NCAA championships - start this Saturday, and deserve a full preview.  Tomorrow will be devoted to men's and women's basketball, but I got my friend 'ngineer', the biggest Lehigh wrestling fan I know, to give a synopsis of the upcoming EIWA nationals right below the flip.  (more)


Before I post ng's great synopsis, he wanted to mention that a great source for news on Lehigh wrestling is Denny Diehl's wrestling newsletter.  Diehl was profiled by Lehigh Athletics a few years ago, and I'm sure if you write Lehigh's athletic department you can get more information on his work. 

You can also look at the official wrestling release of the EIWA championships on Lehigh's website, including a video preview by Steve Lomangino.  The full notes of the championships are here.

Enough of my blabbing.  On to ng's preview!

*****

The EIWA is upon us. While most prognosticators are placing heavy odds on Cornell, Lehigh will attempt to pull the upset by having better balance across the weight classes. At present, based upon rankings by RPI and polls, Cornell is ‘expected’ to have 5 individual champs to Lehigh’s one. For Lehigh to have a shot at the team title, a couple of upsets will have to occur both in a Big Red grappler going down, as well as a few Mountain Hawks exceeding their seeds.

125: Sophomore John McDonald has been coming on strong of late with impressive and aggressive wins. So despite his sub.500 record, he is one who could make a surprise or two in the tourney. At times, his aggression lands him in trouble, however, at this stage there may be the need for some risk taking. A pleasant surprise would be for John to place in the top 5. To qualify for the NCAA will take yeoman effort and skills, but this is one weight where Lehigh could stand to use a surprise.


133: Senior captain Matt Fisk is in a tough bracket, but he has shown himself to be equal to the task. While not favored to win a championship, I would not be shocked if he landed on the top podium. Fisk as shown aggressiveness this year that was lacking in the past, and he will need to keep the pressure on his opponents. His one weakness has been to get caught backing up and inviting stalling calls. Matt has shown the ability to hang with the best and just needs the ‘little bit more’ to get the big bowl. Regardless, a second or third place is expected.  (Fisk is ranked No. 15 by the NWCA Coaches' Panel.)

141: Senior Seth Ciasulli has also improved in his strength. Again, in a deep weight class, Seth’s major problem has been dealing with much taller opponents. His vaunted ‘power half’ has destroyed many a grappler, and early bonus points from ‘Sparky’ will be welcome. With some fortune and moxie, with his family’s famous ‘funk’ in working order, Seth could also land a top spot, though, like Fisk, finishing in the top 3 is a must.  (Ciasulli is ranked No. 15 by the NWCA Coaches' Panel.)

149: Freshman Joe Napoli will be getting baptized in the EIWA waters, but he has shown the ability to fight back against stout opposition. While making the classic ‘freshman mistakes’, he has shown aggressiveness that many freshman lack in the spotlight, and by keeping up the attack and looking for openings, a place at EIWA is not out of the question.

157: Sophomore Sean Bilodeau needs to make a statement. He as shown himself to be a very aggressive and electrifying wrestler, and then, lose focus with the resultant loss of a big move putting him behind the eight ball. He may have trouble trying to ‘muscle’ some of his opponents, but his quickness and moves can be used to his advantage. This is his time to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with for the next two years. It is up to him.  (Bilodeau is ranked No. 26 by the NWCA Coaches' Panel.)

165: This weight class has become one of the head scratchers of the year. Sophmore Brandon Hatchett will be representing Lehigh after many, preseason, expected senior Mike Galante to make a big push in his senior year after qualifying for the NCAA’s. But that is the unique thing about wrestling…you have to beat your opponent in the practice room to get onto the mat. Both guys have distinctly different styles, which is probably the main reason Hatchett has come out of the wrestle offs starting. Tall and lean, he is a stark contrast to the short and muscular Galante. Experience at this point will be Hatchett’s main obstacle to overcome as he certainly has loads of talent. Keeping away from mistakes will be crucial, and a high place is not out of the question. Kudos to Mike for accepting his fate this year, but continually supporting his teammate in trying to make him better. His leadership is a great example for all in the room.  (Hatchett is ranked No. 20 by the NWCA Coaches' Panel.)

174: Another weight where the youngster upset the applecart and took a starting role away from an established rising star. Freshman Robert Hamlin has lit up the wrestling world with his sudden appearance on the stage. Ranked as high as 10th in some polls this season, he has shown an uncanny ability to make something happen against some very good opposition. Junior Alex Caruso as suffered the same fate as Galante, although he has another year of eligibility remaining. Hamlin could be a big surprise by winning a title, but he should be expected to place highly and qualify for nationals.  (Hamlin is ranked No. 18 by the NWCA Coaches' Panel.)

184: Senior Da-VID Craig, as the Bill McCoach likes to intone, will be facing his swan song. Craig, in his senior year, should be trying to go out with a bang. While in the eyes of some of not meeting the high expectations place upon him with his arrival, he has still shown many flashes of excellence in his career. While it is assumed by many that perhaps David has ‘burned out’ or is tired of all the wrestling he has undergone, a tournament such as the EIWA and the NCAA, in one’s final year, should be sufficient to get any competitor’s juices flowing. To go out as a multiple EIWA Champion and an All-American, would still place David in elite company, and both are very possible…if he puts his mind to it.  (Craig is ranked No. 14 by the NWCA Coaches' Panel.)

197: Undersized sophomore Joe Kennedy is one of the most exciting wrestlers to watch. His has a ‘large gas tank’ and never stops. Many of his victories have been a result of being in better shape in the third period than his opponent. Further, Joe always seems to have something up his sleeve (or singlet) in his bag of tricks. Though giving away close to 10 pounds to most opponents, Joe has the savvy and stamina to pull off a very high place at this tournament.  (Craig is ranked No. 16 by the NWCA Coaches' Panel.)

285: Sophomore Zack Rey is the team’s top ranked wrestler--#6 in the coaches’ poll and #2 in the RPI. Anything less than an EIWA Championship will be a disappointment. However, it won’t be easy, as there are several stellar opponents in his class, including Steele of Navy, who beat Zack in the dual meet. However, Rey has beaten several wrestlers who have beaten Steele, so style could be part of the issue. Regardless, Zack has all the strength one needs at this weight, but in addition, excellent quickness and being ‘light afoot’ that many do not.  (Rey is ranked No. 6 by the NWCA Coaches' Panel.)


The Tournament should be exciting as Lehigh, Bucknell, Rutgers and Navy will try and track down the Big Red Bear of Cornell. A ‘busted bracket’ here or there could throw the tournament wide open. With excellent weather forecast for the weekend, I’d highly recommend a trip to Stabler to see the oldest collegiate wrestling tournament in the country. I am ‘hoping’ for Lehigh to secure at least 7 spots to the nationals. Eight or nine is not out of the question with an upset or two. While the ‘paper’ says Lehigh will finish second to Cornell, it’s what will occur on the mat (and between the ears of some) that will determine the final score.

Comments

Heather said…
Hello there! If you email me your email address I'll add you to our list for our blog--- :)
Heather (from Party of Five)
ngineer said…
After reading the end, I realized I omitted Rutgers as another contender for team honors should the brackets get busted. Otherwise, I would expect them to be in a close race with Navy and Bucknell for 3-5 positions.
Chuck B '92 said…
Heather - thanks for commenting. I realized there's no mechanism to write me on my blog! If you go down the left-hand side of my blog and click on "Email Lehigh Football Nation", it will get to me. Thanks for thinking of us!

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