By Dillon Stambaugh
In accordance with Homecoming Weekend, the RWU wrestling team hosted its fourth annual Intrasquad Match on Sunday, October 23. The preparatory scrimmage—two dual matches—took place in the campus Recreation Center and featured 34 wrestlers split among four teams. In the intrasquad’s four-year history, this year’s attendance of nearly 250 match-goers is a new high for the program. It’s a testament to head coach Jon Egan’s preparation and showmanship, as well as the hard work of a group of wrestlers ranked #8 in the nation heading into the 2016-2017 season.
“It’s a celebration of Homecoming,” Egan said. “It’s cool to connect all the Roger Williams wrestlers out there. A ton of alumni and recruits are in the house. The idea is to give freshman a match-like experience with referees, and to show them what [the competition] is going to be like this season.”
Though the spectators enjoyed themselves and the reunion was a success, the main takeaway from the intrasquad action was: Egan recruited yet another impressive freshman class. How impressive? An unprecedented six freshman defeated returning wrestlers.
“The freshmen were incredible,” Egan said. “It keeps the older guys honest and pushed them to work harder.”
One of two marquis bouts of the day included a freshman upset between two New Jersey natives, junior Pete Hilburn (24-6 last season) and freshman Taylor Shay, at 174 lb. The freshman scored a clutch reversal and takedown in double overtime to seal the victory over Hilburn, 8-5.
“It was exciting to watch,” Egan said. “It was a great one that could have went either way.”
Equally impressive in his debut was Tyler Gazaway, another New Jersey product. Gazaway beat returning sophomore Jimmy Knoeller by major decision, 10-2. Already turning some heads, the freshman is poised to crack the starting lineup this season at 149 lb. and potentially earn a medal at the team’s first official competition, the Monarch Invitational at King’s College, on November 5.
“I’m not trying to overthink it,” said Gazaway. “Just got to go out there and wrestle. I’m trying to make a statement my freshman year. It’s a winning room [at RWU] and I’m learning a lot.” Gazaway’s workout partners include two senior captains and national qualifiers in Danny Downes and Ty Herzog, who wrestled in the most anticipated bout of the day. Herzog earned the win, 10-4.
With their first tournament quickly approaching, the team has high expectations. RWU won the Monarch Invitational the past two seasons and expects a three-peat. Seniors Kyle Foster and Matt Elias have won the tournament in their careers and other returners have medals on their resume, but all will face stiff competition from the proven programs of York College, Wilkes College, SUNY-Cortland and NYU. Early in the season, the Monarch Invitational will be a tough test for the Hawks.
Foster, a two-time national qualifier ranked #4 in the country, will likely be the #2 seed in his heavyweight bracket. If he reaches the final, he will face off against SUNY-Oneonta’s James Bethel, ranked #3 nationally. This could be the most exciting match of the entire tournament.
“There’s going to be some good competition there,” said Foster. “Win or lose, I hope to learn. It’s early in the season, so it’s a learning experience of all of us. Even the seniors.”
Projected Starting Line-Up
125: Nick Barbaria, Jr., Chris Gurral, Fr.
133: Matt Elias, Sr., Jason Jacobi, Fr.
141: Justin Cochran, Sr., Owen Bachelder, Fr., Brayson Haas, Fr.
149: Danny Downes, Sr., Tyler Gazaway, Fr.
157: Ty Herzog, Sr.
165: Al Golner, Sr., Brett Leonard, Fr.
174: Pete Hilburn, Jr., Taylor Shay, 174.
184: Joe Albina, Sr., Connor Humphries, So.
197: Chris Francis, Fr.
HWT: Kyle Foster, Sr.
Nationally Ranked Wrestlers
149: Downes – #2
157: Herzog – #6
HWT: Foster – #4
Wrestlers to Watch
Freshman: Tyler Gazaway, 149 lb.
Egan’s recruited class is stacked, and probably the best he’s brought in since this year’s group of current seniors. This group has the chance to do big things. I’m going to go with Gazaway here. I think he’ll turn heads early in the season and tournaments and provide some support in dual meets, but don’t be surprised if more than one freshman finds their way on the podium at the Monarch.
Sophomore: Connor Humphries, 184 lb.
Humphries quietly put together a great freshman season, finishing 18-7 and contributing in some key dual meets. With senior captain Joe Albina recovering from a shoulder injury, expect Humphries to share much of the load at 184 lb. early this season.
Junior: Justin Cochran, 141 lb.
Second on the team in wins last season with a 38-14 record and a team-high 22 pins, Cochran is possibly the most exciting wrestler on this RWU team. His ability to pin virtually any opponent gives the Hawks a clear advantage in dual meet competition. Expect Cochran and his cradle to be in the hunt for most pins in the NCAA this season.
Senior: Al Golner, 165 lb.
A safe bet here would have been one of RWU’s three nationally ranked seniors, but Golner deserves the nod. He’s battling an injury and won’t debut for a couple weeks, but Golner’s season-to-season growth throughout college foreshadows a dominant senior campaign. A national qualifier last season with a 28-14 record, Golner has a legitimate chance at becoming an All-American in 2017.
Breakout Wrestler: Taylor Shay, Fr.
Shay, a New England finalist and New Jersey state placewinner in high school, seems to be transitioning well into college wrestling. Expect him to see a good amount of time in the starting lineup and near 20-win mark this season.