On Friday, Feb. 10, the Roger Williams University Wrestling Team (#6) faced off against instate rival Johnson and Wales (#3) in front of a packed crowd in their home gym. The annual match, which has been dubbed “The Battle of the WUs,” has quickly become the most intense wrestling rivalry in New England and one of the premier rivalries across the country.
With the Pilgrim League Championship on the line—and arguably more important, bragging rights—the Wildcats defeated the home team Hawks, 21-12. Despite the nine-point margin of victory, the match was much closer than it reads on paper. Here’s how it went down:
174 Pounds: The match began with JWU senior veteran Mike Labell defeating RWU freshman Taylor Shay, 5-4. It was an extremely back-and-forth match that could have went either way. In the last meeting of the two teams, which JWU won 28-14 on Jan. 22, Labell pinned Shay. Though the freshman had a shot at knocking of one of JWU’s best, saving bonus points here was a small victory. Team Score: 3-0, JWU.
184 Pounds: The second bout of the night, RWU senior captain Joe Albina secured a come-from-behind pin against JWU freshman Michael DiNardo. Albina was down significantly after two periods, but turned a scramble into six team points to put the Hawks ahead on Senior Night. A loss for the Hawks at this weight would have put them in a serious hole. Team Score: 6-3, RWU.
197 Pounds: Freshman and Bristol native Chris Francis for RWU faced off against another one of JWU’s best wrestlers, Khamri Thomas (#6), dropping a 9-5 decision. Thomas secured a major victory over Francis in their last meeting, so the close match here avenged one team point for the Hawks and tied up the match score. Team Score: 6-6, Tie.
285 Pounds: Senior Kyle Foster (#5) continued his winning ways against a familiar foe in JWU heavyweight Jonah Aurelio, winning by decision, 3-1. Foster controlled the match in its entirety and did what was expected from him. Foster wins most of his matches by decision, so expecting bonus points here for the Hawks would have been a stretch. It was however, enough for RWU to regain the lead. Team Score: 9-6, RWU.
125 Pounds: This is when things started to get interesting. Junior Nick Barbaria has been the starting 125 for the better part of three years, and the same goes for his nationally ranked foe, junior Bobby Jordan (#9) of JWU. They have wrestled more times than you can count, with Jordan always coming out on top. Despite that edge, this lightweight matchup ended up being one of the marquee bouts of the night. Barbaria led for the majority of the match, but a late third period takedown by Jordan tied the bout at 4-4. Jordan then acquired over a minute of riding time as the clock winded down, giving him a 5-4 victory. Again, Jordan won by major decision in the last match, so RWU saved another bonus point. However, this was a winnable match that, if Barbaria completed the upset, could have changed the outcome of the dual. Team Score: 9-9, Tie.
133 Pounds: This is where JWU pulled away. The matchup between RWU freshman Jason Jacobi and JWU sophomore Jay Albis (#4) was predictable. Albis pinned Jacobi in their last meeting and has defeated him consistently this season. However, the big win at 125 pounds prior to this match provided a momentum swing for the Wildcats that RWU could not overcome. Again, however, Jacobi saved bonus points in an 8-3 loss to one of the toughest wrestlers in the country. The win gave JWU their first lead in the match since the opening bout. Team Score: 12-9, JWU.
141 Pounds: Not quite the nail in the coffin, but close to it. Justin Cochran and his JWU opponent, Joe Ferinde, have developed a spectacular rivalry over the course of their three year careers. Cochran came out on top a few weeks earlier when they wrestled and was considered the slight favorite heading into this match. Ferine fought off a couple cradle attempts and secured a late takedown to win, 4-3.Team Score: 15-9, JWU.
149 Pounds: After losing three straight bouts, freshman Tyler Gazaway resurrected the Hawks with a 9-6 decision over Jamiel Stapleton of JWU. The win ignited the home crowd and cut the Wildcat’s lead to three points, giving the Hawks a chance to win with only two matches left. Team Score: 15-12, JWU.
157 Pounds: The nail in the coffin. Senior Ty Herzog for the Hawks fell to JWU’s Desmond Towns, 5-2. Herzog, a clear favorite who has been ranked nationally for the past three seasons, couldn’t quite figure out Towns, who wrestled defensively and athletically. Herzog was unable to get in on any shots or create offense from the top position. A win here would have tied the match with the marquis bout of Stephen Jarrell (#7) of JWU versus RWU senior captain Alec Golner to close out the night in a winner-takes-tall scenario. Instead, the loss put RWU down by six, forcing Golner to win by pin or the Hakws would lose. Team Score: 18-12, JWU.
165 Pounds: The Golner-Jarrell match was back-and-forth for seven minutes, but ultimately Jarrell was able to fight off Golner’s relentless attacks and win by decision, 9-8. Hawks Head Coach Jon Egan said it was the best he has ever seen his captain wrestle. Keep your eyes peeled, as this may matchup may repeat in the Northeast Regional tournament in a few weeks. Final Score: 21-12, JWU.
The Hawks finished the regular season 21-2, with their only two losses coming to JWU. The individual postseason begins Feb. 25 at the Northeast Regional National Qualifier, which will be hosted by RWU.