Setting the Scene
What: Bucknell (0-0) vs. No. 1 Oklahoma State (0-0)
When: Sunday, Nov. 6 (3 p.m. Eastern)
Where: Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Field House (Miami, Okla.)
About the Bison
- Bucknell was 12-6 overall and 6-3 against EIWA opponents last year.
- The Bison posted their third consecutive double-figure victory season for the first time in program history.
- Bucknell equaled the best-ever finish in program history at the EWIA Championships (3rd) in 2016.
- Bucknell had six EIWA placewinners last year and three of them – Victor Lopez, Tom Sleigh, Tyler Greene – return to the lineup this year.
- Bucknell had a program-record-tying six NCAA qualifiers last year and three of them – Victor Lopez, Tyler Smith, Tom Sleigh – return to the lineup this year.
- Bucknell has had at least three EIWA placewinners in 10 straight years.
- Bucknell has faced 51 nationally ranked opponents over the last 10 years.
- Bucknell has had 34 national qualifiers since the program was reinstated in 2006-07.
- Bucknell has had 49 EIWA placewinners since the program was reinstated in 2006-07.
- Dan Wirnsberger enters the season ranked second on Bucknell’s all-time wins list for coaches with 98.
- Bucknell is receiving one vote in this week’s USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll.
- Bucknell will be facing a No. 1 team this weekend for the first time since it hosted No. 1 Iowa in November of 2009.
Projected Bucknell Lineup
125: Jordan Gessner (--)
133: Joey Gould (--)
141: No. 19 Tyler Smith (23-13)
149: Seth Hogue (--)
157: Victor Lopez (30-14)
165: D.J. Hollingshead (13-14) or Logan Kerin (4-13)
174: Chad Reese (1-6)
184: Garrett Hoffman (--)
197: No. 13 Tom Sleigh (28-10)
285: Tyler Greene (18-15)
Note: 2015-16 record in parentheses; Rankings are Intermat.
Projected Oklahoma State Lineup
125: No. 15 Nick Piccininni* (16-4)
133: No. 6 Kaid Brock** (19-1)
141: No. 1 Dean Heil (32-1)
149: No. 4 Anthony Collica (29-9)
157: No. 3 Joe Smith (34-5)
165: No. 5 Chandler Rogers (28-9)
174: No. 6 Kyle Crutchmer (15-4)
184: No. 5 Nolan Boyd (33-8)
197: No. 7 Preston Weigel (20-11)
285: Austin Schafer (12-6)
Note: 2015-16 record in parentheses; Rankings are Intermat.
About Oklahoma State
- Sunday’s match is Oklahoma State’s season opener.
- The Cowboys are ranked first nationally in the USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll. Oklahoma State received 10 of the 16 first-place votes.
- Oklahoma State finished 12-2 last year and finished in second place at the NCAA Championships.
- Nine of Oklahoma’s 10 projected wrestlers for Sunday’s dual appear in the Intermat preseason rankings.
- Oklahoma State head coach John Smith has led the Cowboys to five national titles (1994, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006). He has coached 31 NCAA individual champions and five Olympians.
- Oklahoma State leads the all-time series 4-0.
- Bucknell wrestled at Oklahoma State three times. The Cowboys visited Sojka Pavilion in December 2012.
- Oklahoma State has been ranked second nationally three times when Bucknell has faced it. The Cowboys were ranked third the other time the two teams squared off.
Nov. 28, 2010: No. 2 Oklahoma State 39, Bucknell 3 (Stillwater, Okla.)
Jan. 29, 2012: No. 2 Oklahoma State 35, Bucknell 6 (Stillwater, Okla.)
Dec. 17, 2012: No. 2 Oklahoma State 37, Bucknell 6 (Lewisburg, Pa.)
Nov. 17, 2013: No. 3 Oklahoma State 40, Bucknell 6 (Stillwater, Okla.)
Bucknell will wrestle at fellow EIWA foe Lehigh next Friday, Nov. 11. The Bison are 1-10 all-time against the Mountain Hawks with that victory coming the last time they squared off in Bethlehem in November 2013.
Below is a more in-depth season preview of the Bison wrestling team entering the 2016-17 season:
The exit of one of the most successful senior classes in wrestling program history, highlighted by a third-place finish at the EIWA Championships, can be difficult to overcome. However, the departure of key wrestlers is followed by new beginnings. Thirteen freshmen will be looking to make their marks on the Bucknell program, and with the return of many wrestlers who gained championship experience, the Bison are looking to make long strides in their search for a trophy in 2016-17. Head coach Dan Wirnsberger believes they have done exactly what is needed to keep up that high level of success on the mats.
“It comes down to continuing to recruit well and bringing in the right kind of student-athlete, not only from a wrestling standpoint, but also socially and academically. That’s what makes these student-athletes good fits for the Bucknell model,” says Wirnsberger, who enters this season with 98 victories, second on Bucknell’s all-time wins list. “If those guys perform at the level we think they’re capable of performing and grow as athletes during the season, then we’ll be right there at the end of the season – not just fighting for a third-place trophy, but hopefully we’re moving up and competing for those top two spots in the EIWA.”
These 13 freshmen, four of whom are projected starters, will look to help a potent team improve upon an impressive 2015-16 campaign. Last year, the Bison went 12-6, 6-3 in the EIWA, and had six EIWA placewinners. Three of those placewinners will be back – Victor Lopez, Tom Sleigh and Tyler Greene. It may be difficult to replace the other three placewinners in Rustin Barrick, Paul Petrov and Joe Stolfi, but Wirnsberger has confidence in his team’s ability to step up where it is needed most.
“Every year is different, and every year other guys step up and perform at a high level,” noted Wirnsberger, the 2015 EIWA Coach of the Year. “Hopefully we’ll have guys mature, develop and perform. We have some youth and some inexperience, but they are all so talented, so it’s going to come down to the development of those guys. Our freshmen can look at our older athletes, the wrestlers who have performed at a high level and been to the national tournament as freshmen. It shows that they can do it now, that they don’t have to wait until their sophomore or junior or senior season. That’s our expectation when we recruit them.”
The expectation for this year’s team has not changed, with a successful run at the EIWA Championships, multiple All-Americans, and an individual NCAA Champion being the ultimate goal. Motivating the student-athletes to perform better in the second half of the season will allow the team to be where it wants to be heading into the end of its schedule. Leadership will play a vital role, especially with the departure of bookends in Petrov and Stolfi, in order to develop the younger athletes and to prepare them for the season.
“These wrestlers are lifestyle guys,” mentioned Wirnsberger. “That’s what they learned from the older guys who have been through the program. They understand our philosophy. Our approach to leadership is that what they do away from the wrestling arena is just as important, if not more important, than what they accomplish on the mats. This is what makes them strong leaders. It’s about being not just an athlete, but being a student-athlete. When our guys are exemplifying that by doing the right things away from the athletic arena, they’re showing our young guys that this is how you do it. This is how to be successful as a Division I student-athlete.”
This year, the EIWA Championships will be held in Sojka Pavilion March 3-4. Furthermore, the Bison wrestlers have had the opportunity to utilize the newly-constructed Graham Building for the first time. Wirnsberger is excited about the impact this state-of-the-art wrestling facility will have on his program.
“There’s no question it helps,” smiles Wirnsberger, who is in his 12th year at Bucknell. “It places value in our wrestling program when you’re looking at a facility like this, one that I would say is one of the top-three wrestling-specific training centers in the country. Prospects like to see that, and once they’re here training in a facility like this, it automatically gives them a little boost. It enhances their development process.”
The Graham Building will be utilized as a training facility for the Bison, while Davis Gym and Sojka Pavilion will be utilized for home matches. Below is a more in-depth look into this season’s team by weight class.
125 Projected Starter: Jordan Gessner
Replacing one of the most successful wrestlers (Paul Petrov) in program history will be the local product Jordan Gessner. A freshman, Gessner was a Pennsylvania state placewinner and brings a lot of talent to the program. His strong work ethic and coachability is what has allowed Gessner to earn the starting spot at 125 heading into the season.
“He’s got tremendous ability and talent,” said Wirnsberger. “It’s going to come down to his self-belief as far as how quickly his development process happens. He’s a little undersized for the weight, so it will be critical that he puts on some good strength and good size as the season progresses.”
Sophomore Mike Macklin will be competing for that starting role after earning five wins a year ago. His work ethic has allowed him to compete with other wrestlers in the weight class, and improving upon his strength and durability is what will allow Macklin to take the next step.
133 Projected Starter: Joey Gould or Zach Firestone
The 133-pound weight class brings a lot of depth to the table, with a pair of freshmen being given the chance to start at the beginning of the season. Joey Gould, a long and rangy wrestler from Pennsylvania, will compete with Zach Firestone, a more physical and compact wrestler who was an undefeated New Jersey state champion. The determining factor will be how fast can those two transition to Division I wrestling.
“Both of them have really bright futures here,” praised Wirnsberger. “Bringing the right amount of intensity to the practice room on a daily basis, to conditioning on a daily basis, to the weight room on a daily basis – once they figure out that, the sky is the limit for both of those guys. The talent is there.”
Sophomore Ben Bliss, who was a spot starter a year ago, also will add to the depth at 133. He posted five wins while wrestling at both 125 and 133 a year ago.
“Ben is healthy and committed to the program and will challenge for a spot in the lineup,” commented Wirnsberger. “He is a guy that can make an impact based on his experience gained a year ago and could very well be a factor for us.”
Senior Grim Gonzalez and junior Zach Valley will also be looking to fight for a starting position once they return from injury during the season. Gonzalez has totaled 50 wins throughout his three years while wrestling mainly at 133, while Valley brings an 11-9 career record into his junior campaign.
141 Projected Starter: Tyler Smith
One of the more experienced wrestlers on this year’s team is junior Tyler Smith. Smith is an EIWA placewinner and two-time NCAA qualifier who totaled 23 wins last season. For him to compete on the national level yet again, important factors include consistency, staying healthy and making gains in strength.
“He’s one of the most talented wrestlers we have on our roster,” commented Wirnsberger. “He’s been in and out of the national rankings, and we believe he is capable of winning an NCAA title, and he believes he’s capable of being at the top of the podium at the NCAAs. It’s going to come down to consistency throughout the course of the year.”
Sophomore Kyle Greene will back up Smith at 141. Greene earned two victories at the Michigan State Open last season and will look for an expanded role during his second season as a Bison.
149 Projected Starter: Seth Hogue or Zach Kelly
The group of wrestlers at 149 has youth, but could make a big impact from the start. Three-time Pennsylvania state placewinner Seth Hogue is the starter, and by working on his consistency day-in and day-out, he has the potential to have a very successful freshman season.
“He is an extremely talented young guy,” said Wirnsberger. “With him, it is going to come down to how much he believes in himself, going out there, and focusing on a day at a time through the process to become a better wrestler as far as skill development. He’s got the desire and a high wrestling IQ, so it’s going to be a situation with him where he needs to develop a little bit more skill and consistency.”
Also competing for the starting spot is Zach Kelly. The sophomore was a spot starter last year at 157, and has moved down to 149 with a strong chance of competing. He finished the 2015-16 season as the starter at 157 and competed at the EIWA Championships, showing he has the experience to step in and make a major impact in the conference and nationally.
157 Projected Starter: Victor Lopez
After an excellent performance at last year’s NCAA tournament, senior Victor Lopez will be the starter at 157. He is moving up from the 149-pound weight class after having made some strength gains over the offseason. In addition to his success on the mat, Lopez, who owns an 80-44 career record, brings leadership to the table. Not afraid to speak up, Lopez has been able to hold others accountable and is very self-motivated, which helps set an example for the freshman class.
“When he is focusing day in and day out on getting stronger physically, Victor can continue to develop throughout the course of the year,” mentioned Wirnsberger. “He’s going to have more energy and feel better on a more consistent basis. We expect him to be right there at the end of the season feeling good and competing to be an NCAA champion. That’s also his goal and his mindset.”
There is plenty of depth behind Lopez this year. Collin Boylan, a junior who has filled in at 157 and 165, has gotten better every season and is a hard-nosed competitor on this squad. Senior Joey Krulock has shown his commitment to the program, having been able to wrestle anywhere from 157 to 174. Christian Bassolino, who posted three wins in tournament competition last year, will add additional depth.
165 Projected Starter: Logan Kerin or D.J. Hollingshead
Senior Logan Kerin and sophomore D.J. Hollingshead will both be competing for the starting role this year at 165. Kerin has consistently been a high performer throughout his career and is a team leader.
“Logan is the most coachable wrestler we have on the entire squad,” praised Wirnsberger. “He’s always very supportive of the entire team and coaching staff. If there is a definition of somebody who has ‘bought in,’ he’s bought in 100 percent. He’s the kind of guy you want to build a program around and a program with.”
Hollingshead, who posted 13 victories and started four duals as a rookie, is the returning spot starter at 165, and Wirnsberger is looking for him to break through into his own within the program.
“D.J. is a very talented young man who we are looking to break through and take that next step,” said Wirnsberger. “He’s on the cusp, and physically he is more than capable of competing at a high level. He’s a strong kid, explosive, and has a style of wrestling where he can be really successful at the Division I level.”
174 Projected Starter: Chad Reese or Nick Stephani
This season’s starter is someone who brings a lot of versatility in Chad Reese. Having the ability to wrestle anywhere from 157 to 184, Reese has overcome all of the adversity that he has faced during his first two seasons to earn the starting role his junior season.
“It would have been easy for most guys in his situation to take the easy road and quit, but Chad is one of our hardest workers and one of our quietest workers,” noted Wirnsberger. “You always know what you’re going to get from Chad. He’s going to bring 100 percent every day and let his actions do the talking for him. I have a lot of respect for Chad and how he has grown as a person.”
Close behind Reese is Nick Stephani, who will be competing for that starting spot all year. Both Reese and Stephani bring similar mindsets to the program. Nick is very committed to improving his skills as well as taking academics seriously, and will look to expand his role throughout the season.
Freshmen Joe Scott and Jarek Gozdieski bring extra depth to 174, and both are also very versatile. Senior Austin Wetterau will also play a vital leadership role here, having consistently stuck with the program and given everything following the injuries that he has faced. Wetterau has posted 12 career victories, including five last year.
184 Projected Starter: Garrett Hoffman
Garrett Hoffman is another freshman who has earned a starting spot on this year’s roster. The talent and potential for Hoffman is unlimited, and thanks to his quick development, he has earned the opportunity to start right out of the gates.
“Garrett will look to score points, and he’s a pinner too,” said Wirnsberger. “He has size and strength, and I think he could even get stronger with his frame. He’s got a lot of leverage and the ability to really fill out. He knows how to wrestle. He’s our guy now and for the future.”
Other wrestlers entering the program at 184 pounds include Chance Norris and Kyle Inlander. Inlander is a New Jersey placewinner and Norris had a very successful Pennsylvania career. Both are endurance wrestlers and will look to use their strength and maturity to their advantage as they develop.
197 Projected Starter: Tom Sleigh
Tom Sleigh is moving up to 197 pounds after going 28-10 at 184 last season as well as finishing seventh at the EIWA Championships. Sleigh, who advanced to the round of 16 at the NCAA Championships, has the potential to compete for a national title, and his endurance and hustle is what will allow him to make a smooth transition up the 197 weight class.
“He wanted to focus more on being a good wrestler and feeling good on a consistent basis in the practice room and throughout the preparation process,” explained Wirnsberger. “That’s why it made sense for him to move up to 197 pounds. That’s a big jump, but Tom Sleigh is a very physical, strong guy.”
Freshman Drew Phipps will be slotted behind Sleigh, and he will look to quickly transition to college wrestling and develop a consistency in his preparation process. By getting stronger and more physical, Phipps will be a vital threat to the weight class throughout the season.
285 Projected Starter: Tyler Greene
Both Tyler Greene and Rory Bonner, who are making the jump up to 285, will have the opportunity to make an impact at this weight class. Greene, who is a returning EIWA placer at 197 pounds, will begin as the starter to open the season, and his endurance will be a key aspect of his success.
“Tyler Greene has been a very consistent performer throughout his career,” praised Wirnsberger. “He’s a team player and a leader who has bought into the program. He understands the system and what it takes to be successful. He has the style of wrestling that could do very well at 285. He can certainly score points, and has the endurance to wrestle seven minutes, which most 285-pounders can’t do.”
Bonner could certainly see time this season after posting a 9-9 record last year. He understands the expectation that will come with the change in weight class. As a very strong athlete who utilizes his length to his advantage, Bonner will be more than capable at 285.