The Dragons headed into Madison Square Garden for their bout against George Mason looking to bounce back from a loss to the United States Military Academy 10 days earlier. The Dragons had a strong showing, as they defeated George Mason 24-19 in what head coach Matt Azevedo believed was a special experience.
“The fact that Drexel got to be a part of the first collegiate wrestling event to ever take place in Madison Square Garden was a great honor,” Azevedo said. “Then to get a win on top of that was great.”
Freshman Jacob Goodwin got the Dragons started at 1:04, as he recorded the first-ever collegiate pin in the history of Madison Square Garden, defeating Mason’s Rich Lavorato in the 125 bout. With the early win, Drexel opened the match with a 6-0 lead. Mason tied the meet in the 133 match with a win-by-fall, but Frank Cimato answered with a 6-1 decision in the 141 bout, putting Drexel back on top 9-6.
With wins in the 149 and 157 matches, Mason rallied to pull ahead to a 13-9 lead. However, Connor Moran brought Drexel back to within one point with a 9-8 win at 165 pounds, making the score 13-12. Kevin Matyas followed with a 5-0 win at 174 to give the Dragons the lead back at 15-13. The Dragons held onto that lead through the remainder of the match.
At 184, Bryan Sternlieb also added a win-by-fall against the Patriots’ Corey Smith at 4:56, and Brandon Palik recorded a 4-3 at 197 to seal the victory for the Dragons. Azevedo was pleased with the results and said he believes the atmosphere at the Garden could benefit the team moving forward.
“It was an electric environment,” Azevedo said. “It really gave our guys a taste of what it would be like at the NCAA Tournament.”
After a short break, the Dragons traveled to Lock Haven, Pa., for the BRUTE Invitational. The team had many solid performances throughout the competition, which included fourth-place finishes from both Cimato and Moran in the 141 and 165 weight classes, respectively. Both wrestlers went 4-1 on the day, each securing a technical fall. Both Cimato and Moran ended their outings with medical forfeits, restricting them from having the chance to earn higher finishes.
Although Cimato and Moran were the only Dragons to earn placed finishes, other team members also had good performances at the invitational. Freshman Clayton Lutzow went 2-2 in the competition in the 133 weight class, which included a pin of George Mason’s Zachary Isenhour at 2:47. At 184, Sternlieb earned a win-by-fall at 5:32 over Mason’s Derek Dwyer, which gives him a team-best six total pins on the season. Palik and Austin Sommer are second in total pins with five each.
Following their solid showing at the BRUTE Invitational, the Dragons had five days to prepare for their match against Northern Colorado. The team’s performance showed they had prepared well, as they won seven of the 10 matches en route to a 25-10 victory over the Bears. The win gave Drexel its fifth of the season and dropped Northern Colorado to 0-2 in duals.
Palik got the Dragons an early lead with a 3-1 victory over Northern Colorado’s Patrick Gomez in the 197 bout. The Bears tied the score at 3-3 after they defeated Drexel in the 285 match. Goodwin answered the defeat with a 12-4 major decision over Jesse Meis, which gave the Dragons back the lead at 7-3. Lutzow dropped a hard-fought 3-2 decision to Sam Bauer at 133, which put the Bears within one point of the Dragons. This was as close as the Bears would get the rest of the match, as they were unable to get within striking distance again.
Noel Blanco, Cimato and Sternlieb each added victories, while Shane Fenningham clinched a win by forfeit to finish the dual. Drexel would go into the final match holding a 12-point lead. With the win, Azevedo sees his team moving in the right direction.
“It was great, our guys were riding high,” Azevedo said.
The Dragons will return to the mats Jan. 13 at the Daskalakis Athletic Center for their third home meet of the season. They will play host to collegiate powerhouses Iowa State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Iowa State bout, which will take place at 10 a.m., will be an important match not only for the players but also for Azevedo, who is an alumnus of the school. Following their match against the Cyclones, the Dragons will head right back to the mats at noon for a meeting with the North Carolina Tar Heels. Azevedo knows his wrestlers will have to be at the top of their game in order to come out on top in the upcoming matches.
“Our best guys have to come ready to wrestle,” he said. “We are going to have to really wrestle our best.”
Both Iowa State and North Carolina are ranked above Drexel nationally, and the Dragons will be facing much tougher challenges in their upcoming opponents.
“We have a couple guys ranked in the country, and they are going to face to guys ranked even higher than them,” Azevedo said.
The team will be looking to feed off the home crowd at the DAC and will want all the support they can get facing some of their toughest challenges of the season.