Drexel’s wrestlers have had their ups and downs this season.
“Consistency is our biggest obstacle,” head coach Matthew Azevedo said. “When our team figures out how to be consistent, we will surprise some people.”
Consistency has been the Achilles heel of Drexel wrestlers this season. The Dragons won two matches in a row and then lost two in a row against ranked opponents. This may be mediocre, but Azevedo thinks the Dragons are more then a subpar group.
“I feel the entire team has been improving,” Azevedo said. “They are buying into our system. If we continue to focus and improve on our areas of concentration, we will like our results.”
The Dragons currently sport a 3-3 record overall and a 1-2 record in the Colonial Athletic Association. Drexel also participated in two tournaments, the Las Vegas Invitational and the Lock Haven Invitational, placing 19th and sixth, respectively.
The Dragons competed in the Las Vegas Invitational Dec. 2-3. Drexel had three wrestlers still eligible to place heading into the final day of the tournament. Junior Joseph Booth lost the semifinal match to No. 1 seed Shane Onufer of the University of Wyoming by a narrow margin of 4-3, sending him down to compete for a third-place finish. He lost his match against Robert Kokesh of the University of Nebraska 0-5 and was bumped down to the quarterfinals, where he faced Ben Jordan of the University of Wisconsin. Booth won his match against Jordan 3-1, earning a sixth-place finish in the tournament. Sophomore Brandon Palik also finished sixth in the 197-pound bracket.
On Dec. 14 the Dragons moved on to Buies Creek, N.C., where they participated in a doubleheader against the University of Northern Colorado and Campbell University, respectively. In the early half of the doubleheader, Drexel took seven of 10 matches against the Bears, burying them 26-11. Senior Kyle Frey picked up a major decision against Northern Colorado’s Henry Chirino. Palik also picked up his third major decision of the year, defeating the Bears’ Nick Bayer. In the nightcap the Dragons made quick work of the Fighting Camels 23-13. Frey won his match against Joe Nolan, while Palik topped Campbell’s John Weakley 10-6.
The Dragons then hosted the 22nd-ranked University of Virginia Cavaliers at the Daskalakis Athletic Center. The challenge against a top-ranked opponent proved to be too much for the Dragons as they fell 39-3. The Dragons were shut out for most of the meet until the final two matches. Palik came very close to breaking up the sweep when he gained an early lead against Ryan Malo. Malo gained an escape point in the second period to take the 1-0 lead. Palik quickly gained an escape point of his own to tie the match, bringing it into overtime. Malo was able to outlast Palik in the overtime period and gained a takedown for the 3-1 victory. Frey’s final match was the Dragons’ last lifeline to prevent them from leaving the meet without a victory. Frey, who entered his meet with a solid 10-2 record on the season, started his match against Ethan Hayes with with a quick takedown. He maintained his edge for the rest of the match and earned a 6-2 decision over Hayes.
Drexel traveled to Lock Haven, Pa. Dec. 29 to compete in the Lock Haven Invitational. The Dragons finished sixth out of 11 schools but had six wrestlers place. Booth led the way with his second-place finish in the 165-pound weight class, while Palik, Frey, senior Michael Gomez, junior Frank Cimato and sophomore Austin Sommer all placed in the top five in their respective weight classes.
Palik began his day with a major decision against Matt Parlier of Lock Haven University. He then suffered a loss at the hands of Keith Witt of Kent State University. He proceeded to win his next four matches, three of which were pins of Issiah Cromwell of Columbia University, Richard Perry of Bloomsburg University, and a rematch against Witt — securing a third-place finish in the 197-pound weight class. Booth was less traveled but just as impressive as Palik in his matchups. He rattled off three straight wins early, putting him in the first-place match. He nearly secured first place but lost 1-2 against the University of Michigan’s Daniel Yates.
Finally, the Dragons traveled to Hempstead, N.Y. to face the 25th-ranked Hofstra Pride in their first Colonial Athletic Association match of the season. The Pride got on the board early with back-to-back wins, but the Dragons answered with back-to-back wins of their own. By the time the heavyweights were set to bout, Hofstra held a commanding 19-9 lead, but the Dragons never backed down. They won the next two matches but finished just four points shy of Hofstra 15-19. Perhaps the biggest highlight of the day was Booth’s win over the Pride’s P.J. Gillespie. Gillespie was ranked No. 1 in the CAA in the 167-pound weight class while Booth was ranked No. 2.
“I was pretty pumped up, but it’s only one match, so I didn’t want to get too excited,” Booth said after a win over his counterpart. “I expected to win this time, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to me when I did.”
With the win, Booth surpassed Gillespie in the standings while also earning CAA wrestler of the week honors.
“It’s cool,” Booth said of his award. “I really just want to win nationals because that’s the only thing that matters to me.”
The Dragons will look to bounce back Jan. 13-14 at the Virginia Duels. After two consecutive losses, Azevedo doesn’t think that these upsets will have an effect on the coming matches.
“Our guys will be fine,” Azevedo said. “They are focused on getting better and preparing for the CAA Championships. Because wrestling is an individual sport, we can treat them as individuals. Some guys have more to work on than others. I like where we are.”