Four members of the Drexel wrestling team have been recognized among the first of three NCAA coaches’ panel rankings for the top 33 wrestlers this season for outstanding accomplishments. This coaches’ poll ranks the top 33 wrestlers in each weight class in the nation. At the end of the regular season and after the third poll is released, the rankings are used to determine which athletes qualify for the NCAA wrestling tournament. Three of the four Dragons successfully made it into the top 20 of the first polling.
Starting with the heavyweight class, senior Kyle Frey successfully ranked the 20th spot after his 17-4 overall record and with an outstanding 11-1 record in dual matches. Sophomore Brandon Palik has made an impressive show so far this season and was ranked 19th for the 197-pound weight class and holds a 20-11 record. The Bethlehem, Pa. native is looking to take the third-place spot in the Colonial Athletic Association from Binghamton University’s Cory Reed, who is also ranked among the coaches’ panel. In addition, junior Frank Cimato, who was ranked 31st at 141 pounds, has earned a top spot in the CAA with his 14-10 overall record.
From the beginning of his career here at Drexel, junior co-captain Joseph Booth has made tremendous individual triumphs in the wrestling community. Booth holds the country’s 18th spot at 165 pounds and came out victorious over Hofstra University’s P.J. Gillespie, who was ranked second in the CAA.
Head coach Matt Azevedo said that apart from their competitors, these four athletes go the extra mile inside and outside the ring. Their impressive records have displayed how their hard work earns them victories over top opponents in the conference.
“They work hard, they put in extra time, they come in and do their individual workouts and then workouts with the coaches. … They are all very aggressive and very offensive wrestlers,” Azevedo said.
Aside from these dominating Dragons, Azevedo has stated that the rest of the wrestlers have made immense improvement so far this year. Senior Michael Gomez has wrestled hard from the start of the season, he said, and sophomore Austin Sommer was definitely on the verge of making the top 33. The rest of the Dragons are still a little young, he mentioned, yet they have displayed vast improvements since the beginning of the season.
With wrestling as such an individualistic sport, each Dragon is competing against each other every day in practice. One may think it creates much animosity among the members when everyone is fighting to start in their weight class. However, Azevedo stated that each wrestler challenging each other is what makes the team better after every practice.
“I tell the guys every day: When you come in the room, your teammate or your roommate … they’re not your friend anymore,” he said. “You are competing against them, and they are your enemy in some ways, but when you are not pushing your teammates and challenging them, you’re not helping the team out.”
Furthermore, even with those who are not in the starting lineup, the coaches look out to see what contribution each Dragon can make to the team. A contribution can be made in the practice room or even just getting the starter ready to perform. Azevedo said that it’s about looking for the bigger picture and team picture instead of just seeing a couple of individuals fighting out there.
Overall, the team chemistry has always been strong since Azevedo joined the Drexel wrestling program early this September. However, these Dragons have grown even stronger to be more and more confident each time they step into the ring. With diet and weight management being such a vital part of the physical aspect of wrestling outside the ring, acquiring confidence before and during matches remains the hardest mental battle.
“Ultimately, with mental preparation we just try to stay really positive with the guys and build them up with positive reinforcement,” Azevedo said. “When they are training hard in practice and doing extra outside the room, they are going to have confidence, and that’s what the mental game is all about.”
Furthermore, Azevedo talked about one of the most important pieces of advice he has learned to pass on to his team to help them gain that prevailing confidence. With wrestling, he believes that sometimes the downfall is that the athletes are just focused on the outcome of the match and getting the win instead of just focusing on their technique.
“You have to concentrate on the things you can control,” he said. “All you can control is what you can do, so concentrating on these other things is just taking focus off what you can really do.”
The Dragons fell short in battle against Army Jan. 24 by a score of 26-12. Shane Fenningham kicked off the first match by prevailing over competitor Ryan Bilyeu in a 5-3 decision. In addition, Cimato, Palik and Frey continued to prove their dominance in the ring by winning each of their matches. Unfortunately, Booth sat out this battle due to injury.
For now, the Dragons have the weekend off to recuperate before their next away competition Feb. 4 against Boston University.