James “Bruiser” Flint’s men’s basketball team receives much of the athletics hype in University City, but it may be time to refocus all that excitement because the wrestling team is poised for a big year.
The Dragons head into the 2013-14 season with a talented mix of youth and experience, headed by third-year head coach Matt Azevedo. Azevedo is a picturesque embodiment of Drexel’s current squad of mat men with his youthful energy and experience from spending nearly his entire life in the sport.
He has spent enough time in gyms and on the wrestling mat to know a promising team when he sees one, and Azevedo knows that his wrestlers have a chance to do something special this year.
“There are some guys that we are really looking at to make a splash this year and get some national attention,” he said. “We have four guys who we think can definitely be nationally ranked and contend to be some of the top guys in the country.”
Azevedo is turning to seniors like 197-pound Brandon Palik and heavyweight Jamie Callender to lead the way through the grueling season. Callender is someone from whom Azevedo specifically wants to see a lot.
“We are really hoping to see if our heavyweight Jamie Callender will make it through the season this year. He has been hurt the last three seasons and has not really made it past November,” Azevedo said. “We think that he can really do some good things because he was undefeated last year before he broke his ankle and was out for the year.”
It is not only the older and more experienced guys whom Azevedo is turning to for victories, though. He is also looking to the young guys like redshirt freshman Kevin Devoy at 125 pounds and Matt Cimato, a 149-pounder.
“[Devoy] potentially has the ability to be the best wrestler on our team as a redshirt freshman,” Azevedo said of his lightweight. “He is really, really looking tough.”
The reliance on the freshmen and sophomores does not worry Azevedo one bit. Many of the guys on the team have been redshirted, so they had an extra year to assimilate to the college game. That year of added experience can prove invaluable in the long run.
Although Drexel has a few athletes at the top of their game and in the national conversation, Azevedo is confident in the ability of the next tier of guys to perform and help the team be competitive.
“We have some other guys who I think have the ability too,” Azevedo said. “They have to prove it still. They all have to prove it still. We have had some guys who have really wrestled well over the past year, though.”
The Dragons will face a tough test in their first matches of the year in Iowa. While out in the Midwest, Drexel will take on Grand View University Nov. 7, which is a match that Azevedo said the Dragons should be able to take.
Their stiffest test will come later that afternoon when they take on Iowa State University, one of the top wrestling programs in the country. Drexel will have to bring its A-game in order to compete with the Cyclones, but there is a quiet confidence floating around the locker room that the Dragons will be able to hang in there.
“My expectation is to see our guys wrestle hard and get after it,” Azevedo said. “Iowa State is going to be a very tough opponent. I think we are going to be able to see our team against different levels of competition, and I think we will fare very well if we go out and wrestle the way that we are capable of.”
If anybody knows what it takes to beat out the vaunted Iowa State wrestling program, it is Azevedo, who was a Cyclone for his final two years of college competition. It was a program that helped him develop into a decorated United States wrestler after his college days.
When the Dragons travel to Iowa for their matches, it will be a homecoming of sorts for Azevedo as he steps back into his old stomping grounds. The homecoming will be short-lived, though, as the Dragons have a quick turnaround, heading west to South Dakota for a Nov. 9 showdown with South Dakota State University.
The seasons are changing, and there is promise in the air of the DAC. Azevedo is confident that when the mat is laid down and Drexel’s wrestlers are grappling for a spot in the national conversation, they will have the potential to come away victorious. This season has a chance to be a special one for the Dragons.