After five exciting months of recording win after win and setting milestone after milestone, the Binghamton University wrestling team signed off on its 2011-12 season in the most fitting manner at the NCAA Championships this past weekend, earning a 13th-place overall finish. Two Bearcats — 149-pound junior Donnie Vinson and heavyweight freshman Nick Gwiazdowski — were honored as All-Americans after finishing third and eighth in their respective weight classes.
It marked the first time in the program’s history that two Binghamton wrestlers have been crowned with the honor in the same year.
Binghamton’s 36 team points landed the squad in 13th place out of 64 teams. The team’s five wrestlers had a combined record of 18-10 in the tournament.
Head coach Pat Popolizio said he believes this season will go down as one of the biggest successes in the program’s history.
“Now I can say this season was very, very successful,” he said. “In this sport, you can judge by just one weekend. Everything we do leading up to that weekend is preparation for the NCAA tournaments. To come home and finish higher than what was expected is a great feeling. It was a lot of hard work and dedication to put this program together from the coaching staff, the guys on the team, the people that work directly with our program. That is why I would define it as a successful season.”
But for 157-pound senior Justin Lister, whose success on the mat played a huge role in Binghamton’s success this year, the NCAA tournament was not the way he would have wanted to bring the curtains down on his glittering career. One round away from placing, Lister was controversially pinned by unseeded Joshua Kreimier from Air Force Academy. Lister, who trailed for much of the match, was within two at 6-4 in the third period before a quick pin call was made against him, ending his career.
“I don’t think it’s right to make those kinds of calls in a close match,” Popolizio said. “It is one thing if he got beat convincingly — we could live with that. But the match could have gone either way. The ref could call it or not call it. And when you get to the national tournaments, that is what it is all about. You have your best guy that can win things and sometimes you get refs that give those calls, so we have to learn as a team and not put ourselves in that position again.”
Nevertheless, Popolizio said he still believes that Lister can look back on his career achievements and contributions with great pride.
“He had a great season and a great career; you can never take that away from the kid,” he said. “Disappointed in the national tournament as a senior, but what he has done and what he is about — helping build this program — he will keep those accomplishments for the rest of his life and I am sure he will be very successful in the real world.”
184-pound junior Nate Schiedel and 197-pound sophomore Cody Reed, also representing Binghamton, posted identical 2-2 records at the tournament. For Schiedel, who was wrestling in his third NCAA tournament, the victories marked his first-ever at the event.
“Nate Schiedel wrestled very well as well,” Popolizio said. “The first two years he hasn’t won a match and this year he won two. And these guys are going to get better because of the experience they gained in this national tournament.”
Reed, a first-timer at the NCAAs, knocked out No. 4 Christian Boley from University of Maryland in the first round.
“Reed knocking out the No. 4 seed was unbelievable for him,” Popolizio said. “He has got two more years to come back and place. I think he has got a lot of confidence now and knows where he belongs — at this level.”
BINGHAMTON’S TWO ALL-AMERICANS
This year marked the first time in program history that two Binghamton wrestlers were crowned All-Americans, with both Vinson and Gwiazdowski earning the honor.
After losing his first round match to Nick Lester of Oklahoma State University, Vinson (40-5) roared back in the consolation bracket and won his next seven matches to finish third-best nationwide, wrapping up a memorable season. Vinson also had more wins than any other wrestler in the entire tournament.
“I started off really sloppy, but you just shake that off,” Vinson said. “That is the second-best thing you can do other than winning. And I did it with dominance.”
For Gwiazdowski, two decisions, a major decision and a pin, on Friday were enough to secure himself All-America honors.
“It feels pretty damn good right now,” said Gwiazdowski, one of just two “true” freshmen in the heavyweight draw, after being honored as an All-American. “There comes a point where you realize that this is tough, and after the first round I realized that this is going to be a tough tournament to come back from. And after two wins, it built momentum and I felt good about it.”