With two wrestlers set to compete for a national championship last March, the Binghamton wrestling team saw its season abruptly cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, nearly nine months later, the team finally found itself back on the mats Saturday night, kicking off its 2021 season with a bang.

The Bearcats opened their campaign with back-to-back pins from two newcomers, eventually earning a 27-20 victory over Rider (0-1) in their first dual meet of the season.

“It was awesome,” said Binghamton head coach Kyle Borshoff. “What these guys have been through since the NCAA championships was stripped away from them last year, everything that we’ve had to do since last March kinda came to a head today. I’m so happy Rider made it up here, I’m so happy the match went off. The guys were pumped. We’ve been working so hard and we’ve asked so much of them, and they’re doing everything they can.”

Starting off the match for the Bearcats (1-0) was true freshman Micah Roes at 125-pounds, who fell behind early in his collegiate debut but earned a pin late in the third period to secure a victory.

“I believe in [Roes], I think he has the ability to do huge things at this level,” Borshoff said. “I think he has All-American, national championship potential. What he did out there, after getting down early in the match and coming back and ending with a fall is huge. For a true freshman to do something like that, it’s awesome.”

Following Roes’ performance, junior Anthony Sobotker had an equally impressive debut at 133-pounds. The junior college transfer and former National Junior Collegiate Athletics Association’s (NJCAA) All-American earned a win by fall in the first period of his matchup.

“He did everything that was asked of him, and he made a statement tonight,” Borshoff said. “He’s a dangerous man. It was really great starting the match off that way.”

With the Bearcats off to a 12-0 start to match, Borshoff stressed the impact it had on the team as the remaining wrestlers competed.

“It’s electric, you start a dual like that, back-to-back [falls] … that’s momentum, that’s game changing,” Borshoff said.

Binghamton’s two returning NCAA qualifiers, redshirt juniors Lou DePrez and Zack Trampe, both earned wins in the match. DePrez, who was named an All-American last season and is currently ranked No. 5 in the nation at 184-pounds, earned a win by fall. Trampe, ranked No. 19 at 141-pounds, is wrestling up a weight this season and won by decision.

“There’s no doubt in my mind those guys will be back at the NCAA tournament,” Borshoff said. “For both of them and for me as their coach, it’s not about being there. Our expectation for [Trampe] and [DePrez] is not to be at the NCAA tournament. If that’s what they end their seasons with, they’re not going to be happy. They want to be All-Americans — they want to be national champions. They’ve been in the program long enough that they understand that they have that ability.”

Two other Bearcats, freshman Brevin Cassella and junior Michael Zarif, also won their matchups on Saturday, giving Binghamton six victories in the 10 bouts.

“If we can keep building on what we did tonight, we’re dangerous,” Borshoff said. “People that watched this match tonight, they should be worried.”

With a schedule composed solely of seven dual meets and lacking the usual marquee tournament events that Binghamton wrestlers compete in every year, it will be a unique path to the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Championships for the Bearcats.

“[We want to] get matches, we’re trying to wrestle,” Borshoff said. “Every match we get is a bonus match. Nothing is guaranteed this season, anytime we get to wrestle we’re appreciative.”

The EIWA Championships is currently set for Friday, Feb. 26, about a week earlier than usual, and the competition field will look different than in the past. Of the 17 programs that usually compete in the conference, six will be missing due to the Ivy League’s decision to cancel winter sports.

“Obviously, Cornell and Princeton have been two of the top programs in the country for the past couple of years, and they won’t be there,” Borshoff said. “But even without some of those top Ivy League teams, we still have a meat grinder of a conference. Our best teams that are still competing this year are some of the best teams in the country.”

Despite the unusual circumstances surrounding the 2021 season, the team remains focused on gaining experience in the regular season and competing for conference and national titles in just under two months.

“We didn’t really know if these matches would ever happen, and today they did,” Borshoff said.

Next up for Binghamton is a home dual on Thursday, Jan. 14 against LIU. The match is set for a 7 p.m. start at the West Gym in Vestal, New York.