The Binghamton wrestling team is set to compete this weekend in the 2017 Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Championships, hosted at Bucknell University. At last season’s tournament, two BU wrestlers qualified to compete at the NCAA Tournament.
This year, the Bearcats hope for similar success, but BU head coach Matt Dernlan knows the competition will be stiff.
“It’s the second-best wrestling conference in the country,” he said. “Facing the opponents we face week in and week out, we know what we’re up against.”
This season, the Bearcats had a successful year in the dual season. They went 8-4 in conference play, one win better than last season’s mark. Like last year, the Bearcats will enter the conference tournament with only one senior on their roster.
“We’re led by our senior Dylan Caruana,” Dernlan said. “We have eight underclassmen in the lineup, that being said … they’re battle-tested.”
BU’s underclassmen have certainly been utilized often this season. Six of the eight BU wrestlers who have appeared in more than 10 dual meets are underclassmen. Emerging as one of BU’s top performers from the group of underclassmen is freshman Parker Kropman, who went 12-4 in dual meets this season.
Last week, the EIWA released its pre-tournament seeds for each weight class, which ranks the top-10 wrestlers in each of 10 weight classes. Seven BU wrestlers have a top-10 seed.
Leading the way for the Bearcats again this season is junior Steve Schneider, who has been nationally ranked in the 184-pound weight class, according to InterMat. He is currently ranked at No. 19 according to FloWrestling.
“I don’t really feel any pressure,” Schneider said. “It’s my third time at this tournament so I know what my expectations are … I’m confident not only in myself but my team.”
Schnieder is ranked second at 184 in the EIWA. The top wrestler in the class is Cornell senior Gabe Dean, the two-time defending national champion. Schneider is also the only Bearcat on this year’s squad who qualified for last season’s NCAA Championships. As he prepares for his third EIWA Championships, his goal remains the same.
“I’m just going to this tournament with the expectation to get on the podium and get my ticket to [the NCAA Championships] this year,” Schneider said.
The wrestling postseason is quite different than the regular season. In dual meets, wrestlers compete as a team in 10 matches. In the EIWA Championships, however, each wrestler competes individually — and it’s a “win or go home” atmosphere.
Dernlan identified this as one of the biggest challenges for his team.
“We have to switch mentalities into a tournament mentality,” he said. “Focusing on yourself and advancing to the next round is going to help the team.”
For Caruana, this could be the last time he steps onto the mat. Having won 58 career matches for BU, he hopes his experience will help the other members of his team.
“This year we’ve really been able to finally as a team come together,” he said. “You just have to … have the right perspective on things, and that’s what I try to show them.”
While the Bearcats hope to improve on a 16th-place finish in 2016, Dernlan wants his to team to relish this opportunity.
“We have to embrace it, we have to enjoy it and we have to have fun with it,” he said.
The EIWA Championships are set to get underway Friday at 11 a.m. from the Sojka Pavilion in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.