When the buzzer sounded in the 141-pound fifth-place bout at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Championships on Saturday, redshirt senior Dylan Caruana sprinted off the mat, pumping his fist emphatically. As soon as his hand was raised by the official, he ran directly to BU head coach Matt Dernlan and jumped into his arms.
“That will be one of the more special moments in my wrestling career that I’ll remember,” Dernlan said. “[Caruana] is just a guy that embodies every characteristic that we want our student athletes to be at [Binghamton University].”
Caruana let all his emotions out after capturing fifth place by holding off Army’s sixth-ranked senior, Logan Everett. The victory secured Caruana his first-ever trip to the NCAA Championships.
“He beat ranked guys in back-to-back matches; he didn’t have an easy path,” Dernlan said. “It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving individual. I’m so proud of him.”
Caruana was one of eight BU place winners at the EIWA Championships. That number set the program record for most wrestlers placing at this event, topping the 2015 team, which placed five. Of the eight who qualified, only Caruana and junior Steve Schneider advanced to the NCAA Championships.
“It was the process that we talk about all the time,” Dernlan said. “It’s really a testament to the guys, defining what they want to be and where they want to go.”
Schneider, BU’s top-ranked wrestler, easily won his first two matches at 184 on day one of the tournament. His two wins put him into the semifinals and clinched his place in the NCAA Championships for the second straight year. Day two did not go as smoothly for Schneider. He dropped his semifinal match against third-seeded Navy junior Michael Coleman. The two were tied, 3-3, going into the final period, but Coleman was able to earn an escape and a takedown to take the match, 6-3.
In the consolation bracket, Schneider made it look easy against fifth-seeded Drexel redshirt junior Alex DeCiantis, coming out on top, 6-0. He struggled in the third-place bout, falling to fourth-seeded Army senior Samson Imonode. Schneider’s losses, however, don’t weigh heavily on Dernlan’s mind.
“There’s no doubt in my mind [that] his best performance of the year is going to be next week in St. Louis,” he said. “[He] lost a couple matches, but the way [he] lost — we’re fine with it because the effort was there.”
Heavyweight redshirt sophomore Connor Calkins was BU’s third-highest finisher. After dropping his first match of the tournament, he fought his way to a sixth-place finish.
Freshman Parker Kropman impressed at his first conference championships, finishing seventh at 149. Redshirt sophomore Mark Tracy earned a dramatic comeback win to finish in seventh at 197. Sophomore Steven Bulzomi also finished in seventh place, taking his final match in the 125-pound class. Rounding out the BU place-winners were redshirt sophomore Anthony Lombardo and redshirt freshman Tristan Rifanburg, who both took home eighth-place finishes.
Other than Schneider and Caruana, every BU place-winner was an underclassman. The performance of this young squad shows that this program is going to be a contender in the coming years.
“We’re really young; we’ve got eight underclassman in the lineup and we’re mature enough to say this is not an excuse,” Dernlan said. “They wanted to make an impact right away and they did that.”
The NCAA Championships are still over a week away, but Caruana and Schneider have already begun to prepare. Both wrestlers are hoping to make their mark on the national stage.
“A big part of it … is getting them rest,” Dernlan said. “We’re in peak shape physically and mentally. We’ve got to be relaxed, we’ve got to enjoy it. They want to show the world how good they are.”
The NCAA Championships are set to begin Thursday, March 16 from the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri.