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In-house coaching staff keeps Bombers wrestling connected

From+left%2C+assistant+coach+Eze+Chukwuezi+23+and+junior+Xavier+Pommells+train+together+in+the+Glazer+Arena.+The+Ithaca+College+wrestling+teams+coaching+staff+is+made+up+entirely+of+program+alumni.
Grace Condon
From left, assistant coach Eze Chukwuezi ’23 and junior Xavier Pommells train together in the Glazer Arena. The Ithaca College wrestling team’s coaching staff is made up entirely of program alumni.

When the Ithaca College wrestling team returned to campus this fall, the practice room was more crowded than normal. A large first-year class of 17 led to a roster size of 35, one of the largest the program has had in years. However, there is still familiarity in the room — on top of the new athletes, there are five new assistant coaches, four of whom were athletes on the team last season.

Head coach Marty Nichols ’90 is supported by a seven-man coaching staff that consists entirely of program alumni. One of these new assistant coaches is Travis Jones ’23, who had a successful career with the program from 2019–23. 

While many sports at the college have alumni as coaches — including graduate assistant men’s basketball coach George Sikoryak lll 23 and assistant women’s basketball coach Jordan Beers 18 — wrestling is the only sport to consist completely of former Bombers’ athletes and is the largest coaching staff across all sports at the college with eight members on staff.

Jones’ time saw him take home a plethora of accomplishments, including being a four-time NWCA Scholar All-American, a three-time ECWC All-Academic, a two-time National Championship Qualifier and a Mideast Regional Champion in the 2019–20 season. There, he was awarded the NCAA Mideast Regional Most Outstanding Wrestler. Jones said that after his successful career, it was only natural for him to move into coaching.

“I love wrestling,” Jones said. “So, if I’m done competing, then I know that I want to coach just to be involved in the sport. … I really liked my time here, wrestling here, just being in Ithaca. It just feels like the natural next step. It’s definitely a community, we all love each other — it’s a brotherhood.” 

Nichols said it has been a tradition in the program, dating back to before his time as an athlete, to ask graduating seniors to come back and coach. He said that because his recent alumni are so closely removed from the program, they can relate the most to current athletes. 

“They know what the guys need and they can communicate it to us,” Nichols said. “It’s [also] not just wrestling, it’s all the other things in both academics and everything else. They have a good handle on how to balance all those things and help them out.” 

Jones also mentioned the star-studded history of the program as something that sets the team apart. Since the program’s debut in 1930, it has since sported 134 All-Americans — trailing only behind the Bombers’ football team, which has 153. 

One of these decorated wrestlers was Seth Ecker ’12, who was the program’s first two-time national champion and was inducted into the Bombers’ Hall of Fame on Oct. 27. When Ecker returned to campus for his induction, Jones said his interactions with the current athletes and staff demonstrated the strong community of the program.

“All of his buddies came back and they just hung out in the wrestling room and we were just talking with everybody, just the generations of wrestling,” Jones said. 

During the 2022–23 season, then-first-year student Ryan Galka competed alongside his older brother, then-senior Nick Galka. This season, Nick opted to join the coaching staff as he completes his degree. 

Ryan said that having coaches on the staff  — including his brother — who are closer to his age allows him to feel more comfortable approaching them for advice on and off the mat.

“I do actually find myself reaching out to coach Eze [Chukwuezi ’23], Travis and Nick more than anyone else,” Ryan said. “Having [Nick] as a resource here to talk to any time I need to is definitely helpful. I could go to him whenever I need, especially outside of the room. He knows his stuff.”

Nick said that he does not want to take credit for Ryan’s successes and that he often does not need his help. After a four-year career, Nick said he is happy to transition into coaching and cheer on his brother from the sidelines.

“It’s just nice to see someone’s keeping it up in the family,” Nick said.

Ryan said the larger coaching staff allows for someone to always be there when a player is in need of help so that no athlete is neglected, and he feels that there is always someone available to help him out with his technique during practice. He said that keeping the staff in-house means everyone has had similar experiences and understands the team culture.

“They know the same program,” Ryan said. “I think that’s what brings everyone back, the fact that everyone is on the same page.”

Jones said that being able to do physical demonstrations is especially important when the coaches are teaching the athletes new moves.

“The stuff that we are teaching and telling them I can actually do it to them and be like, ‘Look, see, it does work,’” Jones said.

Nichols said coaches and wrestlers alike helping one another on and off the mat is one of the things that makes this program a family. He said he believes in naturally letting that brotherhood form rather than forcing it.

“I think working in a room together and doing things together and helping each other out, that is the real family and team chemistry,” Nichols said.

Jones said no matter who people talk to in the program, it is obvious that the Bombers are so much more than just a team. The chemistry and networks formed between current and former wrestlers are a result of a coaching staff dedicated to preserving the team’s unique culture. 

“It really feels like we’re a part of something bigger that not everybody gets to experience,” Jones said.

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Grace Condon, Former Assistant Photo Editor
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    GagaDec 7, 2023 at 11:11 am

    Wow- I can feel the comradery of this uniquely special team.

    Reply