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November 26, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 55°F

Sports

Wrestling team prepared to prove it’s a national title contender

The Ithaca College wrestling team, led by head coach Marty Nichols, opens the regular season ranked No. 14 in the country according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Division III Coaches Preseason Rankings.

Nichols said while he is excited to go out and compete for a national championship, he is just happy to be a part of a team again after the 2020–21 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It has been refreshing for the coaching staff, for the athletes, and for myself,” Nichols said. “We are getting to see everyone work together again, working towards a goal. And after a year of stress and anxiety due to the pandemic, it is fulfilling to have a group of guys who want to work toward those goals.”

Those goals for many players on the team, including  junior Travis Jones and senior Eze Chukwuezi, are to be national champions at the end of the season. Chukwuezi enters the season ranked fourth in the NWCA Division III preseason poll for the 184-pound weight class, and Jones is the fifth ranked wrestler in the 141-pound weight class.

“I am as dominant a wrestler as I have ever been,” Chukwuezi said. “I am in control of the matches, and I think going into my senior year, I want to be the most dominant wrestler in the country, regardless of weight class.”

Jones exploded onto the scene in the 2019–20 season as a freshman, finishing with a 36–5 record, with a 23–3 record in tournament matches. He was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the NCAA Mideast Regional and said he is looking to build off his already impressive resume towards an even better second season.

“It is actually kind of scary, because freshman year there were no real expectations except for getting better every time out on the mat,” Jones said. “Not only have I proved to myself, but to everybody else that I have the ability to be the best in the country and that while it is nerve-wracking, it is giving me all the motivation to continue to prove myself as the best.”

Jones said the expectation for the team this season is to walk away as national champions. The wrestling team has not won a national championship since the 1994 season.

“We want to be the best in the country and were on track to prove that in 2019,” Jones said. “I do not think redemption is the right word, but we had people counting us out in 2019 and they are still counting us out now, so we just want to prove that we are the best and we are more than ready to show it.”

Nichols said the leadership that Jones brings to the team every single time the team steps onto the mat goes a long way into the success of this team.

“He is a natural born leader day-in and day-out,” Nichols said. “He has a phenomenal attitude, as well as a great personality, attitude, and one of the best work ethics on the team. The other guys on the team really look up to him, and as his coach, he is the best type of guy to be on your team.”

Nichols said there are a lot of wrestlers on this team who have the capability of breaking out this year similar to what Jones did in the 2019–20 season.

“We have a bunch of guys in this wrestling room who I think people are going to be really surprised by,” Nichols said. “We have guys like Luis Hernandez, Matt Beyer, as well as a few freshmen. Matt Haycook is pretty tough at 125 [pounds] and Jackson Gray at 165 [pounds] are some first-years to keep an eye out for.”

Jones said the team jokes that Haycook is a robot in the wrestling room with how laser-focused he is. Haycook is a freshman exercise science major from Canton, New York wrestling in the 125 pound weight class in his first year on the team.

“This kid is locked in 100% of the time,” Jones said. “He is always lifting early in the morning and getting in extra training sessions in. I think he has a bright future ahead of him if he keeps this mindset.”

Chukwuezi said while the Bombers are a young team this upcoming season, they still have the caliber to be national champions.

“The good thing about having such a young team is the ability to mold them into the kind of caliber that we need them to be,” Chukwuezi said. “A lot of the young guys are really eager to get back on the mat, as well as a lot of wrestlers who have yet to have a season, but I think the amount of motivation and fire we have right now will carry us a long way.”

Nichols said he tells his wrestlers if they can get better in every facet of life every day, then they are on their way to being the best wrestler and person that they can be.

“There are a lot of ways to get one percent better every day,” Nichols said. “One percent in the classroom, one percent in the wrestling room and one percent in your relationships with other people. If you are doing that every day, they will feel so much more confident in themselves.”

Chukwuezi said the team has not been on the mat together in two seasons, and everyone is ready to once again showcase themselves as one of the best teams in the country.

“It has been a long time since we have been able to show what we’ve been working on,” Chukwuezi said. “We have been working in the shadows for a few years now, and we are ready to showcase it to the country and really put ourselves right back on the map.”

The Bombers started their season Nov. 5 hosting the Ithaca Invitational, a two-day event held at the Ithaca College Athletics and Events Center. The team finished fifth out of 11 teams, with Chukwuezi winning the bracket for the 197-pound class, while junior Adam Wagner and freshman Wenchard Pierre-Louis took home first and second place respectively in the 157-pound bracket.

The Ithaca College wrestling team’s next competition is 1 p.m. Nov. 14 against Oswego State and Penn College in Oswego, New York.

Connor Wood can be reached at cwood3@ithaca.edu