With 124 wins and 63 losses combined this season, six members of the men’s wrestling team are on their way to the NCAA Division III Championships. Two freshmen, three juniors and one senior will strive to become call-Americans or even win the NCAA National Championships from March 14–15 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Senior Dominick Giacolone is one of two wrestlers who has seen action in the NCAA Tournament before. With a torn ACL in the summer of 2012, Giacolone was only able to wrestle for the second half of the 2012–13 season in the 141-pound weight class. In his run for championship status in last year’s tournament, he dropped his first two matches. This year, he said he feels much more prepared.
“I feel more comfortable,” Giacolone said. “I think that I’ve improved a lot. I do feel more pressure, but I also feel a little bit more relaxed just because I have been there before.”
During the NCAA Regional Tournament from March 1–2 in Middletown, Conn., Giacolone placed second in his weight class, winning his first match by decision but losing the championship match by pin. He said losing the last match has not hindered his preparation.
“I definitely think that things are coming around at the right point and at the right time,” he said. “I’m feeling pretty confident. I’m focusing on making it to the second day of the tournament, which is the All-American round. I’m just making sure that I don’t have any regrets after this because it’s my last one.”
Juniors Alex Gomez and Kristopher Schimek both placed first in their respective weight classes, 133 pounds and 165 pounds. This is Gomez’s second consecutive trip to the championships, and he was named All-American in the tournament last year. When speaking about preparation, Gomez said the biggest thing he focuses on is staying calm.
“Getting the feeling of being in the spotlight, there are a lot of people there watching you,” he said. “It’s a mental sport, and I have to remind myself to do everything that I need to do to be at the top of the podium.”
This year, Gomez has taken to meditation and visualization to get him prepared for his matches.
“I visualize what I want to do during the match,” he said. “When you’re not warmed up and cold, you don’t think straight. You make mistakes. When you’re at a national level, you can’t make mistakes. One little mistake can cost you the match and cost you the tournament.”
Schimek attended Niagara County Community College and earned two-year All-American honors while wrestling there. He said he is more excited about the Division III tournament because of the increased level of talent.
“In Division III, everyone is tough,” he said. “In junior college, it was really hit or miss. In junior college, they didn’t seed the tournament, it was just random draw.”
Being the champion in his weight class at Regionals, Schimek said he is going to do whatever it takes to guarantee a win.
“Going into Regionals, it was just one match at a time,” he said. “In my mind, I don’t care if I win 1–0 or if I win in overtime, a win is a win. I’m as ready as I’m ever going to be.”
Junior 157-pound Kevin Collins, and freshmen 125-pound Jimmy Kaishian and 174-pound Carlos Toribio are all new to the national tournament. All three have noticed a difference in practice as the team has gotten closer to the tournament. Toribio said head coach Marty Nichols is going to keep practice difficult until the team leaves for Iowa.
“Practice has been a lot harder than during the rest of the season,” he said. “He put the starters in the middle and left them in there until they all got pretty tired. I think that it’s going to get harder from here.”
Collins said practice is now more focused on the six wrestlers travelling to the tournament. He said Nichols has been honing in on the technical aspects of wrestling, like working one-on-one, watching film and creating game plans.
“For regionals, the whole team practiced together,” he said. “Now it’s who we want to practice with. In the beginning of the season, it’s around two hours and is focused around what the team needs. Now, it’s an hour and 15 to an hour and a half and is focused on each of our individual needs.”
Kaishian said he is keeping the top goal of being a national champion in his mind as the team prepares for the tournament.
“I felt like a lot of hard work had paid off,” Kaishian said. “My goal has always been to be a national champ, so this is halfway there. I don’t have a lot of expectations, I just want to do the best I can possibly do.”