Columbia returns all three NCAA qualifiers from 2015, as well as another wrestler (Zack Hernandez) who competed at the National tournament in 2014. Those wrestlers form a strong foundation for a season which will end very close to campus at Madison Square Garden.
“The guys are working really hard,” head coach Carl Fronhofer said. “I think in the first semester it’ll be nice to see how we compete, especially in Vegas. That’s a good measuring stick to see where we’re at and what we need to work on. We have a pretty competitive dual meet team, so I think the second semester for us should be fun.”
Let’s take a look at the potential Columbia lineup for 2015-16.
Johnson Mai was the starter down the stretch last year for the Lions, but due to injuries, he is unlikely to compete this season for the squad. So, a pair of juniors will vie for the role at 125.
“We have two guys who are both pretty competitive in Vince Pallone and Britain Carter,” Fronhofer said. “Vince is scrappy and has gotten better and better over the last couple of years. Britain is a multi-time state champ from Utah who looks good. We’re disappointed not having Johnson in the lineup because he had a good shot to get to the tournament this year. But we’re confident one of the guys will step up and do the job for us.”
Amenta, Photo by BV
Angelo Amenta has racked up over 40 wins for the Lions over the past two years. In his final season, Amenta is looking to break through to the NCAAs.
“He’s back and healthy and had a great summer,” Fronhofer said. “I really expect him to do well this year. He’s traditionally been a slow starter but finished strong. He had a good Easterns last year, but was one spot away from qualifying for Nationals and didn’t get a wildcard, probably because of his slow start. If he’s healthy, I would be shocked if he doesn’t wrestle at NCAAs this year.”
Jacob Macalolooy wrestled over 20 matches as a freshman at this weight for the Lions.
“We have a lot of guys at 141,” Fronhofer said. “Right now, it looks like when the dust settles, Macalolooy is gonna be the guy. He’s been the most consistent, very disciplined. He seems to be the guy who has the most things under control and ready to go. We have Matt Leshinger who is very capable and very talented and he’s certainly a factor. We also have a talented freshman, who’s really dangerous and could surprise some people if he does manage to get in, Will Kui. It’s hard to tell sometimes when someone doesn’t have any college matches yet, but he’s definitely good enough to score points. It will be fun to see how he develops.”
Connor Sutton took the mat for the Lions in the postseason last year and is back. However, there are a number of wrestlers who will stake a claim for the spot at 149.
“Obviously, Connor is a returning starter and somebody would have to beat him out for the job,” Fronhofer said. “It will be a very competitive weight class. I would say I really don’t know right now who will be there. We have some young guys in the room who might have a little bit more talent but don’t have as much experience. Connor always finds ways to win matches and wrestles well when it matters the most. Danny Reed, a sophomore, got some experience last year. He’s really tough and will definitely challenge. Tyler Ponte got a lot of good experience at both 149 and 157 so he’s definitely super competitive and will challenge for the spot too. It’s possible that Matt Leshinger will go up here, and we’ll see what happens. Right now, I’m not sure who will come out of it as the starter.”
M. Scheidel, Photo by BV
Markus Scheidel is a two-time NCAA qualifier who won twice at the NCAAs last year despite an injury-filled season that sidelined him for long periods of time. He’s looking to take the next step to the podium as a junior.
“He’s back and he’s ready,” Fronhofer said. “Last year was tough on him. He had two stretches where he was out for six weeks. He had knee surgery during the season. I really felt he could place last year, but he literally missed two months of the season and that makes it pretty hard. But he finished strong and wrestled really tough at NCAAs, beating two seeded guys and losing to the fourth and fifth seeds. He had an awesome summer. He’s bigger and stronger and healthier than ever. I expect him to do really, really well.”
Tyrel White made his debut at Nationals in his freshman campaign after placing fourth at the EIWA tournament. With that experience, Fronhofer expects him to make a jump as a sophomore.
“He’s gonna have a great year,” the coach said. “He’s one of the most consistent kids I’ve ever been around in his overall approach, work, attitude, training habits. He’s always doing a little bit extra. He’s gonna be a factor at the national level for sure. He went 0-2 at NCAAs last year, but he should’ve beaten the kid from Missouri [Mike England] in the first round. He had the match in control, had the takedown and a good amount of riding time. I was shocked the kid rode him out. [England] then went on to the Round of 12. It was a tough first ever NCAA match and he battled hard. He’s right there.”
Hernandez, Photo by BV
After starting for the Lions at 184, Zack Hernandez will be moving to 174 for his final campaign. The Hawaii native was an NCAA qualifier in 2014.
“He was never really a 184 pounder,” Fronhofer said. “He weighed in around 180. He’ll be at his proper weight, which will be really good. I would expect him to make it back to the national tournament this year.”
With Hernandez going to a new weight class, there’s a place for someone new to emerge at 184.
“It’s open in the sense that we don’t have a returning starter,” Fronhofer said. “I think Mike Fetchet will wind up being the guy there. He was a three sport athlete in high school and was good at all of them. He had never focused on just wrestling in his life, so he was a little bit raw. Now, he’s been in the room for a few years and has made a lot of progress. He’s big, strong and really athletic.”
Troy Hembury has been in the mix at this weight in the past and now looks to be at the head of the class for Columbia at 197.
“He’ll be the guy,” Fronhofer said. “I kind of thought he'd start for us out of the gate, but he was beaten out by Matt Idelson, who won a lot of matches for us. Troy will step in and do a good job for us.”
Ryan, Photo by BV
Garrett Ryan had a strong freshman season at heavyweight, advancing to the NCAA tournament and winning Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Year accolades. With a year of experience under his belt, Fronhofer thinks he’ll make some waves.
“Competing at heavyweight as a freshman is tough, especially from a pure strength perspective,” the coach said. “With a year of maturity and lifting, he’s about the same weight but leaner and stronger. He’s physically in the best spot he’s ever been in. We brought in a new assistant coach [Joe Nord] who is really helping him progress at a much faster rate. [Nord] is a smart guy with a lot of good experience from a great program at Minnesota. He immediately meshed with the staff and has been a terrific addition to the program. With what he’s doing, I think Garrett could place this year.”
Ryan’s not the only one Fronhofer believes has a shot at the podium. He feels that “all the guys through the middle of the lineup have a legitimate chance to place. Some may be considered on the outside looking in, but they’re all capable. All have competed at a high enough level for long enough and have the athleticism that if they put it together, they can do it.”
The opportunity to become an All-American will occur very close to home, with the NCAA championships at Madison Square Garden.
“I think obviously our alumni base is excited, and our team has rallied around that since the end of last season,” Fronhofer said. “All spring, summer and all preseason, without question, a point of emphasis and excitement has been having the opportunity to represent Columbia in New York City, the greatest city in the world, and in the most famous sports arena in the world. The guys are fully aware of what an awesome opportunity that is.”