As the University at Buffalo athletics website states, "The Bulls are coming off their best season in over 10 years." With three 2016 NCAA qualifiers (Bryan Lantry, Colt Cotten and Joe Ariola) on the roster and Jake Gunning ranked at #1 in the preseason MAC polls at heavyweight, head coach John Stutzman has many reasons to be excited about the upcoming campaign.
Let's take a look at Stutzman's weight-by-weight preview of the squad.
“Kyle Akins is one of the hardest working guys around and I think he can contend to be an All-American. But in any program, it’s good to have two really good guys and we have that with Kyle and Justin Patrick. Justin Patrick won five tournaments last year and those two will battle it out. I don’t think it will be sorted out anytime soon and I think that’s good for all parties. They’re both very motivated.”
“Bryan Lantry was a national qualifier and I think he’ll have a breakout year. He’s feeling better than ever before and is more confident than ever before. He’s done a good job with lifestyle choices and he's done everything I’ve asked him to do. I’m really excited about his progression. We also have Blake Retell and a bunch of freshmen around there, like Derek Spann and Matt Seitz, who will push him.”
“We’re not sure what this will look like yet. The most talented guy on our roster is Jason Estevez. He can win at a super high level. But he’s been battling injuries since he’s been here. If he’s healthy, he’ll be really, really good. Ryan Peters won the Journeymen Classic in the past and will push Jason. New York State champ Brad Bihler is doing a great job and creating depth in there too.”
“Colt Cotten is pulling away from the pack. He won a match at the national tournament last year and he wrestled just about every top guy in the country at one point or another and has been right there. We’re expecting big things out of him as far as wrestling hard and getting on the podium. Tommy Forte is coming in. He’s struggled with injuries, so we’re managing his match count and we’ll see where he is by later in the season. Jimmy Devine is doing a really good job also - he’s getting after it.”
“We haven’t really decided what we’re doing at this weight yet. We’re trying to redshirt Alex Smythe - he’s earned it. We have two true freshmen who were state champs last year, Kobe Garrehy from New York and Logan Moriarity from Missouri. We’ll probably go with one of them; they’re doing all the right things.”
“We have three guys who will battle it out all year - Derek Holcomb, Tyler Rill and Tim Schaefer. We’re looking for consistency. We feel those three guys can get the job done. It’s a good problem to have."
“Muhamed McBryde is doing an unbelievable job. He works his butt off. He’s a 4.0 student. He’s really coming on strong. He was voted a team captain. Austin Weigel is another guy really stepping up. He’s progressed every second since he’s been in this program. Ryan Kromer is another guy in the mix to watch.”
“Brett Perry is really coming on strong. We’re really high on Perry as a total student athlete with a great attitude who loves wrestling. [2016 NCAA qualifier] Joe Ariola has some things outside of wrestling to work on and if he does that, he can be as good as anyone in the country.”
“This is definitely an interesting weight for us. If James Benjamin wants to, he can redshirt. Nate Rose looks better than he ever has, with an attitude that’s as good as ever and he’s really maturing. Whether it’s Benjamin or Rose, I believe our guy can get deep into the national tournament.”
“We have three really good heavyweights right now. I really believe in all of these guys. They’re all great kids. Jake Gunning is the frontrunner. He works ungodly hard and loves the sport of wrestling. He’s done an unbelievable job and I think he can be an All-American. We’re excited for him, but believe me, Nolan Terrance and Ian James aren’t just gonna let Jake have the spot. They will battle it out and the best guy will win. It will be fun to watch those guys progress.”
“There’s a lot of uncertainty in the lineup. I can’t remember having this much uncertainty at this point in the season in a long time. But it’s fun," Stutzman said. "We’ll watch these guys separate themselves. As a team, we look to keep progressing and keep healthy while enjoying the process. We’ve made a lot of progress the past two or three years. We had a 10 win season; the most wins since 2004. We won duals in our conference. Those are good things of course. Now, it’s time to get in that top 25 this year. It’s a matter of stepping up and getting it done. It’s time to take that next step.”