Army Opens Season At Buffalo Invitational

Jordan Thome

Jordan Thome

Nov. 2, 2012

WEST POINT, N.Y. - The Army wrestling team will officially open its 2012-13 campaign on Sunday, Nov. 4, when the Black Knights travel to Buffalo, N.Y., to compete at the Buffalo Invitational. The event, which will be contested inside Alumni Arena on the UB campus, is set to begin at 10 a.m.

Army will join Buffalo, Ohio State, Kent State, Edinboro, Boston University, Shippensburg, American International and SUNY Brockport at Sunday's tournament.

Senior 133-pounder Jordan Thome, who begins the season ranked 14th nationally by Intermat, leads the Black Knights into their season opener.

Tournament results will be tweeted throughout the day via the official handle of Army wrestling (@Army_Wrestling).

Here's a detailed season outlook for the 2012-13 Black Knights:

The progress made by the Army wrestling program over the past two seasons is measurable in any number of ways. The Black Knights have made significant strides in terms of NCAA qualifiers (five in two years), EIWA placewinners (six in two years) and victories over nationally ranked foes (two last season alone). Third-year head coach Joe Heskett, who took over the reins of the program prior to the 2010-11 campaign, has completely changed the culture of Army wrestling, and the former All-American at Iowa State is prepared to take the Black Knights to the next level.

Last year, Army finished 8-6 (5-2 EIWA) and placed ninth at the EIWA Championships. The Black Knights also sent three wrestlers - Cole Gracey, Derek Stanley and Jordan Thome - to the NCAA Championships. Both Gracey, who was named EIWA Freshman of the Year, and Thome, who is a two-time NCAA qualifier, return to the fold this season.

After helping Army turn the corner over his first two years at West Point, Heskett believes that the Black Knights are making the necessary steps to achieve even bigger goals this season and beyond.

"There are certain expectations that you have while you're building a program, and I couldn't be more proud of the energy and enthusiasm that these young men have for what we're trying to build," said Heskett.

"As we get set to embark on our third year here, there is total buy-in and clarity of the vision," added Heskett. "There is some work that has been put in over the past year and during the summer that is at the highest level, and it's a great feeling for us as a coaching staff to sit back and watch our athletes empowered by what we're building."

Heskett, whose passion for the sport of wrestling is infectious, is confident that Army will capitalize on lessons learned during a tumultuous but successful 2011-12 season and be even better in 2012-13.

"It's extremely important that we build off of last year. Despite all of the injuries and adversity that we encountered last season, we had a heck of a year. We came together as a team in times when we really needed to, and we need to build on that moving forward this season."

Army brings back a number of starters from last year's squad, and the Black Knights will be further boosted by the return of senior team captains Collin Wittmeyer and Daniel Young, who missed the majority of last season due to injury. Heskett and his staff have also brought in a large freshman class, and many of those first-year wrestlers will be called upon to make immediate contributions in the starting lineup.

The Black Knights have made progress in terms of developing their skills, and Heskett anticipates that will continue throughout this season.

"We have long-term visions and goals, but we are primarily focused on all of the little details," said Heskett. "We're not overly worried about what can happen or what will happen. We've done a very good job of honing in on the day-to-day activities, and we're seeing positive progress towards our goals because of that.

"We're absolutely focused on putting people on the podium at the NCAAs, becoming a Top-15 program nationally and turning around this monstrosity of a record that we have against Navy. Those are some of the big goals that we will never overlook, but right now we're building a foundation and putting steps in place to get there."

A look at the Black Knights by weight class

125: Sophomore Hunter Wood, who posted a 3-5 mark in limited duty as a freshman last season, has been penciled in as the Black Knights' starter at 125 pounds this year.

"Hunter is a `gas tank guy'; he's a pit bull," said Heskett. "His style can be extremely difficult for an opponent to wrestle because he's always going to be on you. We're excited about that type of ferocity on the mat."

Junior Nathan Santhanam and freshman Peter Stanley will push Wood throughout the season. Santhanam, who forged a 3-4 record last season, carries a 5-10 career mark into his third year at West Point.

"All three guys are working very hard, and I expect a good battle throughout the season at 125 pounds," said Heskett.

133: Senior Jordan Thome, who led the Black Knights with a 28-13 record and 13 pins last season en route to a second consecutive appearance at the NCAA Championships, returns as Army's starter at 133 pounds.

Thome, who shows a career mark of 68-38, won individual titles at the Body Bar Invitational and New York State Championships last season. A runner-up finisher at both the Oklahoma-Gold Classic and All-Academy Championships, Thome went on to win a pair of bouts at the NCAAs and just missed out on finishing on the podium.

"Jordan is an invaluable asset to the Army wrestling program," said Heskett. "He had a solid second half to last season and a great postseason. There is a big itch that he has to get on the podium this season, knowing how close he was last year. There is definitely a different twinkle in his eye when he's training. He's shown more discipline this year than he ever has before, and I think that is positively affecting his teammates. We're extremely excited for Jordan's senior year in a lot of ways."

Junior Charlie Costanzo, who has authored an 8-11 record over his first two seasons, and freshman Justin Seim will back up Thome in the 133-pound weight class.

141: A fierce battle figures to ensue at 141 pounds with senior Connor Hanafee competing with juniors Ryan Bilyeu and Tyler Rauenzahn for the starting spot.

"The competition at 141 pounds is going to be very interesting," said Heskett. "All three guys have completely distinct styles of wrestling."

Hanafee was in the midst of a solid junior season before injuries forced him out of the lineup early in the second semester. He finished the year with a 12-12 overall record, but he is looking to cap his Army career with a strong senior campaign.

"I think Connor really has something to prove this season," said Heskett. "He is one of the more athletic guys on the team, and he is very dangerous. Right now, we have a three-man race as we move into preseason."

Bilyeu, who competed exclusively at 149 pounds last season, has moved down to 141 and will challenge Hanafee. Last year, Bilyeu placed second at the All-Academy Championships and finished the season at the EIWA Championships.

"Ryan has had an entire year to develop his offensive system, so it will be interesting to see how he competes," added Heskett.

Rauenzahn, who competed in the Bucknell and Navy dual matches, posted a 4-4 record in 2011-12.

"Tyler got some opportunities at the end of last season, and he's an incredibly hard worker with a great understanding of the sport," mentioned Heskett.

149: Senior Daniel Young, whose promising junior campaign was cut short by an injury, returns as Army's starter at 149 pounds. Young began the 2011-12 season by winning 11 of his first 13 matches, before being injured at the Cliff Keen Invitational in December.

Young, who posted 27 victories as a sophomore two seasons ago, will look to regain the form he has established over his first three seasons at the Academy.

"Daniel is probably the most talented wrestler that we have on our team," said Heskett. "He knows the sport very well, for a college athlete. His goal is nothing short of getting onto the podium at the NCAAs. He has improved tremendously each and every year, and he is going to be a fun guy to watch compete this season."

Junior John Belanger, who forged an 8-6 overall record last season, and freshman Javier Rodriguez will serve as the primary back-ups to Young at 149 pounds.

"The 149-pound weight class is probably our deepest, in terms of talent," added Heskett. "It's a tough weight class."

157: Army will have to replace Jimmy Rafferty at 157 pounds. Rafferty finished with a 24-16 record last season, and his leadership as team captain will be sorely missed.

"This is one of those weight classes where we have a lot of depth, in terms of numbers," said Heskett. "It will be interesting to see who steps up to take the spot."

Sophomore Chandler Smith, who went 4-4 last season in limited action, has emerged as the front-runner at this point. The highlight of Smith's rookie campaign came at the New York State Championships, where he placed runner-up after posting a 3-1 mark.

"Chandler is freakishly athletic," said Heskett. "He is very fast and very strong, and he's also learning more and more about the sport because he is so coachable. We're expecting a lot from Chandler this season."

Junior Paul Hancock, who was 2-3 last season, and freshman Brian Harvey will add quality depth to the 157-pound weight class for the Black Knights this year.

165: Senior Patrick Marchetti and freshman Ryan Marble have emerged as the front-runners to start at 165 pounds this season.

Marble, who spent a year at the Olympic Training Center, is extremely focused and committed, according to Heskett.

Marchetti, who owns a 21-24 career record, is looking to become a starter for the first time in his career this season. "Ryan is a hard-working wrestler who moves around the mat extremely well," said Heskett. "Patrick is an athletic wrestler who really understands the game. It will be interesting to watch it all play out."

174: Sophomore Cole Gracey, who burst onto the national scene last season by winning EIWA Freshman of the Year honors and advancing to the NCAA Championships as a plebe, returns as the unquestioned starter at 174 pounds.

Gracey, who won individual titles at the New York State and All-Academy Championships, placed third at the EIWA Championships en route to his selection into the NCAA field. Gracey finished the season among Army's leaders in wins (25), pins (seven) and bonus-point victories (11).

"There is a lot on Cole's shoulders this season after being named EIWA Freshman of the Year last season," said Heskett. "He's developed into a leader on this team because of his success on the mat. With that success comes responsibility. I'm excited for him because he's the type of guy that just works. He's a perfect example of a guy who focuses on the little details. Opponents are going to be targeting him this year, though, and it's time for him to respond, step up and get on the podium." Army has a great deal of depth at 174 pounds with junior Ryan Tompkins, senior Eric Gobin, senior Robert Doyle and freshman Austin Wilding rounding out the group.

"Ryan did a nice job filling in for us last year, and even beat a nationally ranked wrestler at the Southern Scuffle," said Heskett. "Eric competed for us at EIWAs last year and Robert is a seasoned veteran.

"I am really excited to see the development of Austin, though. He placed at the Pennsylvania state tournament last season as a senior, and he just keeps getting better. There are high expectations for Austin simply because of the combination of his growth curve and work ethic."

184: Senior Collin Wittmeyer will begin his final season at West Point penciled in as the starter at 184 pounds. He will be pushed by freshman Travis Mallo, who has impressed the coaching staff since arriving on campus.

Wittmeyer is another Army wrestler who is coming back from an injury-riddled 2011-12 season. He missed a good chunk of time during the middle of the season and finished with an 8-6 overall record last year.

"Collin has a ton of experience, and he knows how to win," said Heskett. "Then, you have a guy in Travis Mallo who is just a solid positional wrestler with a lot of power. He's very difficult to take down and stop when he gets his stuff going. Both of these wrestlers bring a really neat dynamic to our upper weights."

Freshman Willie Gray will add further depth to the 184-pound weight class.

197: Freshman Bryce Barnes, who spent last season at the United States Military Academy Prep School last year, has emerged as the man to beat at 197 pounds.

"Bryce has stepped up from a leadership standpoint," said Heskett. "His effort on the wrestling mat has been tremendous so far. When Bryce goes out and executes during competition, we're going to see a very exciting 197-pounder. He is somebody that we're going to be able to get behind for the next three or four years."

Barnes figures to get the starting nod right off the bat, since he is the only wrestler on the roster listed at 197 pounds.

285: Sophomore Stephen Snyder and junior Curtis Garner will compete for the starting position at 285 pounds. Both wrestlers saw time in the lineup last season.

"Stephen had to deal with a lot of adversity last year as a freshman, but he has come back with a positive outlook as a sophomore this season," said Heskett. "He has been working extremely hard, and he's set some very lofty goals for himself. We are very excited to see him compete.

"Curtis brings a lot to the table as well," added Heskett. "He's very athletic, he's big and he's very difficult for guys to wrestle. That will be a nice duo for us this year."

Freshman Joe Gaynor will add depth to Army's group of heavyweights.

Army will face a difficult schedule that features dual matches against Binghamton, Purdue, Rutgers, Navy and American. The Black Knights will also travel to several tournaments, including the Oklahoma-Gold Classic, the Cliff Keen Invitational and the Southern Scuffle. The rigorous slate will prepare the Black Knights for their postseason competitions -- the EIWA and NCAA Championships.

"It's definitely a tough schedule, but it's a balanced schedule between tournaments and dual matches," said Heskett. "We have shown a great track record over the past two years of performing well in the postseason, both at the EIWA Tournament and the NCAA Championships. I think this schedule sets up well to have us peaking at the right time."

Army opens the season on Sunday, Nov. 4, when the Black Knights travel to Buffalo, N.Y., to take part in the Buffalo Invitational. Army continues its November trip through the state of New York by traveling to Brockport for the Oklahoma-Gold Classic (Nov. 10), trekking to Ithaca for the New York State Championships (Nov. 17) and traveling to Troy for the Northeast Duals (Nov. 24).

The Black Knights open December by flying to Las Vegas, Nev., to compete at the prestigious Cliff Keen Invitational. Army then returns to West Point to host Drexel in its home debut on Dec. 6.

Following a three-week break for final exams, Army returns to tournament competition on Jan. 1, when the Black Knights travel south to take part in the Southern Scuffle.

Army remains on the road over the weekend of Jan. 11-12, when the Black Knights sojourn to Hampton, Va., to compete at the Virginia Duals.

Dual matches at Bucknell (Jan. 19) and Rider (Jan. 23) immediately precede home duals versus Brown and Harvard (Jan. 28).

Army will be home for the entire month of February. The Black Knights begin the year's second month by hosting the All-Academy Championships on Feb 2. Army then welcomes American and Boston University to West Point for dual matches on Feb. 10. The Black Knights close out their regular season on Feb. 24, when they host Navy in the annual "Star" match.

The entire schedule is set up to have Army peaking in time for the EIWA Championships (March 8-9). The NCAA Championships will follow two weeks later (March 21-23) in Des Moines, Iowa.

Army will be looking to send even more wrestlers to the national tournament than it did last season, when the Black Knights sent three to St. Louis, Mo., for the NCAAs.

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