In Chandler Gym last February, Conan Leary ’02 (184 lb.), Charles Danhof ’03 (133 lb.) and Dan Jacobs ’03 (125 lb.) wrestled their way to all-New England honors. Many contributed, including graduated seniors, to a bittersweet fifth place finish in New England for last year’s team.
With only three returning place winners, it may seem that this year’s wrestling team, led by co-captains Leary and Danhof, have a tough season ahead of them.
Even so, the team has high expectations, and is working hard towards upsetting some teams.
Interim coach Scott Legacy (who coached the team while head coach Mike Whalen was fulfilling duties on the football team), head coach of the storied Mount Anthony wrestling team, commented that the team practices at a tempo unrivaled by Williams wrestling teams of recent years, and that he sees much talent.
That hard-work and talent will be cultivated by Whalen, and assistant coaches Matt Gunther and Raphael Vega. Vega, a former Mount Anthony standout and Division I national qualifier, comes new this year and contributes greatly to setting a high standard for the practice intensity and technique level.
“The addition of Coach Vega has really added to the passion and drive that the team has been exhibiting,” Jacobs commented. “We’ll see improved results because of him come February.”
Last year, the team was plagued by injury, most noticeably by the loss for part of the season of Leary and Justin Sullivan ’04.
Leary, former New England Champion at 184 pounds, had a disappointing fourth place finish in New England after being ranked nationally earlier that year. With a healthy season, Leary should come back and make a large impact on New England wrestling, if not the national scene.
Sullivan, who suffered all season from a knee injury from football, was only able to compete part of the time.
A former standout at Blair Academy, Sullivan could come back and dominate the heavyweight class.
Along with other returning lettermen, the crop of freshmen seems quite promising. Tom Praire ’05, another Blair Academy standout, has the chance to have a great year at 125 lb. Greg Matisoff ’05, a place winner in prep nationals from the Landon School, should have a successful season at 157 lb.
All seven first-years have demonstrated a great work ethic so far. Coach Gunther praised them, “[they] are the first group of freshmen I’ve seen who have gone through these first couple practices without constantly icing to take time off.”
Since a large percentage of the team plays football, the team starts practicing and competing later than other teams in the area.
The team’s first competition, the Doug Parker Tournament in Springfield, Mass., will have many teams who have already had some mat time before the Nov. 17 tournament date.
Even though the team historically has treated the tournament as a sort of scrimmage due to its early date, Prairie said, “I don’t wrestle tournaments like that ? I go out to win.”
That seems to be the attitude of the whole team, which is especially excited for the first home meet, against NESCAC rival Trinity University (first in New England last year), New York University, Roger Williams University, and Western New England College on December 1 in Lasell Gym.
With four regular season home meets this year, the Williams community has the opportunity to see the team’s intensity in action.