The Washington and Lee wrestling team is building for the future but the Generals are also mindful of using the phrase “carpe diem” when approaching the 2009-10 season.
Head Coach Gary Franke, heading into his 37th season as the Generals’ mentor, and third-year assistant coach Mike Bennett, know that their squad is not ready to contend for a conference title. But, as they continue to recruit young talent to the school, they are aware that the existing talent is good enough to challenge for conference titles in certain weight classes.
“Seven or eight of our 10 starters are either first-years or sophomores,” noted Franke. “We are young and we have a ways to go, but I feel like we are moving in the right direction. We return our top three wrestlers from a year ago and we are expecting them to be contenders in the conference.”
Among the top returnees is sophomore 125-pounder Ben Ersing. Already a captain and team leader, Ersing posted a team-best 18-9 overall record and a 5-2 conference record last season. He recorded six pins and finished third overall in his weight class at the Centennial Conference Championships a year ago.
“Ben has shown some pretty good leadership and we expect him to stay on top of the guys all season long,” said Bennett. “He’s kind of a brawler – hit him in the face and he’s going to smile back at you before making his move.”
The top option at 133 pounds will likely be Alex Wachi, a first-year from Honolulu, Hawaii. Wachi posted a 140-15 career record in high school en route to earning All-America honors.
“Alex is athletic and pretty good on his feet and we are hoping he’ll have a season like (Sam) Campbell had last season,” stated Franke. “He has the ability to succeed and we expect him to have an above average season.”
Also a sophomore team captain, Campbell competed at 133 last season and is expected to move up a class to 141 this winter. Last year, he notched a 17-10 overall record and a 4-3 Centennial Conference mark. He also posted a team-best 52 takedowns and 22 escapes.
“Sam is a takedown machine and he is on pace to break the career takedowns record,” said Bennett. “He is aggressive and likes to score points. He is also a tremendous student, ranking in the Top 10 in his class at W&L. We expect Sam to compete for a conference title if he stays healthy.”
First-year Brian Ross will also figure in the mix at 141 and could possibly move up to 149 pounds as well. He comes to W&L from Christian Brothers Academy in New Jersey, one of the top wrestling programs in the state. Injuries forced him to miss much of his senior season, but Franke and Bennett expect him to compete right away.
“Brian is motivated and in good shape,” said Franke. “He received an ROTC Scholarship and we think he is pretty talented. He could contend for a starting position.”
At 149 pounds, Ross will compete with senior captain Sammy Brusca and junior J.P. Welch. Brusca notched a 4-10 overall record last season, while Welch went 2-13 overall.
“Sammy is a dedicated student-athlete who will be attending medical school after W&L,” said Franke. “He is a leader and a good role model for our team.”
Welch will join the team in January after the semester break. Franke added that Welch “had a tremendous off-season in terms of weightlifting and getting into shape and we are impressed with his focus.”
Sophomore David Dennis will compete at 157 pounds after spending much of the season at that weight last year. He completed the year with a 16-9 overall record and a 5-2 conference record, while racking up a team-high eight pins. His 31 escapes also led the team.
“David was three pins from the school season record last year and he finished fourth in the conference championship,” said Bennett. “We think that he can contend for the conference title this year. His top work is really good and he scores us a lot of points in dual meets. He doesn’t just want to beat you though, he wants to put you on your back and stick you.”
Junior Marshall Olszewski will also compete for time at 157 pounds after posting a 3-2 record last year. His best work came off the wrestling mats, having finished third at the World Kung Fu Championships last spring.
“Marshall had a tremendous off-season and he has worked hard at staying in shape,” said Franke. “He can drop to 149 pounds or even move up to 165 so he’s kind of like our utility infielder in that respect.”
Junior Keith Jaworski and sophomore Ben Oddo will both vie for time at 165, with Jaworski appearing to be the early favorite. Last season, he went 3-14 overall, while Oddo was 0-8.
“Keith is good on his feet and he has a ton of heart,” said Bennett. “Ben is strong and athletic and he could maybe bump up to 174 if we need him to.”
At 174 pounds, senior Jon Brown appears to be the favorite after he rejoins the team following football season. He starts at outside linebacker for the Generals and will need some time to drop to 174 before hitting the mats. Last year, Brown went 6-10 overall and 1-4 in conference matches.
“Jon had a promising start to the year before suffering an injury,” said Franke. “He has the skills and the tools to have a successful season. He’s good on his feet and scores a lot of takedowns.”
Senior Eric Veres will also compete for time at 174 pounds after logging a 2-12 record a year ago.
“Eric will join us after the semester break and will be in just his third year of wrestling,” noted Bennett. “We stuck him out there last year and he did a nice job of competing. He has heart and will do anything we ask of him.”
First-year James Williams and senior Russ Weems will compete for time at 184 pounds. Williams was a three-time state champion in South Carolina, while Weems went 2-8 for the Generals in 2008-09.
“James is lean and strong and we feel that he is a nice fit for our program,” said Franke. “We expect him to start right away and have a nice season.” As for Weems, Bennett noted that he will “step up when called upon and give everything he can for the team.”
Williams could move up to 197 where he would compete for time with senior Richard Knack. Knack went 4-14 at 184 last season.
“Richard is a hard worker and not bad on his feet,” said Bennett. “He had some early success before suffering an elbow injury and he is looking to rebound this year.”
Options are limited at 285 pounds where senior Zak Colangelo could be the answer. He posted a 2-13 mark at 197 last year.
“Zak could be there or it could be Knack, the position it is completely up in the air at this point,” said Bennett. “We need a little more time to determine who we will have wrestle at 285.”
Though the Generals may struggle at a few weight classes in the dual meets this winter, Franke and Bennett are confident that they are headed in the right direction, particularly in the lower weight classes where some of the youngsters may be ready to compete for the conference title.
“There’s no reason to think that we can’t improve on our conference finish from last year,” remarked Franke. “Someone from the upper classes needs to step up because the youth movement is what is driving the team. Our leadership and how those young guys develop is going to be an important factor for us.”
Even more reason for the Washington and Lee wrestling program to “seize the day.”