On April 11, 2002, American University announced plans to
reinvigorate its wrestling program with the goals on increasing
support, finding a nationally prominent head coach and seeking an
affiliation with a competitive athletics league.
In just three short months, AU has followed through with its goals, discovering a strong backing for the program, hiring Mark Cody from highly ranked Oklahoma State University and gaining acceptance into the nation's oldest wrestling conference, the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association. True to form, the American was fortunate to retain third-year assistant coach Shawn Enright, a two-time All-American at the University of Ohio.
Fueled by a new leader, new talent and a new conference, the American wrestling program looks to make a resurgence back to its days of prominence in the 2002-03 season.
"We are excited about the opportunity to compete in the EIWA and
build a new tradition," said Cody.
Despite losing the most decorated grappler in American history in three-time NCAA Tournament qualifier Marc Hoffer, the Eagles return with a solid nucleus and a positive outlook. Emerging as a presence last season was junior Aaron Baker (Amarillo, Tex./Tascosa), who solidified second at the Eastern Regional Qualifier at 174 lbs. This year he will compete in the 157 and 165 weight classes.
"His speed and strength are his best assets," said Cody. "More importantly, his leadership will be counted on for this young squad."
Junior heavyweight Jared Hyman (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) returns after a strong sophomore campaign in which he spurred a five-match winning streak complete with three pins and finished fourth at the Eastern Regional Qualifier.
"He is very agile for a guy his size and that's a big advantage for him," said Cody.
Another strong returnee will be Aviv Bercovicz (Wayside, N.J./Ocean Township), who wrestles at both 157 and 165-lb. division and finished with a 7-14 dual meet record and was 9-18 overall. A very intense athlete, he grabbed third at the Eastern Regional Qualifier with a 9-4 victory in the consolation round.
"Aviv is strong and he has all the tools and should have a breakthrough year," said Cody."
Junior Matt Pelligrino (Manalapan, N.J./Freehold) returns for his third year on the mat for AU. Dropping from 133 to 125, the New Jersey native should benefit from the weight class change and see marked improvement.
"The new weight class is better suited for him," said Cody. "Our schedule will be of great advantage to him and he should see a tremendous advantage."
Kyle Mason (Mechanicsburg, Pa./Mechanicsburg) is another strong returnee for American. In 2001-02, Mason competed at the 184 lb. weight class, finishing fourth at the Eastern Regional Qualifier. Cody is impressed with Mason's technique and increased strength.
American maintains veterans sophomorese Adam Montgomery (Belmont, Calif./Junipero Serra) and Eric Fantegrossi (Needham, Mass./Needham), who will also benefit from a change in weight class. Montgomery will compete at 174 lbs. while Fantegrossi takes on new opponents at 149.
The Eagles are not without new talent, as three wrestlers have been added to the program; freshman Tom Kniezewski (Boyertown, Pa./Boyertown), Daniel Lobsenz (Fairfield, Conn./Choate) and Eric Levine (Newton, Mass./Newton South).
Kniezewski was a regional champion based out of Boyertown, Pa. where he was seventh in the state championships and fifth at the prestigious Beast of the East Tournament.
According to Enright, Kniezewksi has been much improved since the start of the season.
"Tom is hard-nosed and brings that gritty-style from Pennsylvania," said Enright.
Lobsenz has worked hard in all facets of the sport and should compete at the 133 weight division. Levine has had great success as a wrestler and has added strength to his repetoire.
The Eagles open their season at the Bearcat Open in Binghamton, N.Y. and will also compete in the Cornell Invitational to close out the month of November. On December 1, American will host its first meet when Sacred Heart comes to town. Before winter break, the Eagles will travel to the Reno Tournament in Reno, Nev. where some of the top U.S. competition will be.
On Jan. 6, AU will face Duquesne and Eastern Illinois at the Triangular Meet before heading to Buffalo. The first month of 2003 also features two of the season's four home meets with James Madison and Longwood Hall in Bender Arena. Following a fourth and final home meet, this time with Maryland, the Eagles will take on Northern Iowa on Feb. 15 and the Cavaliers of Virginia on Feb. 22.
This year, Cornell hosts the EIWA National Qualifiers on Mar. 5-6. Slated to host the 2003 NCAA Nationals is Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo.
"I think the schedule we put together gets tougher through the season but it tapers off so we can prepare for nationals," said Cody. "Our team should step up to the challenge of the schedule."