Despite recent turmoil, wrestling team soldiers on

Contributing Writer
Sunday, November 13, 2011

The wrestling season officially kicked off Sunday at the Bearcat Open in Binghamton, N.Y. For many team members, the season’s start itself is welcome news.

In the wake of the Athletics Review Committee’s recommendation in April that the University cut the team, players and coaches alike went through a difficult spring, as they rallied to pressure President Ruth Simmons to spare the program from elimination. Now, after securing a victory last month with the Corporation’s acceptance of Simmons’ recommendation to keep all teams facing potential cuts, the team is hoping its recent good fortune will translate into better performance on the mat.

“Last year was very disappointing,” said Head Coach David Amato, who has led the team since 1983 and holds the record for the most wins of any coach in Brown wrestling history.

Last season, the Bears finished 2-11 overall and 1-4 in Ivy League play to tie Harvard and Princeton for fourth place. It was the first time the team had not fielded a qualifier for the NCAA National Championship since 1986. But Amato said the wrestlers learned from last season and are now in a better position to pull the team into the top half of the Ivy League. “This year, we’re all a little wiser and a little bit older,” he said.

The team has a big year ahead and is faced with constantly improving Ivy competitors, said T.J. Popolizio ’12, who is also a member of the men’s soccer team. The Bearcat Open was a chance for first-year wrestlers to show what they have to offer, as well as for the five seniors to demonstrate their leadership. “If we bring a constant effort, the results take care of themselves,” he said.

Though uncertainty over the future of the team was a source of stress for players and coaches alike during the last few months, Amato said the seniors “rallied like crazy” to preserve a sense of unity. “Those were the guys who kept everyone else around,” he said, and the players were approaching this season with “renewed vigor.”

The team was able to rally against the threat of elimination through the Save Brown Wrestling campaign. “When your sport is on the chopping block, you could see that it re-energized us,” Popolizio said. “It was a calling.”

While the wrestling team takes stock of its success in avoiding the budgetary ax, the wrestlers have also been supportive of the skiing and fencing teams, which were also slated for elimination, said Vinny Moita ’14. “There was definitely a rally-around-the-flag effect,” Moita said. “It made us value who we are.”

With the team’s fate hanging in the balance until recently, recruiting efforts this fall took a hit. Even so, all but one of the recruits offered a spot on the team for the class of 2015 decided to matriculate at Brown, while no upperclassmen transferred.

Zachary Tanenbaum ’15 said he decided to accept his recruitment offer based on the friendliness of the student body, his interactions with the coaches and the overall quality of a Brown education. “In the end, I decided that I’d stay at Brown even if wrestling had been eliminated,” Tanenbaum said. “All the freshmen are really close, and there’s a huge sense of family on the team.”

Assistant Coach Tyler Grayson, another new member of the team who received his job offer at the end of July, said his conversations with Amato and his observations of Brown’s wrestling program convinced him to come on board despite the team’s uncertain survival. The sense of community and the opportunity to coach at a Division I school outweighed the risk of joining a program at risk of elimination, he said.

“It’s a great place for me to be,” Grayson said. “I thought I needed the experience.” He said he hopes the team will send at least five players to the national tournament and that he has high expectations for the wrestlers in their first year. “We have a really young team. I expect at least three freshmen to be in the starting lineup,” he said.

Amato also has an optimistic view, saying he feels the team is headed in the right direction this year. “Things go in cycles in athletics, and I really feel like we’re on an upper trend,” he said.


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