The 2011-12 Cardinal wrestling season got off to an exciting start last Friday with its annual Cardinal vs. White wrestle-offs at Burnham Pavilion. In the first official event of the season, the top two Stanford wrestlers in each weight class went head-to-head to compete for a spot in the starting lineup.
Freshman Alex Manley and sophomore Donovan Halpin were the most thrilling pair of the night, facing off for the starting spot at 141 pounds. Both Manley and Halpin wrestled very well on top throughout the match, and heading into the final thirty seconds, the score was even at two. Manley fought hard from the top position, but in the final 10 seconds Halpin broke away for the escape and won by one point.
The other winning wrestlers were freshman Evan Silver at the 125-pound weight class, junior Ryan Mango at 133, redshirt junior Timmy Boone at 149, both sophomore Garrett Schaner and redshirt freshman Matt Schneider at 157, redshirt senior Nick Amuchastegui at 174, sophomore Alan Yen at 197 and sophomore Dan Scherer at heavyweight.
After the wrestle-offs head coach Jason Borrelli was very optimistic about his young squad.
“I was pretty encouraged by our young guys,” said Borrelli, now entering his fourth season as the Cardinal’s head coach. “They wrestled hard, stayed competitive. They were fighting for position, scrapping. It looks good for the future.”
The Cardinal enters the year ranked No. 14 in the country and is coming off an incredibly successful 2010-11 season in which the squad finished a program-best 11th at the NCAA Tournament. The team also returns two All-Americans–Amuchastegui and Mango.
Last season, Amuchastegui placed second at the NCAA Championships, and he enters this year ranked No. 1 in the 174-pound weight class. Mango finished sixth at the NCAAs last year and is ranked No. 7 in the nation in the 133-pound weight class.
“This year, first of all, I’m trying to stay healthy,” Mango said after a dominating performance in his match on Friday. “There’s always things we need to work on. There’s a lot of stuff we need to go into the room on Monday and evaluate going into our first dual at Northwestern next weekend.”
Friday’s wrestle-offs showed a team that appears ready to make some noise throughout the country. With multiple top-ten wrestlers, the Cardinal is setting high expectations for its performance this season.
“We want to do the best nationally we’ve ever done,” Borrelli explained. “We’d like to focus on having an NCAA champion. That would be very big for the program.”
These are no easy tasks. Stanford’s best national performance would mean a top-ten finish at the NCAA Tournament and multiple All-American wrestlers once again. An NCAA champion is also within the realm of possibility; the team has two top-ten wrestlers and a plethora of talented younger wrestlers–the incoming class is ranked No. 24 in the country–to complement its older veterans.
The team is extremely deep; almost every match in the wrestle-offs nearly went into the third period. One match in particular–the 174-pound matchup between Amuchastegui and redshirt junior Spence Patrick–showed the true character of the Cardinal wrestlers. Although Amuchastegui won 10-2, Patrick fought extremely hard, showing determination and pride.
“We feel that Spence Patrick is as good as anyone in the country. He just happens to be behind Nick,” Borrelli explained. “And for Nick to come out, get focused and get past the fact that he’s wrestling a teammate and score a lot of points is good to see. I was very pleased.”
One clear thing about the Cardinal wrestlers going into the season is that they do the little things right. Whether it’s proper hand control on top, being aware of riding time (the wrestler’s net time in the top position) or fighting for an extra inch of position, this team handles the fine points that often go overlooked but can ultimately decide a match.
Stanford is already making preparations for its upcoming match against Northwestern. The Wildcats have a nationally ranked team and will likely prove to be a tough early test for the Cardinal.
“The last month and a half has been about getting ready for our first true test,” Borelli said. “We’ve been watching film on them, and we should be ready to go.”
On Friday, Stanford will travel to Chicago to face Northwestern in its first dual meet of the season.