By Logan VanDine and Trey Wright
IN three consecutive home matches, Rider wrestling finished off the season emphatically with the Mid-American Conference [MAC] Championships just weeks away. The Broncs were able to win their final contests of the regular season, taking down George Mason, Cleveland State and Drexel to bring their winning streak to five.
In another strong performance, the Broncs extended their win streak to three, taking down the George Mason Patriots 27-9 in the first of three weekend matches.
“They picked up right where they left off with the Edinboro and Clarion weekend and were emphasizing that, it’s going out and putting a lot of energy forth and giving a lot of pressure to the other team,” said Head Coach John Hangey.
The match started off strong for the Broncs, as junior Tyler Klinsky once again won the first bout for the Broncs by a slim margin of 3-0.
After back-to-back wins in their respective bouts by redshirt senior Richie Koehler and junior McKenzie Bell, it was redshirt junior Quinn Kinner winning his bout by fall in dominating fashion, taking down his opponent early, putting the Broncs up 17-0 and in a good position to take control of the match.
“It feels great to get a pin, a lot of points for the team and that’s the goal right, you go out there with a pin in mind that’s what you’re looking for and anytime you’re wrestling hard,” Kinner said.
Senior Day sweep
Capping off the regular season with a tri-meet at Alumni Gym, the Broncs stayed hot with victories over MAC rival Cleveland State University and Drexel University, beating the Vikings 25-9 and slaying the Dragons 26-12.
The day was highlighted by match-clinching wins by No.6 senior Ethan Laird, and two pins from sophomore heavyweight David Szuba.
The tilt against Cleveland State began with four straight wins for the Broncs, including a 13-0 major decision for freshman McKenzie Bell at 141, who has outscored opponents 49-0 in his last five bouts, yet to surrender a point since Jan. 28 against Bucknell.
“McKenzie’s a competitor, and he’s really gritty,” said Hangey. “I liken him to putting a piece of tape on your finger and trying to shake it off: It doesn’t go very far.”
Cleveland State responded with back-to-back decisions of their own, and brought the score to 16-9 late in the match.
However Laird stopped the Viking invasion with a 3-1 decision at 197, and Szuba sealed the win at heavyweight with his first pin of the day 62 seconds into his bout, leading the Broncs to a 26-9 victory.
After a two-hour intermission in which Drexel bested Cleveland State, the Senior Day festivities preceded the final match at Alumni Gym this season, with eight seniors being honored by the program.
Just as they had in the previous match, the Broncs roared out of the gate with a 16-6 major decision from Tyler Klinsky at 125, giving Rider a 6-0 lead before another four win procession propelled the Broncs to a massive 17-0 advantage.
The early lead was crucial in Rider’s path to victory, as the Dragons reciprocated four straight wins, including a down-to-the-wire bout at 184 between Issac Dean and Drexel’s Brian Bonino, in which Dean held the 26th-ranked wrestler in the nation to a 1-1 tie, the decision going to the Dragon via riding time.
But just as they had in the Cleveland State match, Laird and Szuba came in to finish things off, both securing their third wins of the weekend, Laird an 8-2 decision at 197, and Szuba getting his second pin to wrap up Rider’s regular season, a 27-12 triumph over Drexel.
“I couldn’t be more proud of that kid,” said Hangey of Laird, who has been with the Rider program as long as Hangey has coached. “Now it’s my job to get him to be a national champion.”
Laird, who has a 21-1 individual record this season said, “It’s been pretty cool to grow with Coach Hangey and have him there as a mentor that’s there for me.”
The Drexel victory was also Hangey’s 50th win as Rider’s head coach.
Finishing the regular season with a 9-5 record, the Broncs enter playoff competition on March 18 for the 2023 MAC Championships, located in Fairfax, Virginia.