By Logan VanDine
If graduate student Ethan Laird wanted to leave a lasting legacy for Rider wrestling, he sure did at the NCAA Tournament from March 16-18 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, placing sixth overall and earning the title of All-American, an honor reserved for the top-eight finishers in each weight class.
“Overall, we wrestled well, especially Ethan. He was mentally and physically ready for this tournament and made it count. McKenzie [Bell] and Quinn [Kinner] had their opportunities; they just came up short,” Head Coach John Hangey said.
The first day of the tournament saw Laird advancing to the quarterfinals thanks to winning a pair of matches by a score of 10-5 against Trey Rogers of Hofstra, and defeating Yonger Bastida of Iowa State by a 3-1 score. Unfortunately, junior Quinn Kinner and redshirt senior McKenzie Bell did not perform as well as they had hoped, coming up short in both of their matches.
Laird expressed how pleased he was with his performance on the first day of the tournament with him taking both of his matches.
“It was nice to win those first two and get in the quarterfinals, and put myself in a position to make the semis,” Laird said.
Day two of the NCAA Tournament saw a bit of Rider history as Laird wrapped it up by advancing to the semifinals, after winning his bout against Zac Braunagel of Illinois with a score of 3-2.
On top of the huge win, Laird was also crowned an All-American.
“It’s a huge honor to join the group of Rider wrestling All-Americans. It’s something I’ve worked hard for a long time. I definitely think I [should] have placed higher. I had a couple of winnable matches in the consolation bracket, and unfortunately, I couldn’t get the job done,” Laird said.
Laird is the eighth Rider Bronc in the last nine seasons to be named an All-American and picked up his 100th career win during the tournament.
Despite Laird falling in the semifinals against top-seeded Nino Bonaccorsi of Pittsburgh, Hangey could not have been prouder of his effort and entire wrestling career at Rider.
“I am extremely proud of and happy for Ethan. He is the face and leader of our program and deserves this All-American honor. He poured his heart and soul into the sport and worked to become one of the best 197-pounders in the entire country,” Hangey said.
With his career at Rider officially over, Laird reflected on his time with the program and how grateful he was for his time at the university.
“Overall I’m just grateful for my time as a Rider wrestler,” Laird said. “I’ve made a lot of relationships that I’ll have for the rest of my life. I’ve grown a lot during my time at Rider and I’m happy I was able to finish my career as an All-American.”
With Rider’s campaign all but over, Hangey looked back on his team’s 9-5 campaign and the most notable and memorable victories.
“We beat Purdue, and Princeton, and won the MAC East dual meet Championship. We did fall short of our goal to win the MAC Championship which will keep us motivated moving forward,” Hangey said. “We qualified three athletes for the NCAA tournament and came home with our program’s 19th All-American. I’d say the season was a success.”