Nov. 6, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. - The Michigan State wrestling team opens the 2013-14 season this Saturday, Nov. 9 when it hosts the annual MSU Open at Jenison Field House. The Spartans, who return 18 letterwinners including 17 with starting experience, are looking forward to a promising season as the team features a blend of talented underclassmen and veteran leadership.
"I don't know what it is exactly about this team - they have a tremendous work ethic, but maybe more important than that is that this team seems to be closer to each other than a lot of teams that I've had in the past," said Tom Minkel, who is entering his 23rd season as head coach of the Spartans. "They get along, they kind of pull for each other, they work well together. It's just a very, very close team and they're a marvelous group to coach. I'm really enjoying this group.
"We had a very strong offseason and this team is very coachable, and I think we have a lot of talent, which certainly helps. At the same time, we've got youth, particularly in the lower weights, and we've got a lot of veteran guys more in the upper weights. We've got good depth and a great work ethic. A year ago we had our best academic year ever, so they're disciplined and they're hard working. I think the future is very bright for this group of kids."
Action at the MSU Open will get underway at 9 a.m. on Saturday at Jenison Field House, with the finals and medal matches slated to begin at approximately 6 p.m. There will be two divisions (freshman/sophomore and open) competing on 10 to 12 mats. Admission is $15 for adults and $5 for high school-and-under; children 8-and-under are free.
Minkel, just like the entire team, is ready for the season to begin this weekend.
"You practice, you work, you drill, you train, and then you hope you've gotten through and you hope you've made some improvements, but you never really know until you're competing, you're under pressure, and you're wrestling in real competition," said Minkel. "So this [tournament] gives us a chance to now see what sank in and what went over their heads. It's fun to see the progress and at the same time you have to recognize that we'll have some work to do afterwards, but this will certainly give us some direction and some priorities. It's always fun to see the guys step up and face some really tough competition and at the same time it's also good to see what else we need to work on."
Here's a breakdown of all 10 weight classes for the Spartans heading into the 2013-14 campaign.
Lyon has started in 32 career duals and posted a 4-14 dual record as a junior. Minkel expects to see improvement from Lyon in his final season wearing the Green and White.
"Brenan has really stuck it out and he's just gotten progressively better year after year," remarked Minkel. "He's got a lot of experience now and I think that that will translate into a really successful season for him."
Esquivel won the wrestle-offs at 125 pounds, defeating true freshman Mitch Rogaliner, 5-3. Esquivel, who could also see time at 133 pounds, compiled an 18-9 record during his redshirt season and won the freshman/sophomore division at the Eastern Michigan Open. He also took third in the freshman/sophomore division at the MSU Open and placed third at 133 pounds in Greyhound Open.
"Hermilio is right around 125/133, and whether he can stay down there I'm not sure yet, but he is certainly a competitive young man who will be a player there for us too," said Minkel. "We also have Mitch Rogaliner who came in from Temperance-Bedford High School and he has demonstrated right away that he is a quality freshman. We are going to redshirt him this year, but we've got some pretty good depth at 125. We've got some experience and we've got some young guys challenging, so we should be pretty solid there."
The 133-pound weight class features a trio of young, talented wrestlers. Although true freshman Javier Gasca won the wrestle-offs over third-year sophomore Terry Turner, 11-5, Minkel said he would like to redshirt Gasca if possible during the 2013-14 season. Gasca won the 132-pound senior division at the National High School Coaches Association Tournament last April.
Turner emerged as a starter his true freshman season in 2011-12 and started in four duals. He placed third at the EMU Open last fall before he suffered an injury and missed the remainder of the season. Red-shirt freshman Garth Yenter, who went 18-9 his redshirt season and took second in the freshman/sophomore division of the EMU Open, could also see time at 133.
"Javier Gasca won the Green and White meet but we're planning on redshirting him, but he is a big-time kid," said Minkel. "Terry [Turner] is 100 percent healthy and in his third year. He has made some progress, and so has Garth. So we've got some really good depth at 133 and they're all young, so they will be battling it out. That almost always translates to a good starter when you have competition - you have to work hard to get the spot."
After missing the entire 2012-13 season with an injury, third-year sophomore Brian Gibbs will enter the season as the starter at 141 pounds. As a true freshman in 2011-12, Gibbs started in 12 duals, including a pin over Jarod Boone of Ohio State. Gibbs defeated Kaelan Richards, 8-3, in the wrestle-offs to solidify his starting position.
"Brian looked good in winning the wrestle-offs," said Minkel. "He had a bad injury last year, but he has recovered, he has worked hard, and he'll be our starter at 141."
Junior Brandon Fifield could also see action at 141 pounds after starting at 133 pounds his first two seasons, but he still has a redshirt year available.
The 149-pound weight class is wide open for Michigan State. Talented true freshman Christian Pagdilao, who won first place at Flo Nationals at 145 pounds, will likely take a redshirt year. Pagdilao won the wrestle-offs at 149 pounds over fellow true freshman Josh Pennell, 8-2.
Sophomore Nick Trimble, a starter at 141 last season, will move up to 149 and contend for the starting role, along with Joe Johnson. Red-shirt freshman Matt Pasqualini, who posted a 15-11 record during his redshirt year, could also see time at 149 pounds.
"We have great depth at 149," commented Minkel. "Christian Pagdilao is a really tough kid, but I'm going to redshirt him and let him have his chances. We've got Nick Trimble who wrestled last year, but he might redshirt. Josh Pennell is a true freshman who had a great wrestle-off, and Joe Johnson and Matt Pasqualini are both going to compete for starting time."
Junior Ryan Watts, an NCAA qualifier last season, returns to the starting lineup at 157 pounds. Watts had a breakthrough season as a sophomore, collecting a 21-14 overall record, including an 8-5 mark in dual meets. He took seventh place at the Big Ten Championships to make his first appearance at the NCAA Championships. In the wrestle-offs, Watts defeated Pasqualini by major decision, 12-3.
"Ryan Watts is a national-class 157-pounder who came out of nowhere," said Minkel. "This kid is unbelievable - nobody saw this coming. He's probably in the wrestling room right now - he's in there all the time. First of all, he's very athletic, but more importantly than that he's got a great work ethic and going along with that he's really a smart kid. He's not only a smart student, but he's a really smart college wrestler. He doesn't make many mistakes."
Heralded sophomore Roger Wildmo, a three-time state champion, will also compete for time in the starting lineup. Wildmo led the Spartans in wins during his redshirt season with 28, then went 26-5 as a freshman in 2012-13 with 13 falls at 149 pounds, including a 3-0 mark in duals, before injuring his foot.
"Roger was one of the most successful high school wrestlers in the country," Minkel said. "If you stand next to him he's got a huge frame; he's a good-sized 157-pounder. He's a great wrestler."
Junior Troy Lamson won the wrestle-offs at 165 pounds and is slated to be the starter entering the season. Lamson will also face competition from Travis Curley, who he beat in the wrestle-offs, 4-1, along with senior Robert Nash.
Lamson owns a 22-13 career record and started against Lindsey Wilson last season. Minkel has been impressed with the improvement Lamson has made in the offseason.
"Troy Lamson has made some enormous progress," Minkel remarked. "He might be one of the most improved wrestlers on our team. He's a very strong kid, very motivated, and he loves to compete. We've worked a lot on making him more fundamental.
"Travis Curley is a highly motivated young kid. As a red-shirt freshman he will certainly be in the mix. Bobby Nash will be down here too and I expect him to compete as well."
The 174-pound weight class is also wide open for the Spartans, as Kevin Nash, Nick Kaczanowski and Nick Proctor are all competing for the starting position. Last year's starter, Jordan Wohlfert, will likely redshirt this season after competing last year as a true freshman.
Kaczanowski and Proctor have starting experience, but Nash won the wrestle-offs over Kaczanowski, 4-1. Nash went 10-7 as a sophomore last season and placed third at the Purple Raider Open.
Proctor went 13-18 in 2012-13 and started 13 duals at 165 pounds.
"Kevin Nash was the surprise of the wrestle-off," said Minkel. "He has never wrestled a varsity match for us. He's one of my best students. Every time you show him something, he thanks you profusely. He's just the nicest kid. He's smart, he's got a great work ethic, really motivated, and he's in one of the weight classes where I've got the most depth.
"We have four strong guys at 174, three of whom have been starters. Jordan Wohlfert got a ton of experience last year, but is going to redshirt, which is important for him going forward."
Junior John Rizqallah, who qualified for the NCAA Championships last season, is back as the starter at 184 pounds. In his first year as a starter, Rizqallah tallied a 23-12 record, including an impressive 12-4 ledger in dual meets. He showed his potential with several quality wins, defeating 11th-ranked Ethen Lofthouse of Iowa, 6-3, and Michigan's Chris Heald, 6-0.
Minkel said that Rizqallah's unique style of wrestling has helped him compete against some of the nation's top wrestlers.
"John is very unorthodox and very flexible - we're working on getting all of his fundamentals very sound, but he's getting better and better and he's as competitive as anyone, especially in terms of his mental toughness," commented Minkel. "He's got some experience, he's had a lot of success, and he's a highly motivated kid. He lives and breathes wrestling."
Junior Eric Ford, who started twice last season, adds depth in the 184-weight class.
Junior Nick McDiarmid is the frontrunner to start at 197 pounds after he defeated Luke Jones in the wrestle-offs, 7-0. McDiarmid was the starter as a red-shirt freshman in 2011-12, but only started five times last season as a sophomore, although he did collect an 18-8 overall record.
Jones was the primary starter at 197 last year, picking up five dual wins while placing third at the EMU Open, the Reno Tournament of Champions, and the Edinboro Open.
"Last year Luke Jones had a very good, competitive season, but Nick McDiarmid is fighting for the same spot and wrestled well in the wrestle-offs, so we've got good depth there," Minkel said. "It was very hard for McDiarmid to not wrestle in the Big Ten Championships, but he seems to have regrouped really well."
Fifth-year senior Mike McClure enters the season ranked No. 7 in the nation by InterMat and is a leading contender for the national championship at heavyweight. McClure qualified for the NCAA Championships last season for the first time in his career after placing seventh at the Big Ten Championships and went 2-2 at nationals.
McClure led the Spartans last season in wins (34), dual wins (15), dual points (64) and tournament victories (three: EMU Open, MSU Open, Reno Tournament of Champions). Coach Minkel said he believes McClure is ready to take the next step to be an elite wrestler at the national level.
"Mike McClure's goal is to win it all," said Minkel, who has coached two individual national champions (Kelvin Jackson, Franklin Gomez) during his tenure at MSU. "He is kind of a quiet leader and has worked exceptionally hard in the off-season; he lived in the weight room all summer. He's maybe the most explosive heavyweight coming off the bottom, and he has a great stand up. Our challenge for him is to make sure that we're using his conditioning and his power and his tenacity in all of his matches. We need to just keep him aggressive.
"He's as good as a heavyweight as you could want. To take the next step, he needs to create a ton of pressure. He's the real deal - he's going to have one heck of a year."
Red-shirt freshman Chris Nash will back-up McClure at heavyweight.
"Chris wrestled well in the wrestle-offs," Minkel said. "He's got some more years here. He's tall and rangy and getting bigger and getting stronger and of course he's got the best training partner in the country, so he's learning a lot. There's no question that he will have a good year as well, too, so we will try to work him where we can and make sure that he gets some good experience this year."