MAC Conference Preview – Eastern Michigan
The second school for our Mid-American Conference preview is Eastern Michigan. The Eagles had a disappointing season last year, going 8-12 overall and just 1-7 in conference, but they did qualify two wrestlers to the NCAA Tournament in 197 pounder Anthony Abro and 133 pounder Brandon Zeerip.
Second year Head Coach David Bolyard will look to not only build on their success, but on unprecedented academic success from the rest of his squad. The Eagles were the top school in the NWCA All-Academic list, with a team grade point average of 3.382, just beating out second-place Harvard, who had a 3.372 GPA.
“We’ve done a good job of recruiting the right type of people, that’s something we’re really proud of,” Coach Bolyard said in an interview last week. “It’s a lifestyle, if you’re going to be successful at this level, and being a good student is a part of the lifestyle, being good at what you decide to do.”
“We have a good structure in place, lots of resources for them to excel, and I think there is a lot of carry-over from academics to athletics.”
Part of that carry-over that Coach Bolyard is looking for will hopefully come from two seniors in Abro and new 125 pounder Vincent Pizzuto. Pizzuto, a three-time Academic All-MAC wrestler, looks to make 125 pounds for the first time in his career. He has held down the 133 spot for the Eagles his previous three years.
Pizzuto will look to get back to the NCAA tournament at his new weight after securing an auto-bid at 133 pounds in 2014. Behind him, redshirt freshman Armando Torres will push the senior to the limit this year.
EMU Projected Lineup
125: Vincent Pizzuto Redshirt SR
133: Shayne Wireman JR
141: Kyle Springer Redshirt SO or Jason Estevez or
149: Nick Barber Redshirt JR
157: Mitchell Malott Redshirt JR or Derek Davison SR
165: Dakota Juarez Redshirt FR
174: Jacob Davis Redshirt JR
184: Derek Hillman Redshirt FR or Derek Schultz SO
197: Anthony Abro Redshirt SR
285: Gage Hutchison Redshirt SO
Former 125 pounder Shayne Wireman, who would probably be the starter at that weight if not for Pizzuto’s cut down, will be starting at 133 pounds for the first time.
141 looks to be the most deep weight for the Eagles this year, with returning starter Michael Shaw competing for his spot against junior Kyle Springer, who redshirted last season. Springer went 31-14 last year at tournaments, and Bolyard spoke well of his potential starter.
“A lot of it (the number of matches) was on his own. Every weekend he was out trying to get matches, and those weren’t things where we said, ‘hey you need to do these.’ We have three or four that we typically do and he was at four or five more than that. He took advantage of his redshirt year.”
While there is stability at a few weights, Bolyard spoke about the instability at 157 pounds. “We lost one of our leaders there, it’s going to be tough to replace Brandon Zeerip,” Bolyard said. “157 is probably the weight class that is the most up in the air for us. We have a bunch of guys that are real close.”
The two leaders coming out at 157 right now have to be junior Mitchell Malott or senior Derek Davison. This is Malott’s fourth year in the program, and he went 8-6 as a junior. Davison wrestled up a weight at 165 pounds last year, going 12-9 in tournaments, so it will be interesting to see if he can handle the cut and if he can win the starting spot for his final year.
At 165 and 184 pounds the Eagles look to start redshirt freshman right out of the gate. At 165 Dakota Juarez looks to be guy, building an 8-5 record last year wrestling unattached, with a signature win coming over Ohio University’s Austin Reese. At 184 pounds Derek Hillman will compete with Derek Schultz for the starting spot. Schultz is dropping down from 197 to push Hillman, but I expect the freshman to start for the Eagles.
197 pounds sees the NCAA-qualifier back for the Eagles. Abro went 26-13 last year, and won two matches at the NCAA Championship. Abro had some nice wins last year, including a 5-2 decision over Nate Rotert from South Dakota State, and a 5-3 decision over current Iowa State wrestler Patrick Downey. Abro will look to expand on those wins and reach for higher than his fifth place MAC Championship finish last year.
Eastern Michigan will continue to get better, but it will be an uphill battle. Their schedule is a tough one; not only are they in the MAC but they travel to two Big Ten schools and will be at The Midlands this year. Coach Bolyard and his staff have their work cut out for them, but they’ll be up for the challenge.