Another year has arrived, and another opportunity presents itself for the John Carroll University Wrestling team.
The Blue Streaks will compete in the Ohio Athletic Conference championships this weekend, at Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio.
This season, the Blue Streaks will contend for their fifth team title in six years.
Sophomore Elie Naoum is the Blue Streaks’ star at 125 pounds. Naoum garnered the most wins by a JCU wrestler this year, going 24-11 overall.
In OAC dual meets, he was 5-1, with his only loss coming in a 6-4 decision to David Penny of Ohio Northern.
Naoum feels that his top two challengers will be Clemens Artmann of Heidelberg, and Penny.
“I feel confident. I just have to make them wrestle my match and my tempo, and I know I can beat them,” said Naoum.
At 133 pounds, junior Adam Pizzurro has provided plenty of stability for the Blue Streaks.
He, along with teammate Ryan Summers, are the only two JCU wrestlers to win all six dual meets in which they participated.
“I have wrestled pretty well in OAC dual meets, so I don’t plan on changing my strategy for Saturday’s tournament,” said Pizzurro.
Junior Dominic Spitalieri will be counted on to improve his 18-14 overall record at the 141 weight-class.
With sophomore Dan Mizener moving up to compete at the 157 weight-class, the 149 spot for the Blue Streaks will be taken by junior Matt McDiarmid.
Mizener, who finished the OAC dual meets with a record of 4-2, will make his OAC championship debut at 157 pounds.
“I was at 149 all year and have been recently bumped up to 157,” explained Mizener.
Junior Steve Bagnowski will handle the Blue Streaks’ position at 165. Bagnowski, whose overall record is 12-16, finished 3-2 in OAC dual meets.
At 174, junior Chris Branchen will be counted on to dominate a talented 174 weight-class. Branchen went undefeated in OAC dual meets, carrying a 4-0 record.
Currently, Branchen is ranked eighth in the Division III National Wrestling Poll.
Ryan Summers will hope to end his career as a Blue Streak on a high note. Summers, a senior, has never lost an OAC match.
As a sophomore he was the OAC champion at 184 pounds, and went on to be the Division III Runner-Up.
Summers feels his greatest competition will come from Heidelberg’s Kyle Rooney, whom he beat earlier this season 5-0.
“He [Rooney] has a very unorthodox style that I controlled during our last match,” said Summers.
Sophomore Matt Harmon will be JCU’s representative at 197 pounds.
A fullback on the Varsity football team, Harmon joined the wrestling squad just in time to have a Cinderella season, finishing with a 3-1 record in the OAC.
The big surprise in the Blue Streaks’ line-up in this weekend’s conference championship will be at the heavyweight level. Junior Derrick Bendau will make his OAC debut this season at the tournament.
Bendau, who has had several injuries over the course of his career, recently was cleared to compete.
Before getting hurt early this season, Bendau was 4-0 overall. Last year he did not wrestle due to injury. In 2004-2005, he went 8-1 and held a ranking as high as fifth in the national rankings.
Preparation for the OAC championship has been very hard but worthwhile, according to Summers.
“We have been mixing up our workout routines and doing some cross training in the pool and on the track. These kinds of workouts will hopefully get us ready and in-shape for OACs.”
Summers regards all of his teammates very highly and knows they have been working hard.
He said, “I see it in the room and during our two-a-day workouts, no one outworks our guys. I wouldn’t go into battle with anyone but my teammates.”
Pizzurro expects his team to put up a battle in every match they compete in, just as they have all season.
He said, “If we continue to battle, we have a good chance of winning the big matches, qualifying guys for nationals, and finishing high as a team.”
Naoum added, “No one weight class is a complete runaway. With that said, I think if everyone takes care of their own business, we definitely have the ability to win the [OAC] tournament.”