Redshirt junior Adam Hluschak, a returning NCAA qualifier at 141 pounds, leads a veteran East Stroudsburg University wrestling team into its second season at the Division II level and fourth year under head coach Joey Rivera.
Hluschak, high school teammate Andrew Arnold (133), redshirt junior Thad Frick (165), redshirt senior Jeff Jacobs (174) and redshirt junior Ed Ebewo (197) all posted records at or above .500 last season and have aspirations of qualifying for the NCAA Division II Championships at the end of the season.
The Warriors enter the season tied for third in the Super Region 1 preseason rankings and No. 18 in Division II thanks to their stable of returning starters, along with a couple of incoming talents and the maturation of a number of wrestlers who are already in the program.
ESU must replace Shane Mallory, an All-American and the national runner-up at 184 pounds last season, but bring back all the other key pieces to last year’s team which had a 9-8 record – including a 5-1 mark against Division II institutions.
Another challenging schedule faces the Warriors this season, including five Division I schools in their first six duals, a match-up at preseason No. 14 Pitt-Johnstown and strong competition at the ESU Open, Mat Town Open, PSAC Championships and Wilkes Open. The second semester brings a trip to the Ashland Duals and a regional battle with Kutztown near the end of the dual season. ESU posted a 29-11 win over the Golden Bears in the final dual last year.
All of those preparations should have ESU ready for the NCAA Super Region 1 Championships at Gannon, with the top four wrestlers at each weight class advancing to the NCAA Championships at Nebraska-Kearney.
The Warriors’ lineup starts at 125 pounds, where freshman Jordan Toledo is the projected starter and has the potential to quickly break into the regional rankings. A local product from Pleasant Valley, Toledo placed sixth in the PIAA AAA championships at 130 pounds after losing in the semifinals to the eventual state champion. Sophomore Chris Carpenter (Lackawanna Trail) and freshman Pat Hecker (Conwell-Egan) both wrestled tough high school competition in PA and will compete for the backup spot.
ESU has proven commodities at the next six weight classes, beginning with Arnold at 133. A seasoned veteran and former PA state champion at Northern Lehigh, Arnold is a regional contender and has the potential to beat anybody in the country. He was 17-17 last year and led the Warriors with eight pins and 14 wins by bonus points. The PSAC Championships were a microcosm of his season, as he went 3-3 with every match ending by fall. He will be pushed in the wrestling room by junior Frank Rosenthal (Tappan Zee HS, N.Y.).
Hluschak is ranked No. 5 nationally at 141 coming off an exceptional postseason. He won a pair of one-point decisions to reach the final at the Super Regional and was one match away from All-America status at the NCAA’s, falling in overtime to Andrew Milanak of Gannon, who he beat in the regional. Hluschak was 21-16 last season with 10 wins by bonus points and took eight of his losses against Division I competition. He is looking to become the second All-American in his family, joining his brother Ryan, a two-time Division I All-American at Drexel.
The backup will be redshirt freshman Luke Grassi (Phillipsburg HS, N.J.), a very talented wrestler who was third in New Jersey as a senior and wrestled at the Senior Nationals. Grassi originally enrolled at Carson-Newman but was forced to leave due to a medical condition and can push for a starting spot in the Warriors’ lineup when he returns to full strength.
At 149, junior Eddie Stephenson is in the starting lineup for his second season after going 9-16 overall and 6-8 in duals. He beat Kutztown’s Brett Martinez twice in 10 days late in the year, part of a year that included a regional quarterfinal appearance, and may be the best-conditioned wrestler in the room. Sophomores Cameron Rankin and Tyler Wilton are the backups – Wilton wrestled at one of the top programs in New Jersey at Jackson Memorial, and Rankin comes from Dumont (N.J.).
Redshirt sophomore transfer Brock Parker is in the Warriors’ lineup at 157 pounds after winning the PSAC 149-pound championship last season at Lock Haven. Parker was ranked No. 8 at 149 in the Division II preseason poll but moves up a weight class, where he won’t have to focus as much on weight management and can use his skills that made him a PA state champion and Dapper Dan representative in high school at Canton. He beat Division I All-American Torsten Gillespie of Edinboro in the PSAC semifinals and should be a top contender in the Super Regional and NCAA Championships.
Sophomore Evan Baer is pegged as the backup after gaining valuable experience behind Frick and Jacobs at 157 and 165 last season. He was 5-5 and placed fourth in the Messiah Open as a freshman while wrestling in one dual at 157.
Frick (165) and Jacobs (174) both move up a weight class this season, but will be competing at weights where they have significant experience in their ESU careers.
Frick was 25-13 last year, second on the team in wins, and has a 37-22 career record and stellar 20-9 mark in duals. He had a 12-4 dual record a year ago, went 3-3 at the Super Regional at a very tough 157-pound weight class, and has the confidence to compete with anybody and win tight matches. A redshirt junior captain, Frick enters the season ranked No. 4 in the region at 165 and will continue to push for All-America honors to join his father, Mike, and brother, Travis, who were both All-Americans at Lehigh.
Senior Jesse Dunn enters his final season as Frick’s backup at 165 and has been one of the Warriors’ hardest workers during his career. Dunn competed at 149 and 157 his first three years, earning 26 starts in duals, and stepped up to 174 for last year’s Super Regional due to an opening in the lineup after serving as the backup at 149 most of the season.
Jacobs begins his redshirt senior year ranked No. 5 in the region at 174 pounds and is a two-year starter, posting a 22-14 record (11-6 in duals) at 165 last season and going 15-17 at three different weight classes two years ago. He has faced some of the top wrestlers in the country, including a 6-0 loss to DII runner-up Josh Shields of Mercyhurst last season, and has the experience and explosiveness to know what it takes to compete at the national level. Jacobs will work with sophomore Will Esposito (New Milford HS, N.J.) in the wrestling room.
The 184-pound class is expected to be closely contested throughout the year by redshirt freshman Brendan McKeown and junior James Gonzalez. McKeown, who redshirted last year after placing in the New York state tournament, will open the year as the starter in possibly the most wide-open weight class in the region. Gonzalez wrestled in two duals last year and comes from Pocono Mountain West and PA’s competitive District 11. Freshman Frank Colder, who had success in high school at Governor Livingston (N.J.), can develop into a tough wrestler at the Division II level.
Ebewo joins Frick and Jacobs as a third-year starter in the Warriors’ lineup at 197 pounds, where he is ranked No. 4 in the region entering the year. He was 18-15 (8-9 in duals) and played a major role in preparing Mallory for his All-America campaign last season. Ebewo should take that experience to the mat this year as he focuses full-time on wrestling after spending the last two falls with the Warriors’ football team. He finished last year’s dual schedule with an overtime victory against eventual All-American Scott Snyder of Kutztown and won two matches in the Super Regional. The backup is redshirt sophomore Joe Blaes, who is in his third year in the program.
The Warriors have two options at 285 pounds with contrasting styles in sophomores Will Weaver, the returning starter, and Erik Schaffer. Weaver, a solid 275 pounds, earned the nod last year and had a 6-10 record in duals (11-16 overall) during a solid freshman season. Schaffer, lighter at about 235 pounds, will be given the opportunity to compete for the starting spot and gained valuable experience late in the year. He battled a pair of Division II national qualifiers in Kutztown’s Kevin Bolinsky in dual action and West Liberty’s J.D. Ramsey in the Super Regional.