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Eclipse continues to shine on national level

In the basement of an unassuming building in a heavily Latino influenced town in Northwest New Jersey sits the Standridge Wrestling Academy. The facility has the look and feel of the gym in which Clubber Lane (Mr. T) trained in Rocky III. As recently as three years ago, the upstairs was a bowling alley. It is here that Club Eclipse trains. Led by head coach Matt Ciampa, Eclipse has fostered the development of some of the New Jersey's greatest talents for more than two decades.

Their mission statement is simple: "We provide Greco Roman and freestyle training towards earning medals in Fargo. We want wrestlers who have goals of competing for Team New Jersey and plan on returning with medals."

In that regard, Club Eclipse has achieved their mission.

The club takes credit for more than 135 All-Americans, 29 national champions, and four World-level medals.

Eclipse was founded in 1985 by Rick Brodman, then the head of the youth wrestling program in Summit, N.J. When asked about the origin of the club, Brodman recalled, "I was thinking of a logo, and could picture a guy hitting a perfect back arch, like an eclipse, and that's where the name of the club came from."

As a coach, Brodman always wanted to stay one step ahead of his pupils in terms of technique. He traveled around the country, visiting other clubs, clinics, and the Olympic Training Center while becoming one of the first silver certified coaches under the USA Wrestling accreditation processes. According to Ciampa, Brodman always stressed technique: "(He'd say) If you did things right, winning would take care of itself."

Ciampa himself grew up in Summit under the tutelage of Brodman. Following a mediocre high school career, he enrolled at East Stroudsburg University, a small Division I school that is part of the Eastern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (EIWA). Jack Cuvo, a two-time NCAA champion and wrestling legend, was also at the school at the time, and quickly gravitated toward Ciampa as a training partner.

"We'd workout for an hour before practice," says Ciampa. "That was Jack. I didn't know any better. He'd ask me to wrestle live for three straight matches (while the heavier weights wrestled). What was I supposed to do? Tell him no?"

During his college days, Ciampa helped out at Eclipse in the offseason while competing in the Olympic styles of freestyle and Greco Roman. In 1991, he placed at University Nationals. Following a frustrating college career plagued by injuries, Ciampa continued to compete at a high level, winning the Northeast Regionals three times, and finishing runner-up at the Olympic Festival. He graduated from East Stroudsburg in 1992, and took over the club from Brodman the following spring.

Matt Ciampa at Eclipse practice
Today, Ciampa is considered among the best technicians in an area filled with great wrestling programs. The campus of national powerhouse Blair Academy is a mere 30 miles away. Often times, following their spring season, many of its wrestlers can be found training with Eclipse. Mark Grey, Joey McKenna, and Dylan Milonas are among the current Blair wrestlers that have leveraged Ciampa's high-level technique and the strong training partners at Eclipse to improve their skills.

Over the years, Ciampa has continued to develop his understanding of the sport and refined the technique in which he teaches. When asked how he picks up on the subtleties of an almost perfect (but not quite) leg lace, he responds by saying, "I'm constantly thinking about technique."

Some people are addicted to smoking, drinking, or gambling. Matt Ciampa is addicted to studying wrestling technique on the Internet.

The atmosphere at Eclipse is a refreshing contrast to the boot camp style practices that have become the norm in the U.S. Ciampa's practices are at the same time simple, intentional, and productive. He focuses on technique above conditioning, but also reminds his athletes that "training" (read: conditioning) needs to be done on their own time.

One unaccustomed to the mentality of the club might mistake a typical practice for a middle school jamboree or gymnastics lesson. Practices "start" with an adapted version of dodge ball followed by a series of tumbling drills that often finds 215-pounders executing flawless front hand-springs and back flips. An opportunity to stretch leads into a series of drills that makes lifting and throwing seem as routine as brushing your teeth. The remaining hour-and-a-half of practice is spent focusing on technique, simulating real match situations, and wrestling live.

Zach Rey trained at Eclipse before winning an NCAA title (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Zach Rey, an NCAA champion at heavyweight for Lehigh, is a former Eclipse wrestler. As a first-year wrestler, Rey went 9-17 his freshman season in high school. Knowing he had to step up his game if he wanted to become competitive, he began training at Eclipse and quickly turned the corner.

"I really liked the coaches (at Eclipse)," said Rey, a 2010 University World Team member. "I felt real comfortable there. It was a good fit. I had great workout partners. I went there a few weeks ago and was amazed at the quality of wrestlers, with (Anthony) Ashnault, McKenna ... real competitive wrestlers. It's a great environment for our wrestlers to get better and compete."

This past season, Eclipse had 14 All-Americans, five double place winners, three finalists, and two champions on the national level of competition. One of the champions, Mark Grey, won the FILA Junior World Team Trials and placed fifth in the Junior World Championships in Bulgaria. In an interview with USA Wrestling in 2009, Grey attributed his dominance in the par terre position to Ciampa and his ability to set up the move. More recently, Grey referenced the impact of something Ciampa said to him as an eighth-grader following a sloppily-executed arm throw in practice: you can have good habits, or you can have bad habits.

"It stuck with me," Grey says, four years later. "You just think about it. I couldn't get rid of it. As I've progressed, and gotten older, I've gone harder and harder, knowing there is someone out there training for me."

Both Grey and Rey mentioned the mental edge they gained having Ciampa in their corner.

Mark Grey attributes much of his success in the international styles to Matt Ciampa (Photo/BuckeyeWrestling.com)
When we were in Fargo, he just focused on the mental toughness (of wrestling)," said Grey, who is ranked as the No. 4 recruit in the country by InterMat. "He's competed at all the higher levels. He talks to you a lot. He's able to communicate with you a lot. He's always talking to you. Talking strategy. When you're in a match, you're very comfortable with him. He's always on your side."

Assistant coach Larry Levinstone appreciates what Eclipse has to offer. He was the product of the system through high school and continued training at Eclipse while competing in the open division. He attributes much of his success (six-time Northeast Regional Greco-Roman champion, one-time freestyle champion, University Nationals Greco-Roman All-American, Espoir Nationals All-American, and U.S. World Team Trials qualifier) to Ciampa.

"Matt has a coaching style that really worked for me," said Levinstone. "While I didn't get the ideas and concepts right away, it finally clicked when I entered the open division. That is where everything fell into place with my gut wrench. I was never a super talent or highly athletic, but he never faltered in his belief that one day I would have some success. He always treated me the same as everyone else. Matt is one of the underrated coaches, not only in New Jersey, but in the country. I truly believe that statement."

Eclipse wrestlers show "Team Tall" sign in Fargo
Levinstone also appreciates the fun-natured spirit of Eclipse. In 1996, Ciampa reintroduced a phrase made popular by the Summit wrestling team in the late 1980's to describe a great match or a great throw --"Tall."

"It was a great compliment to get a 'Tall' comment, and fun too for us as competitors because the Eclipse guys were the only ones in the state that knew the meaning," said Levinstone recently.

"(In the) 1996 Cadet National finals we had Nik Fekete competing for the state (of New Jersey) and the club. We decided it would be fun to let the rest of the guys on the trip into the meaning, so we painted our chests and did the international sign for tall, which is extending the arm over the head and flexing your wrist to show height. Other states were looking at us like we were insane but we had a great time doing it. Since then 'Team Tall' has stuck around. It's on our shirts every year and the new kids that come to the club get a kick out of the story behind it."

Today, Levinstone is one of four coaches with a broad range of skills and experience that helps out on a volunteer basis. He believes the club attracts some of the best talent in New Jersey because of the workouts.

"The workout plans that Coach Ciampa puts together always have a purpose of giving those guys the edge over someone who may be more athletic," said Levinstone. "The depth (of understanding) that these kids are learning is not based upon winning, but becoming better wrestlers."

Levinstone also believes the most important aspect of Eclipse is its concentration on the Olympic styles.

"We don't do any folkstyle," said Levinstone. "Our club runs from the week after the state tournament until we return to Fargo. We attempt to split the time 50/50 (freestyle and Greco-Roman), which is another reason the club is special. There are not too many clubs in the state of New Jersey where the Olympic styles are promoted. let alone clubs that really do concentrate on Greco as much as we do."

Rick Brodman founded Eclipse in 1985
The list of former All-Americans on the team's website supports this claim. Of the 135 All-Americans, more than half (71) have been in Greco Roman. As Ciampa himself would say, "Not bad for a small club coached by a bunch of nobodies."

Ciampa is self-deprecating but self-aware. He will one moment ride someone for not immediately transitioning into a gut wrench following a perfectly executed slide-by ("shame on you") and the next moment joke with the coaching staff about the mullet he wore in 1989.

Many consider his approach to coaching -- his emphasis on technique and lighthearted attitude -- a carbon copy of his mentor. When asked if he would consider this an accurate comparison, Brodman says, "Yeah, I would. I happen to know that Matt Ciampa thinks very highly of me. I love Matthew Ciampa, because the club lives on because of him."

The Eclipse season officially ended two weekends ago with the annual coaches' barbeque. Next spring will bring another crop of kids eager to learn from one of the sport's best. If history is any indication of the future, the club will spit out another group of All Americans.

That's pretty tall.

For more information on the Eclipse Wrestling Club, visit www.eclipsewrestling.com.

Jim Beezer accepts feedback at jim@intermatwrestle.com.

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