Penn national qualifier Ryan Miller (photo courtesy of Tony DiMarco)
Every year there are wrestlers that have â€œbreakoutâ€ seasons. Whether it's wrestlers that are coming off a strong redshirt season, or young wrestlers who have a big jump from experience in the next season, it is always fun to see which athletes separate and improve from year to year In this article series, I am going to highlight a wrestler from every school in each of the seven different conferences that have the potential to breakout. That could mean anything from making a surprising splash at the national tournament, to qualifying for the first time, or even getting some important dual wins for a school. Up next are the seventeen schools that make up the EIWA Conference.
American - Jack Maida, 133lbs (So)
After a big coaching change coming into the season, Maida found himself as a true freshman starter for American University. He had a 17-10 record and placed 4th at EIWA's after a first-round loss. While he missed out on qualifying, he did have a win over Rutgers freshman qualifier Joey Olivieri. If he is able to take a jump and find more consistency, he could be Coach Borrelli's first qualifier at American.
Army - #29 Nathan Lukez, 157lbs (Jr)
Lukez will get his first chance to start after going 22-4 the past two seasons in almost all extra matches or open tournaments. Last season, he won the Journeyman Classic, and only had one loss through four other tournaments. He also scored wins over qualifiers Ben Barton and Parker Kropman. With the graduation of three-time qualifier Markus Hartman, Lukez will have an opportunity to continue Army's history of ranked wrestlers at 157lbs.
Binghamton - Anthony Sobotker, 133lbs (Sr)
Sobotker is still looking to put it all together, but has one of the most dangerous headlocks in Division I. This will be his third season at Binghamton after two years at Nassau CC. He has an 18-17 record against DI opponents, but that includes pins over Richie Koehler, Sammy Alvarez, Connor Brown and a 5-4 decision over Matt Ramos. After eleven falls last season, he has shown that he is one of the most dangerous wrestlers at 133lbs and could go on a run at any time.
Brown - Ricky Cabanillas, 149lbs (Sr)
Cabanillas nearly had a breakout season as a true freshman with a 25-14 record and 7th place finish at EIWA's. After no competition in 2021 however, Cabanillas struggled in 2022 with an 11-13 record. If Cabanillas can get closer to his true freshman performance, he could be one of Brown's best wrestlers this year.
Bucknell - #29 Darren Miller, 141lbs (Sr)
A 2021 qualifier at 133lbs, Miller wasn't able to replicate that success in 2022 after bumping up to 141lbs. He finished 5th at EIWA's, but had wins over Connor McGonagle and Ryan Anderson, who were both ranked at the time. Miller has shown the ability to separate before, and with another offseason to adjust to 141lbs, he could become a two-time qualifier.
Columbia - #25 Joe Manchio, 125lbs (Sr)
Manchio has already had multiple impressive seasons as a two-time qualifier in 2020 and 2022. In 2020 he made the EIWA finals and was the 23rd seed. He appeared to be on his way to another excellent season in 2022 after early season wins over Sam Latona and Jaret Lane, but he seemed to stall out a bit after that. At NCAA's, he ran into Brandon Courtney and Drake Ayala to go 0-2. If Manchio can keep his early season success going this year, he should be a big point scorer for a solid Columbia team.
Cornell - Vince Cornella, 141lbs (Fr)
Cornella at Cornell spent his freshman year with the Spartan Combat RTC, and had an impressive 23-8 record with titles at multiple open tournaments. While he did not notch any ranked wins, he went on a freestyle tear at U20's. Cornella beat Carter Young two matches to one to make the team, then finished fifth at the world championships after a late challenge and criteria loss. Expect to see him in the rankings once he can get some more ranked matches under his belt.
Drexel - Brian Bonino, 184lbs (Sr)
After spending his first four seasons at Columbia, Bonino transferred to Drexel for his final year. He had a losing record last season, but did have a win over three-time qualifier Gregg Harvey. He's had close losses against ranked competition as well, with an overtime loss to John Poznanski. If he can take a step up at a new school then he could find himself in the rankings this season.
Franklin & Marshall - Vincenzo Pelusi, 285lbs (Sr)
Another wrestler trying to make an impact in his last season, Pelusi will be looking to make his first NCAA tournament. He came close last season with a 10-4 conference record, but placed 7th at EIWA's. Pelusi had a win over qualifier Matthew Cover, and a win over Navy's standout freshman Ryan Catka. Both wrestlers he lost to at EIWA's have graduated, so he should have a chance to place higher and qualify this year.
Harvard - #5 Yaraslau Slavikouski, 285lbs (Jr)
Slavikouski had a standout freshman year in 2020, going 30-8 and being the 10 seed at NCAA's after finishing second at EIWA's. He wrestled five matches in 2022, making the finals of the CKLV before being injured in the finals match. If Slavikouski can come back healthy, he has the potential to make the podium in March after being overlooked by some fans during the season.
Hofstra - #32 Jacob Ferreira, 184lbs (Sr)
Ferreira will be looking for his first opportunity to be a full-time starter at his third school, after spending time at Bucknell and NC State. He has bounced between 197lbs, 184lbs, and 174lbs, but looks like he should be settling into 184lbs. Last season was entirely at 197lbs, and he had some solid results. He had a win over standout redshirt Jaxon Smith of Maryland, and two-point losses to Max Shaw and Isaac Trumble. If 184lbs is his best weight class, he could be a factor for Hofstra.
Lehigh - #29 Connor McGonagle, 133lbs (Jr)
McGonagle has a unique career after starting two years at 141lbs. A two-time national qualifier, he has actually finished with a losing record both times, going 15-18. However, in that time, he also has wins over qualifiers McKenzie Bell and Dresden Simon. He has been right there with other wrestlers as well, with close losses to CJ Composto and Carter Young. Dropping to 133lbs this season, I wouldn't be surprised to see him get more ranked wins and perhaps show some more consistency.
Long Island - Robbie Sagaris, 125lbs (So)
Long Island University only started competing at Division I three years ago, so most of the roster and starters are young as the team works to establish itself. Sagaris started as a true freshman and finished with a 13-13 record. He didn't get any ranked wins, but had close losses to solid wrestlers. If he can make a jump as a freshman, then he should be a spark for the Sharks this season.
Navy - Val Park, 165lbs (Sr)
After spending two seasons at 157lbs, last year Park moved up to 165lbs and had a respectable season with a record of 23-17. He had wins over two-time qualifiers David Ferrante and Brian Meyer, and 12 of his losses came to qualifiers. If he is able to improve with another season at 165lbs, then he could find himself in the rankings in his last year.
Penn - #19 Ryan Miller, 125lbs (So)
One of the higher-ranked wrestlers on this list, Miller started as a true freshman and had a standout year. He had a 21-8 record, 3rd place EIWA finish, and went 1-2 at NCAA's. While Pat Glory is still at 125lbs, it sounds like Vito is moving up to 133lbs, so Miller has a shot to improve his conference finish. A popular dark horse at last year's NCAA's, I wouldn't be surprised to see Miller seeded higher than 22nd like last year.
Princeton - #22 Matt Cover, 285lbs (Jr)
Matt Cover started the year in January after solid performances at open tournaments, finished fifth at EIWA's, and qualified for NCAA's as the 32 seed. His best win was over Zachary Knighton-Ward at EIWA's. This conference has a handful of talented heavyweights that are going to be fighting for a qualifying spot this season, and Cover has already shown that he has the ability to do it.
Sacred Heart - Nick Palumbo, 157lbs (Sr)
Palumbo qualified for NCAA's back in 2021 and had a win over Parker Kropman of Drexel. In 2022 he wasn't able to repeat with a 9-5 record, but all of his losses were close. In 2023, if he is more consistent and gets more matches, then he should be a candidate to qualify outright or potentially get an at-large.