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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Recapping the Seasons of the Six First-Year DI Head Coaches

    Stanford head coach Rob Koll (left) with Vincenzo Joseph (Photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    With the conclusion of the 2022 NCAA Championships, we move onto one of the staples of the college offseason, the coaching carousel. Before it ramps up in 2022, we've decided to look back and evaluate the first seasons of the DI head coaches from the last cycle of the carousel. 2021-22 saw six DI head coaches take over new programs. There was a wide range of schools that had new hires, from top-ten programs to ones seeking their first DI qualifiers, so success has to be measured on different scales.

    Here are the coaches/schools, along with a recap of different parts of their programs. Their standout wrestlers, team results, recruits, and assistant coaching staff.

    Jason Borrelli - American

    Dual Record: 1-12

    The team captured the first win of the Borrelli-era when they downed Duke 22-18 on December 5th. Early in the season, AU lost close matches against Sacred Heart (17-16) and George Mason (20-16).

    The Eagles finished 15th at the 2022 EIWA Championships with 25.5 team points. They were led by 133 lber Jack Maida, who finished fourth. Maida wrestled progressively better as the year progressed and finished 17-10. The true freshman established himself as a building block for AU going forward.

    Along with Maida, Max Leete (125), Patrick Ryan (141), and Timothy Fitzpatrick (174) finished with winning records. In his first year of collegiate competition, Isaac Righter (285) was just a match under .500 at 16-17.

    Unfortunately, the Eagles did not have a national qualifier in 2022.

    Borrelli assembled a coaching staff that included one of his assistants from Stanford, Alex Tirapelle, as the Associate Head Coach. Virginia Tech's multiple-time All-American Joey Dance came over from his last coaching stint at Davidson. The only holdover from the previous staff was Ganbayar Sanjaa, who stayed on as a volunteer assistant.

    American was very young in 2021-22, with only three seniors on their roster, so expect the team to improve significantly with another full year around Borrelli and his staff.

    Ned Shuck - Bellarmine

    Dual Record: 2-15

    During his opening weekend as head coach for Bellarmine, Ned Shuck picked up a 19-18 win over SIU Edwardsville. He would add a second, by the same score, late in the regular season over Presbyterian. The Knights are transitioning from DII to DI status, so they are currently ineligible for postseason action. Had they been able to compete, there's a good chance they could have finished ahead of multiple SoCon teams. In conference dual-action, Shuck's team defeated Presbyterian and was very competitive against Davidson and Gardner-Webb.

    Bellarmine proved to be solid in the middleweights as Cole Nance (157), Devan Hendricks (165), and Eric Beck (174) all finished the year with winning records.

    Since Bellarmine is undergoing an athletic department-wide transition to DI, they will not be eligible to compete in the postseason until 2024-25. Until then, Shuck can slowly mold the program into his own image.

    An under-the-radar recruiter at his previous stop (Army West Point), Shuck will likely find some overlooked diamonds in the rough to be a part of his foundation at Bellarmine. The Knights staff already has a few commitments rolling in for the fall of 2022.

    Assisting Shuck in the 2021-22 season with Brendan Murphy, who previously assisted and helped make McKendree into a consistent threat at the DII level.

    Mike Grey - Cornell

    Dual Record: 12-3

    Unlike most on this list, Mike Grey was a familiar face that took over the reins of his alma mater in 2021-22. A two-time All-American and 2011 Cornell grad, Grey was on the Big Red staff in one capacity or another since he finished competing.

    Cornell didn't appear to miss a beat in Grey's first year at the helm. His team defeated an upstart Penn squad at the EIWA Championships (153-143) to regain the conference title for the first time since 2017. At nationals, three All-Americans helped pace Cornell to a seventh-place finish. Yianni Diakomihalis claimed his third NCAA title, becoming only the second Cornell wrestler to achieve the feat, and extended his winning streak to 75 straight matches. His title gives Grey his first as a head coach, not a bad box to check off in year one. Vito Arujau and Jonathan Loew also made the podium for Cornell.

    Nine of the ten Cornell starters qualified for Detroit and two others were within a match of All-American status.

    Cornell's dual season was highlighted by a win over a top-ten program in Virginia Tech, along with a perfect Ivy League record. When the Big Red was last in action, they were stopped by Princeton, who claimed Ivy supremacy. That wasn't the case in 2021-22 as Grey's team downed Princeton 21-12.

    Grey's coaching debut came against his mentor and former Cornell head coach, Rob Koll, who moved on to Stanford. The understudy, Grey, led his team to a 30-9 victory.

    The staff that Grey assembled in his first year was quite impressive. He picked up Donnie Vinson (NC State) and Kellen Russell (Michigan) from the staff's of top-ten teams and offered two-time world medalist Nick Gwiazdowski his first coaching position.

    Cornell has always been a force on the recruiting trail under Koll and that doesn't show any signs of changing under Grey. Three top-100 recruits have signed on for 2022 (Erik Gibson, Aiden Hanning, Ashton Davis), while another has already committed (Simon Ruiz) for 2023.

    The Big Red will be imposing again in 2022-23 as they return 52 team points from the 2022 NCAA Championships, a figure only surpassed by Penn State and Arizona State.

    Mike Poeta - Illinois

    Dual Record: 3-7

    The coaching carousel during the offseason of 2021 got off to a surprising start last year as longtime Illinois head coach Jim Heffernan stepped down. While some big names were bandied about from outside of the program, it was Poeta who was elevated to the head coaching position.

    Poeta got his first two wins of the year when his team downed Chattanooga and SIU Edwardsville in his dual debut. The Illini struggled during the Big Ten season, winning only one of their eight conference duals. The only victory for Poeta's team was a 36-3 drubbing over Indiana.

    Illinois finished in 11th place in the Big Ten after putting up 34.5 team points. Four wrestlers qualified for NCAA's automatically. In Detroit, 133 lber Lucas Byrd got on the podium as he took fifth for a second consecutive year. Zac Braunagel finished the year a match shy of placing, but ultimately had a good postseason. He was third in a Big Ten weight class that had 14 national qualifiers and was seeded ninth at 184 lbs.

    Longtime Illini assistant coach, Jeremy Hunter, stayed on staff and was joined by Penn State 3x national champion Ed Ruth. Bryan Medlin continued in his role as Director of Operations.

    The wrap on Illinois has long been “if they can only keep the best kids home.” That obviously is a priority for Poeta, who has gotten early commitments from a pair of top-100 juniors (William Baysingar and Kannon Webster).

    Poeta's squad will feature most of the same key players from 2021-22, as only Dylan Duncan (141) and Christian Kanzler (149) are expected to leave. Transfers Kevon Davenport (149) and Edmond Ruth (174) could provide a boost. Younger brother of assistant coach Ed, Edmond won the Clarion Open and MatMen open, defeating three national qualifiers, while competing completely unattached.

    Zach Sheaffer - Presbyterian

    Dual Record: 1-9

    The Presbyterian program has been a bit of an enigma ever since its inception prior to the 2019-20. Head coach Zach Sheaffer got a late start, as he was hired significantly later in the game, than the rest of the coaches on this list. Therefore, he wasn't able to get much recruiting done for the Class of 2021

    Sheaffer got his first win as a head coach in Presbyterian's second dual of the year, over NAIA Truett McConnell, 37-7. The Blue Hose narrowly lost to SoCon rival Bellarmine and put up a solid fight against Davidson and VMI.

    Sheaffer's inaugural year as head coach was disrupted for almost a full month, from late-December to January, as events were postponed or canceled due to Covid-related precautions.

    Presbyterian is a program that is still seeking its first national qualifier heading into the 2022-23 campaign. True freshman David Bertrand is the only starter that finished with a winning record, as he was 15-13, at 184 lbs.

    Shaeffer brought in Brian Vutianitis from Coker University to handle assistant coaching duties.

    The first-year staff seems to have hit the recruiting trail and it has paid off with quality early commitments from Ryan Luna (CA) and Ty Chittum (VA). They'll need to continue to improve the level of recruiting as they aim for qualifiers.

    Rob Koll - Stanford

    Dual Record: 5-4

    The most shocking move of the last offseason was seeing Rob Koll move out west to take over the team at Stanford. After the Cardinal program was saved, getting a coach of Koll's caliber was a sign of things to come in the future.

    Koll's new team didn't back down from competition as they faced Oklahoma State and Cornell in the first month of the regular season.

    The Cardinal finished third in a resurgent Pac-12 Conference with 97 points and then jumped into the top-20 at Nationals with 31.5 points. Shane Griffith got back to the NCAA finals, before falling to Keegan O'Toole (165 lbs). Real Woods made the NCAA podium for the first time when he took sixth at 141 lbs. Unfortunately, Stanford will be without Woods' services going forward, as he announced over the weekend that he was graduating and transferring to Iowa.

    Three other Stanford wrestlers qualified for nationals (Logan Ashton - 125, Jaden Abas - 149, and Tyler Eischens - 174) and each is expected back in 2022-23.

    Koll assembled a strong staff of his own when he moved out to Palo Alto. Enock Francois, Vincenzo Joseph, and Grant Leeth rounded out the coaching ranks for the Cardinal. In addition, Tyler Berger and Quentin Perez are training with the California RTC.

    As one may expect, recruiting has ramped up with Koll at the helm. A pair of top-25 recruits, Daniel Cardenas and Hunter Garvin, headline the Class of 2022 for Stanford. While those are the most prominent names, the group this year is deep and talented. Stanford already has a top-50 recruit from 2023 in the fold with Zach Hanson.

    Despite the loss of Woods, a pair of All-Americans will lead Stanford into 2022-23 and they will continue to improve as they get top recruits.

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