PLYMOUTH, N.H. – Plymouth State College is ranked fourth in the first New England Division III wrestling coaches poll of the season, the same spot where the Panthers finished last season.
PSC should have another strong team this year, and even though the season officially begins this Saturday (Nov. 15) at the Colonial Open in Binghamton, NY, third-year coach Dave Carlson says he may not know how good this team is until February.
The Panthers will be on the road this entire semester, going to Binghamton this week and the Doug Parker Invitational at Springfield College next week, along with three dates in December before the semester break. The only three home matches this season are in January.
“Our goals are the same every year,” says Carlson. “We’re always looking to win the New England conference tournament and make a showing at the NCAA Tournament. That’s what we train for. Our season is six months long, and unlike other sports our regular season isn’t judged against us. We try to peak at the end of the year. If we do that, we’ll place high in the conference or win it.”
The Panthers have had two solid campaigns under Carlson and assistant coach Chad Brakke, and are expecting another this season with the return of six conference place-winners. Carlson thinks the Panthers not only have a chance to win the New Englands for the second time in three years, but also to achieve success on the national level.
“We have a realistic goal of finishing in the top 20 at the NCAAs,” said Carlson. “We’re gearing our guys to be competitive at the national tournament. That’s a good goal, because it’s something that has been done only once here (1992) and it’s something we can attain this year.”
The Panthers have been regular visitors to the NCAA meet, but usually with only one or two wrestlers. Carlson thinks there could be more this season.
“We’re always going to qualify one or two guys,” said Carlson. “I believe we have anywhere from 2-6 guys this year who can qualify for the NCAA. We put the NCAA on our schedule because that’s our expectation.”
The Panthers sent just one wrestler, Brian Borkowski (Sabattus, ME), to the national meet last season after placing fourth in New England.
“We have a solid group of veterans back that know what we’re about and know what it takes to be successful at our level of competition,” said Carlson. “The difference between this year’s and last year’s team will be leadership. I think that’ll make the difference, in terms of our success and how we do.”
The six key returnees include four seniors – 158-pounder Brian Borkowski (Sabattus, ME), heavyweight Dave Lucia (Billerica, MA), 167-pounder Pete Marinilli (Stoughton, MA), and Todd Lavallee (Danville, NH) – along with juniors Ryan Carr (Salem, NH) at 190 pounds and Todd Oljey (Byfield, MA) at 142.
Borkowski is a returning NCAA tournament wrestler, having qualified last season after winning the New England 158-pound title, who wants to make a run at All-American this year. He finished with a sparkling 33-4 overall record, and has a 65-20 career mark. Lucia is also a veteran of the NCAA championships, participating two seasons ago after winning the New England heavyweight title. He finished with a 20-6 record last season and has a career mark of 50-19, but after a fifth place in the New Englands last season, Lucia is determined to return to the NCAAs.
A two-time New England place-winner, Lavallee is looking for his first trip to the national meet. He has gone 16-11 and 16-10 the past two seasons, placing fifth and fourth at the New Englands at 134 pounds. Marinilli has been a .500 wrestler the past two seasons after a solid freshman year, and is looking for a strong senior season.
The two juniors, Carr and Oljey, emerged as solid contenders last season, when both wrestlers won 25 matches and finished in the top three at the New England meet. Carr finished runner-up at 190 and posted a 25-10 record, and Oljey placed third and finished with a 25-14 mark.
“There isn’t any magic formula for our success,” said Carlson, who led PSC to a New England title in his first year (1995-96) and was named Coach of the Year. “We prepare well, we master the basic skills, we’re a pressure wrestling team, and we’ll be in better condition than everybody. That’s what PSC Wrestling is. Put your nose to the grindstone and anything can happen. Go all out for seven minutes (in a match).
“I use the saying ‘chance favors the prepared mind and the prepared body.’” Carlson added. “You make your own breaks.”