EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – "Restore the Glory."
That's the theme for SIUE wrestling heading into the 2013-14 season. First-year Head Coach Jeremy Spates has made it a priority to revisit the past while working toward the future.
"I think a great base for our program is its history and all of the wrestling alumni we have. I wanted to honor them while at the same time try to bring our current team back to national prominence," said Spates.
SIUE won three consecutive national championships at the NCAA Division II level from 1984 to 1986. The Cougars also have had major success at the NCAA Division I level with seven different wrestlers earning 11 All-American certificates from 1978 to 1987.
SIUE begins the 2013-14 season with the Illinois Quad Nov. 16. The Cougars will compete in Chicago against Illinois, Arizona State, and Ouachita Baptist (Ark.).
Spates said his immediate goal is to make marked improvements at the conference level. SIUE placed fifth out of eight teams in its inaugural SoCon Championships behind the work of four third-place finishes.
"I think we'll see improvement right away," said Spates. "I expect us to be fighting for that conference championship this year. We haven't had anyone at the NCAA Division I Championships since the 1980s, and I expect that to happen this year."
The improvements in the wrestling program come at a time when SIUE has made a major commitment program-wide to improve its facilities. Last year, SIUE Athletics opened the Lukas Annex to provide new office space for the coaching and support staff. Later this year, SIUE Athletics will open a new strength and conditioning facility that will more than double the amount of space available for training.
"It is going to be huge compared to what we have now," Spates said. "When you can bring in a recruit and show them how nice this space is going to be, it will be helpful."
The Cougars also are looking to a wish list of expanding the current wrestling practice room. Spates said a future fundraising drive will be in the works to help make that a reality.
In the short term, Spates has a roster of eager wrestlers who are more than ready to help SIUE "Restore the Glory."
"As soon as I got to know the team, it was easy to realize this is a great group of guys. They came in with good attitudes and were ready to work," said Spates. "The team responded well to the preseason, and I know that we got better in that short time."
The Cougars have 11 wrestlers returning who saw action last season. As in any season, there are a number of weight classes to be contested. The team also named three captains for the 2013-14 team – Patrick Myers (Cresson, Pa.), Cole Rogers (Warrensburg, Mo.), and Josh Wood (Alturas, Calif.). Below is a breakdown by weight class.
Dakota Leach (Wichita, Kan.) is a freshman and the only wrestler listed at the 125-pound weight class.
"Being our only wrestler there, Dakota will win the spot," said Spates. "Dakota is a talented and hard-working wrestler, and we are expecting big things from him this year."
Myers, who led all SIUE wrestlers last season with the most wins (23) at a single weight class, is the leading candidate for the starting job.
"Patrick is coming off a third-place finish at the Southern Conference Tournament and has been working hard to improve on that," said Spates.
Brandon Brindley (Kimberley, Ala.) was a part-time starter last season for the Cougars. Sophomore Drew Vrbenec (Oswego, Ill.) and freshman Trevor Feagans (Carthage, Mo.) also will be fighting for the spot in the starting lineup.
"All three have been working hard to get the starting nod this year," Spates said.
Four freshmen wrestlers are competing for one spot. The four in the mix are Karsten Van Velsor (Ottumwa, Iowa), Russell Coleman (Kansas City, Mo.), Sam Zimmerman (Fairbanks, Alaska), and Lucas Volpe (Mt. Zion, Ill.).
"This will be an interesting competition at 149 pounds because of all of the new faces," said Spates.
Logun Taylor (Russiaville, Ind.) competed at three different weight classes last season for the Cougars.
"Logun has been working hard to maintain a spot in the lineup," Spates noted.
"We are not as deep in this weight class as we could be, but we should be tough," Spates said.
Sophomore Jake Residori (Shorewood, Ill.) is coming off a third-place SoCon finish. Residori led all SIUE wrestlers last season with 24 victories, including nine at 165 pounds and 15 at 174 pounds. Also challenging for the spot will be freshman Ben Throm (Troy, Ill.).
"This is another weight class that lacks depth but not skill," Spates said.
The most hotly-contested weight class could arguably be 184 pounds. The four who are competing for a starting role are Rogers, sophomore Derek Nagel (Lemont, Ill.), sophomore Jake Tindle (Troy, Ill.), and freshman Matthew McClimens (Pacific, Mo.).
"We have a number of wrestlers who are moving up or down to challenge for this spot. I expect a lot of competition throughout the season," Spates said.
Wood returns as the starting senior at this weight and is hoping to improve on his third-place SoCon finish. Sophomore Chris Johnson, who won six matches last season, will be a strong candidate at the weight class.
"Josh did not compete at the Red and Black Intrasquad last Wednesday, but he will have an impact this season," Spates said.
Heavyweight (285 Pounds)
David Devine (Petersburg, Ill.) is the only heavyweight on the roster. Devine also is one of four wrestlers looking to improve on his third-place finish at the SoCon Tournament last season.
"This is another weight class that we need to stay healthy. If David is healthy, he will compete for the conference title," Spates said.