As the Hofstra wrestling team gets set for its opening match this Sunday against Buffalo at 1 p.m., head coach Tom Shifflet is not just focused on the present but the future of this program that has consistently been ranked in the top 20 for the last decade. With an eye toward the long term growth of Hofstra wrestling and knowing this year features a top heavy group of 133 pound grapplers, Coach Shifflet decided to red-shirt three-time NCAA qualifier Lou Ruggirello in order to enhance his chance of capturing a national title in 2011.
While red-shirting Ruggirello will make for a more challenging 2009/2010 season, giving the Valley Stream Central High School graduate another year to hone his skills in freestyle matches in preparation for a national title run next year will be a positive for the program long-term, according to Shifflet. “We don’t just red-shirt anybody, you want to red-shirt the guys who have the attitude, have the work ethic, guys who are going to take that year and really make a conscious effort to develop themselves,” said Shifflet of Ruggirello, who was 15-1 in dual meets as a junior last season. “We wanted to give to give him the best opportunity to win a national title for himself, for the program, because he’s been a great student-athlete and deserves it.”
The decision to red-shirt Ruggirello has created healthy competition to fill the 133 pound slot between junior Jeff Rotella and freshman Jamie Franco, a 2008 New York State champion from Monroe-Woodbury High School. Many other weight classes are also undetermined and avoiding the injury bug will be paramount for a team already low on depth. Coach Shifflet got a scare in pre-season workouts when 10th ranked 174-pound wrestler Ryan Patrovich sprained a knee ligament forcing him to miss two weeks of practice but the junior who knocked off number one ranked 165-pound wrestler Mack Lewnes of Cornell in last year’s NCAAs, will be ready for the opener. Another potential injury problem is with pre-season 15th ranked Steve Bonanno at 125 pounds, as the sophomore from nearby Wantagh banged up his knee and will be a match-time decision Sunday.
Patrovich, who moved up from 165 pounds to 174 to replace the graduated Alton Lucas, is one of three Pride grapplers to move up in weight class with pre-season 20th ranked Justin Accordino going from 141 to 149 and P.J. Gillespie going to 155 after competing at 149 as a red-shirt freshman. The highest ranked Hofstra wrestler in the pre-season rankings is senior Jonny Bonilla-Bowman at 157 pounds.
Hofstra has won eight straight conference titles but was picked to finish third in the Colonial Athletic Association pre-season rankings behind Old Dominion and Rider. The Pride’s 2009/2010 schedule will as always feature many of the top programs in the nation highlighted by home matches with pre-season third ranked Ohio State on Jan. 3, 20th ranked Harvard on Jan. 9, eighth ranked Missouri on Jan. 22 and 24th ranked Pennsylvania on Jan. 31. Hofstra will also be grappling on the road with pre-season 20th ranked Virginia on Nov. 28, fourth ranked Cornell on Feb, 6 and eighth ranked Maryland on Feb. 14.
“With the qualifying system you’ve got to wrestle the better teams, you’ve got to wrestle the better opponent, you’ve got to put your athletes in positions to be tested all the time,” said Shifflet of the competitive schedule he comprised. “We’ve got a great program, we’ve got great individuals and that is why these programs want to wrestle us.”