The Golden Bears are 1-0 to start the season and return to action Jan. 8, 2022, at the Kutztown Duals. KU is led by head coach Robert Fisher, who is in his 21st year at the helm of the Golden Bears.
Michael Albergo of Longport, NJ (08403).
James Potts of Cherry Hill, NJ (08034).
Collin Wickramaratna of Marlton, NJ (08053).
The Golden Bears had two legitimate shots at national titles with 133-pounder Collin Wickramaratna (Marlton, N.J./Cherokee) and reigning heavyweight champion Andrew Dunn Jr. (Bethlehem, Pa./Bethlehem Catholic) set to compete in the 2020 NCAA Division II Championships before COVID-19 shut the season down in the blink of an eye less than 24 hours before competition was set to begin.
No doubt, the fire burns deep for that duo to return to national prominence, but the itch to compete permeates throughout the entire program. It's been more than 600 days since the last time any of them had the chance to wrestle competitively.
"We're excited, but apprehensive," said 21st-year head coach Robert Fisher. "It seems like forever since we've been on the mat, so there's a whirlwind of emotions as we head into this new season, but ultimately we can't wait to compete again."
Dunn Jr. and Wickramaratna are defending Super Region 1 champions and Fisher knows what they'll bring to the mat every time they step on it.
"Andrew and Collin are both very confident guys," said Fisher. "They're confident in their abilities and that carries through to the rest of the team. When their matches are up, they're going to get the job done."
There are many more unknowns on this Kutztown roster than any before, with a pair of Division I transfers, returnees with varying collegiate experience looking to fill a bigger role and two freshmen classes that have yet to compete at this level.
Coaches around the country believe in Kutztown's overall strength coming off 2019-20's 10-4 dual record. The Golden Bears are ranked 11th in the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Division II Preseason Poll, while Dunn Jr. is the top-ranked heavyweight and Wickramaratna the sixth-ranked grappler at 133.
Dunn Jr. sets the tone in the room. Since transferring from Virginia Tech, the Bethlehem, Pa., native has compiled a 46-2 record in two seasons with the Golden Bears, including a perfect 46-0 record against DII opponents. In addition to his 2019 national title, Dunn Jr., is a two-time All-American and is coming off an unbeaten 20-0 season in 2019-20, the program's first since Ziad Haddad went 30-0 on his way to a national championship in 2014-15.
"Dunny is a vocal leader in the room, supremely talented and we have all the confidence in him to go out end his career with another national championship," said Fisher.
Last season was Wickramaratna's first in Maroon and Gold. A national qualifier as a freshman at DIII Ursinus in 2018-19, he showed his talent plays up at DII as well. Wickramaratna went 24-2 overall, led the team with seven pins and knocked off defending national champion Tyler Warner of Pitt-Johnstown (now at West Liberty) to claim the Super Region 1 title. Following the cancellation of the DII national tournament, Wickramaratna was named a NWCA All-American.
"Wick works extremely hard on his technique and is driven to keep improving," explained Fisher. "He's more reserved, but a great leader for us, nonetheless. I'm excited to see where the next step of his career takes him."
The return of veteran contributors like James Potts (Cherry Hill, N.J./Cherry Hill West) (197) and Matt Wilde (Boyertown, Pa./Boyertown) (125) is sure to benefit Kutztown. Potts enjoyed his best season with the team in 2019-20, going 13-8 and competing for the team at the Super Region 1 Championships. Wilde was limited to five bouts last season but posted a 14-3 record with seven major decisions and finished fifth in his weight class at the PSAC Championships in 2018-19.
Juniors Michael Albergo (Longport, N.J./Saint Augustine Prep) (141) and AJ Bencivenga (Cranford, N.J./Cranford) (165) were mainstays in KU's 2019-20 dual lineup along with senior Michael Cusick (McDonald, Pa./South Fayette) (149). Cusick registered an 8-6 dual record, including three wins in PSAC matches, while Albergo was 5-5.
Beyond that, Fisher's group is relatively inexperienced at the collegiate level. It's a trend that will fluctuate around the country depending on whether a team wrestled in 2020-21 or, like the Bears, had its season canceled because of the pandemic.
Redshirt sophomores Tyler Fisher (Lenhartsville, Pa./Kutztown) (184) and Michael Torres (Allentown, Pa./Liberty) (133) got a few matches under their belts the last time Kutztown competed and will be looking to take significant steps forward this year. But even those who redshirted in 2019-20 join the Golden Bears that are true freshmen or sophomores with freshmen eligibility as "wait and see" cases as the season is set to get underway Sunday at the East Stroudsburg University Open.
"I'm not really sure at this point, what to expect" said Fisher. "We have an outstanding group of veterans, some transfers, some excellent freshmen who are going to have to contribute right away, so right now there's intrigue and nervousness on the unknowns, but I'm looking forward to seeing us grow."
Kutztown, unsurprisingly, will use the fall semester to get back up to speed after the year away. There's just one dual in the fall semester, the home opener against Seton Hill on Wednesday, Dec. 1, at 7:30 p.m. Trips to the Millersville "Shorty" Hitchcock Memorial Open, Nov. 20, and the Bob Quade Cyclone Open hosted by Centenary (N.J.), Dec. 5, complete the pre-break schedule.
"We wanted to get the guys a lot of matches early on after the year away," said Fisher. "Hitting a bunch of these tournaments from the start will allow our staff to assess strengths and weaknesses, get them corrected in the room and allow us to keep getting better and better as we head towards dual season after the break. Most of the Division II wrestling schools competed during the 2020-21 season, so our backs are against the wall a bit, but we're excited to get out there and get after it."
The new year will be packed with duals, however. The Golden Bears host the KU Duals on Saturday, Jan. 8, and return to the Virginia Duals, Jan. 14-15, looking for their fourth straight title there. Kutztown's remaining home matches are against Pitt-Johnstown, Jan. 28, and East Stroudsburg (Senior Night), Feb. 16.
The Super Region 1 Championships will be hosted by Pitt-Johnstown this year on Saturday, Feb. 26, and nationals will be contested at the Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, Missouri, March 11-12.