BUFFALO, NY - The 2011-12 Buffalo wrestling team will venture out into one of the toughest schedules in program history, featuring top national tournaments and duals against five teams that were ranked in the USA Today/NWCA Top 25 at the end of last season. Piled on top of that is a five-dual Mid-American Conference schedule that is always bitterly contested. After finishing third in the conference last season, Buffalo will have two home duals and a three road duals against MAC opponents.
Head coach Jim Beichner acknowledges the tough slate, but is confident that his team's talent can prevail.
"It's a tough schedule for as many freshmen and new starters that we have in our potential lineup. It's probably one of the toughest schedules we've put together ever," Beichner said. "We turned up the heat for a reason - we want them competing against the very best and that's all there is to it. Looking at the guys up and down our lineup, they don't know anything other than winning. This is a group of guys that know winning and whether you're a freshman, sophomore or senior, knowing how to win never changes. People who know how to win find ways to win, so we don't have any excuses. These guys know nothing but winning."
Kicking off the season will be the UB Open on Nov. 6, where the team won four weight divisions last season. The all-day tournament will begin at 10 am at Alumni Arena. New rules prevented teams from beginning official practice until the second week in October. Despite the smaller window of preparation time, the team is antsy to get the season going.
"The UB Open is going to come up faster for our freshmen, and it's going to be one of the more challenging tournaments and it will hit us right off the bat," Beichner said. "It's a great opportunity to shock people immediately because there's going to be a lot of talent at that tournament. It isn't a team scoring competition but our attitude going in there is to win the thing."
Following the open will be duals tournament down in Hershey, PA on Nov. 12. The Bulls will take on Utah Valley, Lock Haven, Cal Poly and Virginia Tech. All four teams are perennial powers, with Cal Poly ending the season with Boris Novachkov earning a national runner-up finish at 141 pounds. The Mustangs are ranked 24th in Wrestling Report's Preseason Top 25. The 17th-ranked Hokies sent seven wrestlers to the NCAA Championships last season and return eight starters and a top 10 recruiting class. Lock Haven returns one national qualifier and finished sixth in the EWL last season. Utah Valley lost All American Ben Kjar to graduation but do return a potent lineup.
"We recruited every single guy by saying that we were going to guarantee a few things. We're going to give you great coaching, we're going to provide you with a great environment and teammates and we're going to give you a great schedule competing against the best teams in the country," Beichner said. "We're starting out against some great teams and we're looking forward to walking in there and waking up some people to see that Buffalo is a great young team."
The team will then return to Buffalo for the home opening dual. For the second straight season, a top national power will come to Alumni Arena, this time with Big 10 member Michigan.
"You train to expect to win, we want a big marquee teams to come in here once a year at least from now on," Beichner said. "We want our team wrestling against the big name teams so we can wrestle against them and beat them."
In ensuing weekends, the team will participate in the Body Bar Invite (11/19) and Penn State Open (12/4). Six Bulls finished in the top three and the team wound up finishing fifth out of 11 teams at last year's Body Bar, and Kevin Smith came in second in the 133-pound bracket in the 2010 Penn State Open.
Following the two tournaments, the team will have six straight dual meets, starting with a critical Mid-American Conference opener against defending champion Central Michigan on Saturday, Dec. 10. The Chips will return two All Americans and are aiming for its 14th conference title in the past 15 years.
"They're talented, they always have been and they always will be," Beichner said. "It's a good test for us and I hope by that time in the season our guys will know that they're good enough to compete against anyone in the country. "
Following that, the team will host a challenging quad meet at home that will feature Bloomsburg, Gardner-Webb and Pittsburgh-Johnstown. Bloomsburg sent three wrestlers to the NCAA Championships last season and took down the Bulls 21-12. Gardner-Webb won six duals and had four wrestlers with 20 wins or more, and Pitt-Johnstown had three wrestlers earn D-II All American honors and went 14-2-1 as a team in 2010-11. The quad will be held Dec. 18 at 11 am and will run all day.
Ringing in the New Year, Binghamton will come to Buffalo for a dual. The Bearcats came in second last season in the Colonial Athletic Association after winning it the season before, and also won the New York State Championships. Four national qualifiers will return for 2011. Last season, the Bulls beat Binghamton 24-12 on the road. To cap off the week, the team will hit the road for a dual against Edinboro Jan. 7.
Following that, the Bulls will participate for the second straight season in the Virginia Duals, Jan. 13-14. As one of the top team dual tournaments in the country, the Virginia Duals will feature the top teams on the east coast and the country as a whole. Last season, the team finished eighth out of 16, facing Virginia, Michigan, Rider and Wyoming over the two-day event. The New York State Championships will take place the following weekend of Jan 21-22.
Next will be a demanding slate of four straight MAC duals, starting with Ohio at home on Sunday, Jan 29. The dual will also feature the third-annual Takedown Cancer fundraiser. Last season, the team raised $28,000 for cancer research. Then the team will face Kent State (Feb. 3), Eastern Michigan (Feb. 8) and Northern Illinois (Feb. 18) all on the road in a slate that should pose a solid challenge. Following the Northern Illinois dual, the team will take a trip south to face Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Feb. 19 to close out the regular season.
The MAC Championships will be hosted by Ohio this season and will run from Mar. 3-4. After winning four individual titles and claiming a third-place finish, the Bulls will looked to take another step forward to a MAC team title. The NCAA Championship will take place Mar. 16-18 and will be held in St. Louis.