Without a coach, the wrestling team must begin practicing months before its first meet.
Co-captains David Farrell ’03 and Vincent Panzano ’04 will fill the coaching role this season. The team’s schedule of five weekly practices begins Nov. 10, but Farrell will wait until after Thanksgiving to participate in practice. Farrell, like many of his wrestling teammates, plays on the football team.
The team does not compete in its first meet until Jan. 9 at Bryant College.
“My personal focus, which I think we lacked a little last year [because practice began late in the season], is in our endurance on the mat,” Panzano said.
Panzano will wrestle in the 175-pound weight class this season. He is used to leading a wrestling team — he captained his Ohio high school wrestling squad — and does not view the team’s lack of a coach as a handicap.
“The club is pretty much student-run, and it’s small enough that it doesn’t necessitate a coach,” Panzano said.
Last year’s coach, Ryan Benfiglio, came to Yale to work as part of the Athletes in Action organization, a Christian sports ministry association. But Benfiglio left Yale to work at Princeton University, where he wrestled as an undergraduate.
Princeton’s wrestling program has varsity status.
Without a coach, everybody will pitch in and help teammates grow.
“It’s a group effort in a lot of ways,” Farrell said. “We try to share moves and challenge each other.”
Farrell, Yale’s football center, wrestles in the heavyweight class. As a sophomore, he placed third at the National Collegiate Wrestling Association championship tournament. Last year, Farrell finished fourth.
And Farrell was not the only Eli to place well at last year’s NCWA national tournament. Isaac Pastrana ’05 finished fourth in the 141-pound weight division.
Pastrana said he had a strong finish last winter because he got into better physical shape and dropped to 141 pounds — the weight class where he hopes to win this year’s NCWA national tournament in March.
“I want to be a stronger contender for the title — for No. 1,” Pastrana said.
He was a three-year league champion at his San Diego, Calif., high school.
Pastrana said the NCWA, comprised of about 70 club wrestling programs, has grown significantly over the past decade as colleges demoted wrestling from varsity status. The result is improved competition for the Bulldogs.
In addition, Yale suffers from a lack of home meets. The closest tournament is the Bulldogs’ first competition of the winter at Bryant College — about two hours from New Haven.
Team members said they would like wrestling to regain varsity standing. The athletics department demoted wrestling to club status in 1991 to comply with Title IX regulations.
“I know there’s a lot of people who’d like to wrestle for a school like Yale,” Panzano said. “If the numbers [of Yale wrestlers] and the interest grows, the potential would be there to reinstate it as a varsity sport.”
The sailing program’s rise to varsity status last year is an example of what could happen to wrestling, Panzano said.
But for now, Yale wrestlers are focused on increasing the team’s visibility over the next two years.
Club wrestling, Panzano said, is not as well-known as other Yale club sports programs such as rugby and water polo. Currently, 17 Elis make up the squad’s roster, with empty slots between the 119 and 141 weight classes.
Although Panzano and his teammates are looking for a new coach, the team remains confident they can succeed with or without one.
“Preparation is the key,” Panzano said.