Head coach Seth Bloomquist continues to prepare the Shippensburg University wrestling team for its first competition of the 2016-2017 campaign this Saturday, Nov. 8 at the Drexel Duels at North Penn High School in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.
SU looks to take on three NCAA Division I programs, including Gardner-Webb University, Drexel University and Sacred Heart University.
The high-level competition will test Shippensburg’s veteran squad as they hope to turn heads this upcoming season. This year’s Raider squad is predominately similar to last year’s squad, with most of its starting lineup returning in the hopes of taking the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) title and potentially appearing at the NCAA Division II National Championships as a team.
“We’re excited to open up against three Division I teams. Drexel is a very solid Division I team that we’re going to wrestle right away with,” Bloomquist said.
Captains senior Karl Lightner, red-shirt junior Evan Ramos, senior Dante Steffenino, junior Mike Springer and sophomore Mike Hafer lead the formidable team with confidence and consistency.
“We’ve just been keeping our conditioning up and working on our feet,” Steffenino said. “Confidence has been a key point we’ve been focusing on.”
Steffenino, the Raiders’ 133-pounder, was a third-place PSAC finisher last year and has high hopes to make a strong push this season and make his debut at nationals. Steffenino is accompanied by his younger brother, sophomore and 125-pounder Dustin Steffenino, who was a fourth-place PSAC finisher in the 2015-2016 post season.
The brothers both have the potential to make a national tournament appearance as they improve with each match and each challenge they face.
The young team is peppered with talent with three previous national qualifiers including Ramos and sophomore Adam Martz (2015-2016 qualifiers) and Lightner (2014-2015 qualifier). Ramos, one of the team’s most prolific athletes, anticipates an exciting season and expects his performances to only getting better.
“The team is a lot of returners—it’s all a group of kids with a lot of leadership. We have a lot of guys on this team that know what they want to do this season,” Bloomquist said.
Ramos, the rising star on SU’s young team, has overcome many obstacles, including a pair of shoulder injuries that required surgery and a lot of rehabilitation. He looks to make another nationals berth and lead his team to success through his dominating-style of attack of his opponents.
Ramos has been superb on the mat in his career, going 24 – 4 last year at the 197-pound weight class. He looks to join his fellow Raiders in the national tournament crusade that the team embarks on.
The 2016-2017 post-season will feature a potential SU record for national qualifiers with a solid lineup that has high aspirations and an even higher skillset.
“We have a lot of guys that should easily place top eight in the nation. If we don’t have seven guys make it I’ll be disappointed,” Lightner said. “We’ve really been growing since freshman year, since when the team came together about four years ago…just building up to this team, being the best we can be this year. This is the year.”
Lightner is the Raiders’ 141-pounder and qualified for NCAA Division II National Championships in the 2014-2015 season, and looks to take his well-deserved national title.
“I have just been working on my conditioning more because last year at regionals, I lost in double overtime to go to nationals,” Lightner said. “That just eats at me every day; I think about it everyday, so I’m going as hard as I can everyday.”
The young team has a strong bond as they grow together and become a national contender. With confidence and conditioning being a focus, the wrestling team believes they can compete with the top Division II programs while maintaining competitiveness with Division I schools.
“When you start lining up against the level of competition that we’re opening up with, it’s a good gauge to see where you’re at and where you need to go,” Bloomquist said.
The Raiders began their official regular season practices in early October and turned the dial up on conditioning in preparation to live up to their potential.
Springer, the 149-pounder, looks to make a repeat of his freshman year where he qualified for nationals in an impressive rookie campaign. Springer has developed into a solid wrestler for SU and hopes to improve to get a shot at the national tournament alongside his teammates.
The Raiders are a team that looks to stir up the PSAC and make waves in national competition. With the season opener just days away, the Raiders are anxious to prove what they can do on the mat.
“We should make it to nationals. We have a great team here; it’s a great group, a great room with really good practice partners, so honestly, I don’t see why we can’t make it to nationals,” Steffenino said.
The 2016-2017 squad looks to send a potential seven wrestlers to nationals, and they have the walk to back up the talk.