There once was a time at Montclair State University where the Division III wrestling program was one of the best in the nation. In its history, the school has recorded many national champions and over 100 All-Americans. However, the program was discontinued after the 2005-2006 season as a varsity sport.
Since then, wrestling at Montclair State became a club sport, with its ups and downs in terms of staying alive. In March 2020, the squad was set to take on nationals only for it to get canceled the night before due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
During the 2020-2021 season, the club was limited to practices only and that put the future of the club in jeopardy as its number of members decreased significantly.
The future of the wrestling club was beginning to look bleak and if it wasn’t for the current executive board, which is led by president Michael Wong, it might not exist today.
“By the end of the 2020-2021 season, there was really only one or two guys left, me being one of them and the other being the old president Jacob Tareky,” Wong said. “And then me, Joe [Rivera] and Noah [Ramadan], the current executive board, decided to pick things back up, start recruiting, try to get a full team back again and that’s kind of where we got to now.”
Turning this club around was no easy task but it is safe to say that it all paid off as the club saw its amount of members rise to approximately 20 this season. The team is open to all students regardless of experience and even offers a competitive and non-competitive team.
In what was their first full season since before the pandemic, the club had five names qualify for nationals — Ramadan, freshman standout Frank Brigati, junior Dominic Dimassimo and seniors Rey Miller and Ali Iqbal.
In order to qualify for nationals, the Red Hawks had to place in the top five or six of the weight class. Although there wasn’t a great amount of success at nationals, almost every participant for the Red Hawks at nationals came within striking distance of being an All-American.
At times this season, it was very difficult for the Red Hawks to challenge other schools in dual meets and competitions largely due to their team being smaller than most. However, individually speaking, Ramadan believes they were successful.
“We would always lose in terms of the team score just because we couldn’t field a full roster,” Ramadan said. “That being said, the guys we did have wrestle, [they] blew through their competition.”
A wrestler that especially stood out this season for the Red Hawks was Brigati. The freshman had a season to remember as he won the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA) Mid-East conference championship in the 141 Pound division.
“I really wanted to work hard so I came to work hard,” Brigati said. “I really want to build this team up so I think [the season] went really well.”
Building and maintaining this club hasn’t been easy in the slightest, but after an extremely successful 2021-2022 season, the Montclair State wrestling club is back on the map.
“I’m extremely excited, there’s a really bright future,” Wong said. “There’s a lot of guys who are really dedicated to building the club and not just focusing on themselves as wrestlers but for what’s best for the future of this team.”