WILKES-BARRE – The Wilkes University wrestling room was filled with confidence Thursday afternoon.
And why shouldn't the Colonels be self-assured? They are in the midst of a 17-match dual winning streak and are currently ranked seventh in the latest NWCA Rankings with the possibility of moving even higher when the next installment of the bi-weekly rankings are released Feb. 14 since a team in front of them lost. Wilkes' current rank is the highest ever in coach Jon Laudenslager's 10-year tenure, with the previous high being No. 11 last season.
With a win tonight at home against 19th-ranked TCNJ, the Colonels (17-3) will equal the school record for consecutive dual wins set during the 1979-80 season when the Colonels were a Division I program and the only losses that season came to Oregon State and Lehigh.
It seemed unbelievable to Laudenslager when he heard the stat since the program has been a part of many highs under legendary coach John Reese, including a National Championship in 1974.
That would be just another achievement for us to reach, Laudenslager said.
Wilkes' run started after three straight losses to open the season at the John Reese Duals in November to three ranked teams, including current No. 3 Cortland by just one point. The coach isn't looking back on those losses and thinking ‘what if,' but since then when the team got fully healthy, it has been on another level. Wilkes shut out RIT and Mount Saint Vincent, beat five ranked opponents including dismantling Delaware Valley in the eighth-ranked Aggies' only loss this season and gave up no more than nine points 12 times during the streak.
The Colonels also beat a pair of Division II opponents West Chester and East Stroudsburg. After ranked TCNJ tonight, the Colonels travel to face 13th-ranked Ithaca on Feb. 15.
They're just so confident right now. They believe in themselves. They're making commitments, the coach said.
They believe anybody they wrestle they're going to beat. I knew once we put our full lineup out there we were very, very good. From top to bottom at every weight, they're trying to shut teams out or get bonus points every time, which our whole mindset has changed.
When you're missing a couple guys, you're almost already putting the excuse in your head. I just think it's become contagious, the atmosphere and wrestling hard for all seven minutes has become very contagious. Trying to score more bonus points has become contagious. It's just something that's been snowballing on us which is good.
A key part of the campaign came in December when Mark Hartenstine transferred in from Division I Campbell University and has lost just once since during a 16-1 record. His lone loss came to teammate Kris Krawchuk (21-2) in the finals of the Wilkes Open. With two elite wrestlers at 149 pounds, Krawchuk, a junior, took it upon himself and volunteered to move up to 157, giving the Colonels a lethal back-to-back punch in the middle of the lineup.
It was very unselfish of Kris to move up and think about the team because he was having a great season, Laudenslager said.
Hartenstine and Krawchuk – ranked third and fifth, respectively – aren't the only contributors for the Colonels. Eleven grapplers have at least 15 wins this season with junior Myzar Mendoza leading the way with a 27-4 mark. He is ranked seventh at 133. Mendoza has been a staple for the Colonels since his freshman season when he won the Wilkes Open, and has an 80-19 career record.
He's just a goer. He's always had that go hard for seven minutes and he always wins a lot of matches just by wrestling hard and going hard for seven minutes, Laudenslager said about his lightweight. That's the thing that's changed. Now we have everybody in the lineup doing that. He's probably been the example for most guys.
No. 19 TCNJ
No. 7 Wilkes
7 p.m. today at Marts Center
Notes: With a win tonight, the Colonels will extend their winning streak to 18 and will tie the school record.
Weather advisory: In the event of inclement weather an announcement will be made if tonight's dual will be held. If school is closed, the meet will not go on.