2021 NCAA Wrestling Championship Watch Party

NCAA Notes: Dellavecchia Makes Improbable And Historic Run To Finals

NCAA Notes: Dellavecchia Makes Improbable And Historic Run To Finals

Jesse Dellavecchia thought his days on the mat were done in 2016 until a breakup, of all things, put him on a path to Rider wrestling history.

Mar 20, 2021 by Andy Hamilton
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The most improbable national finalist sat behind the mic Friday night at the NCAA Championships and began to recount the story of his unusual and incredible journey to college wrestling’s biggest stage. 

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The most improbable national finalist sat behind the mic Friday night at the NCAA Championships and began to recount the story of his unusual and incredible journey to college wrestling’s biggest stage. 

Five years ago, Jesse Dellavecchia walked away from the sport. He left Binghamton after his freshman season, moved back home to Long Island and started working a construction job with his dad. 

“I pretty much hated the sport, hated life for a little bit, but I fixed it and lifted myself back up and wasn’t really sure if I wanted to wrestle again or not,” the Rider 157-pounder said. “I really had nothing going for me at the time.

“I had a girlfriend and I was enjoying that and then she broke up with me, so I thought maybe I should start wrestling again because there was nothing else happening.” 

Saturday night’s NCAA finals will feature a collection of college wrestling top stars — some who own age-group World medals, almost all of whom were blue-chip recruits.  

Then there’s Dellavecchia, a two-time New York state high school runner-up who thought his days on the mat were done until a breakup, of all things, put him on a path to Rider wrestling history. 

“No other schools wanted me,” he said of his recruitment after he decided to return to college wrestling in the fall of 2017. “Everyone was telling me I’d be a walk-on. I’d love to name some schools right now, but I won’t do that. No one really believed in me, besides Rider. I went here and the rest is history.” 

It’s history indeed. A Rider wrestler had never secured a spot in the NCAA finals until Friday night when Dellavecchia cranked No. 1 seed Ryan Deakin of Northwestern over for a second-period fall. 

“I’ve never felt anything like that before,” Dellavecchia said. “It was just amazing and I feel honored and I’m so happy to be wrestling here.”

The Broncs are pretty thrilled about it, too. Rider has gradually been climbing the NCAA ladder in recent years. The school had just two All-Americans from 2001 through 2014, but B.J. Clagon reached the NCAA podium in 2015, Chad Walsh did the same the following two years and Ryan Wolfe joined him in 2017. 

Punching through to the finals, though, could be a game-changer for the Broncs. 

“This is a moment we’ve waited for for so long,” Rider coach John Hangey said. “In a moment like this, for a school like us — not a Power 5 school — and a school that really commits to the wrestling program, and we’re appreciative of that, it’s important for us to take this and utilize it so we can continue to get good recruits and continue to blossom as a program and continue taking the program to new heights. 

“When coach (Gary) Taylor retired (in 2017), he said, ‘I know you guys are going to do special things and take this program to even greater heights and I can’t wait to watch.’”

Maybe Dellavecchia’s run to the national finals will help Hangey and company reel in more high-caliber prospects in the years ahead. But the Broncs have certainly shown they can develop, too. 

Dellavecchia posted a 20-5 record while wrestling unattached during his first season at Rider. He went 25-7 and won a pair of matches at the NCAA Championships in 2019 and he’s 41-2 since. 

“He had to sit the first year because he was academically ineligible because of transferable credits — he didn’t have enough,” Hangey said. “The good news is he had Chad Walsh to be behind for a whole year, so it gave him a situation where he could fall back in love with the sport again and not having any pressure to compete. It was a good situation to sit back and watch and learn from Chad and then grow. From that point on, we had a relationship with him and the coaches that was just phenomenal. He does everything we ask him to, he works his tail off and he says, ‘Whatever you guys want to do, I trust you.’ It’s something he needed to have happen, and I’m glad it did.” 


STANFORD STANDS TALL

The Stanford wrestlers made a statement this season by stripping their school’s name and logo from their singlets, opting instead for all-black attire. 

They’ve sent another message this week with their performance in St. Louis. 

The Cardinal finished Friday in a tie for 16th place in the team standings. If they finish there, it would match the third-highest placement in program history. 

Stanford has an opportunity to keep climbing the charts on Saturday with freshman Jaden Abas wrestling for seventh and sophomore Shane Griffith bidding to become the second — and hopefully not last — NCAA champion in program history. 

The school announced last July that it intends to drop 11 sports, including wrestling, at the conclusion of this academic year. 

How strange would it be for the school to have a national champion and drop the sport in the same year?

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot,” Griffith said. “I wouldn’t want to be in their situation if that happens.” 

Griffith reached the finals at 165 pounds by knocking off No. 1 seed Alex Marinelli of Iowa in the quarterfinals and downing Bucknell’s Zach Hartman in the semis. He’ll take on Pittsburgh’s third-seeded Jake Wentzel in Saturday night’s finals. 

After that, another battle continues for the Cardinal as they fight to preserve their program. 

“Hopefully it shows what we’re capable of,” Griffith said. “I knew one of the things (they pointed to for dropping wrestling) was we didn’t have rising prospects, which is something I took personal and offensive just because I came off an undefeated season last year and I still have three more years of eligibility left after this year. I took that pretty personally. I’m just trying to go out there and make a statement now.” 


FACTS, FIGURES AND FIRST TIME SINCE… 

Spencer Lee extended Iowa’s incredible string of consecutive NCAA tournaments with a finalist to 31. Iowa coach Tom Brands was a freshman in 1989 the last time the Hawkeyes weren’t represented in the finals. … Utah Valley entered the week with two All-Americans in program history. The Wolverines doubled that count on Friday when Taylor LaMont (125) and Demetrius Romero (174) secured spots on the podium. … With a blood round fall at 184, Brit Wilson became Northern Illinois’ first All-American since 2004. … Zach Hartman secured Bucknell’s first podium finish in a decade when he reached the semifinals at 165. … Bernie Truax became Cal Poly’s first All-American since 2012 with his quarterfinal win. … Jake Wentzel (165) and Nino Bonaccorsi (197) punched through to the finals for Pittsburgh, marking the first time the Panthers have had two finalists since 1963. Pitt finished Friday night in 10th place. The Panthers haven’t registered a top-10 finish since 1970… Oklahoma State’s Wyatt Sheets reached the podium at 157 as the No. 33 seed. Sheets got into the tournament as an alternate.