Grappling with Greatness

Monmouth’s Wrestling Club enjoys a milestone year.

It was a historic season for the Monmouth University Wrestling Club, which hosted its first home meet in decades and had four members qualify for the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA) National Tournament.

On the men’s side, John Dooley (125 pounds) punched his ticket to nationals with a major decision win over Rutgers Wrestling Club’s Zain Ahmad at the NCWA Mid-East Regionals, while Luke Petaccia qualified with a second-place finish at 174 pounds. On the women’s side, Olivia Fazio and Elizabeth Markov qualified by placing first in their respective divisions at regionals.

Such accomplishments would be reason to celebrate for most club wrestling programs, but for the members of Monmouth’s nascent organization, they’re serving as motivation. 

“Getting to nationals was a big feat, but a lot more work has to be done,” says Dooley, a rising junior and the club’s current president. 

Monmouth’s Wrestling Club was founded in 2018 and off to a strong start before the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to go on hiatus, says Maureen Slendorn, the former adviser. She credits past presidents Kyle Ravro ’21 and Eric Brew ’23 with keeping the program going, recruiting a new group of wrestlers who resumed training and competing last academic year. Through crowdfunding initiatives, the club has since been able to purchase a wrestling mat and apparel with the Monmouth logo on it and join the NCWA, says Slendorn. 

Last December, the club marked a historic first when it rolled out the mats for a home match in Boylan Gymnasium—the first dual wrestling meet held on campus in 50 years, says Slendorn, whose son, Kyle, helped start the club in 2018.

All students regardless of gender or previous wrestling experience are welcome to join.

“Several kids never wrestled before or had come back to wrestling,” says Richard Famularo, one of the volunteer coaches. “It’s more about learning something, having fun, and getting a good workout in. And if they [the students] want, we can go compete.”

two wrestlers on the mat
Luke Petaccia (above) and John Dooley (main image at top) in action at the 2024 NCWA National Collegiate Championships.  

One of the newbies was Fazio, a first-year Honors School student who says the idea of learning to wrestle had never crossed her mind prior to coming to Monmouth. She admits now she wasn’t sure how long she would last. 

“I thought I’d either regret it as soon as I joined or just take to it, and the latter happened,” says Fazio. “It’s one of the best decisions I made this year.”

Petaccia, who wrestled for Division III TCNJ before transferring to Monmouth, says he enjoys the opportunity to continue competing. 

“When you’re out there, it’s a battle of wills,” he says. “Whoever works harder is going to win. [Wrestling] builds a lot of character.” 

That’s a sentiment echoed by Famularo, who says this experience will pay dividends long after the students hang up their singlets.

“Kids that come out of college wrestling programs—employers look at that and know the work ethic,” says Famularo. “Dan Gable, who’s one of the all-time greatest wrestlers, said, ‘Once you wrestle, everything else in life is easy.’” 

Regardless of their skill level, the students are benefitting from a wealth of experience brought by the volunteer coaching staff. Famularo, who has been competing in or coaching wrestling for nearly 60 years, has coached the sport at Howell High School for the last 28 years. Joining him on the staff are Head Coach Nick Roy, a former All-American wrestler at Division I Michigan and two-time high school state champion who now runs a wrestling school; Jake Benner, who won a state title in high school before wrestling for Division I Rutgers; and Mike Verrochi, who has coached at Howell for more than 40 years.

That combined experience is a big part of the reason Monmouth’s club had four members qualify for nationals, which were held in March in Shreveport, Louisiana. Only Dooley and Petaccia traveled to Shreveport, where they went 2-2 and 3-2, respectively, and afterward were named NCWA Scholar All-Americans. Nevertheless, the experience strengthened their resolve to continue growing the club and competing at a higher level.

“I want to get our name out there for the team as a whole … [and] bring home as many medals as we can,” says Dooley. “I’m not living in the past. I’m focused on winning at nationals next year.”