For much of his wrestling career, Kyle Cerminara has been rewriting the University at Buffalo's wrestling history.
This season, as a fifth-year senior, Cerminara set the school record with a 34-match winning streak and went 37-2 overall for the best winning percentage in school history.
His records include most wins in a season (41) and in a career (135), plus most takedowns in a season (64) and in a career (186). In his sophomore season (2003-04) he became UB's first Division I All-American.
Although his name peppers the Bulls' record book, Cerminara has given himself little time to enjoy it. His focus this season has been limited to one goal -- winning a national title.
The Lewiston native is in an excellent position to achieve that end as he and two teammates -- Harold Sherrell and Mark Budd -- compete in the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship beginning Thursday at the Downtown Arena in Oklahoma City.
"I'm happy to have those records because it means I was winning and dominating my matches," Cerminara said. "But I don't really think about anything except nationals. . . . After my sophomore year my entire life has been one thought -- I just think, I want to be a national champion. For my entire wrestling career I guess that's all I've ever really thought about."
Cerminara is ranked second in the nation at 197 pounds in three national polls. His only two losses have come to the top-ranked wrestler in the weight class -- Wynn Michalak of Central Michigan. It was Michalak who kept Cerminara from a Mid-American Conference title, but in the end, Cerminara believes the in-conference competition has made him better.
"It's very unusual in the MAC for us to have the top two wrestlers in a weight class," Cerminara said. "I was kind of frustrated that happened because it's nice to win a MAC title but a good friend of mine said that [wrestling against] Wynn has prepared me to win a national championship. That made sense to me because when I lost to him the first time, I felt I wrestled terrible and I upped my training for a month. . . . I think because Wynn Michalak was there, it made me better. I think if I was training to face most wrestlers in the MAC, like a top-20 guy, I might not have trained as hard. I think Wynn has helped me work to the best of my ability to win nationals."
Meanwhile, his training partner, senior heavyweight Sherrell, was ranked as high as 11th by Amateur Wrestling News. Sherrell went 35-7 this season, beat six nationally ranked wrestlers during the season and won the MAC title.
If anyone on the team knows something about pulling off an upset, it's junior Mark Budd. The 133-pounder defeated Edinboro's Shawn Bunch, who was ranked No. 1 in the country at the time and was the 2005 NCAA runner-up. Budd went 36-4 this season, winning the MAC title. He has been ranked as high as ninth by W.I.N. Magazine.
The goal for all three wrestlers lies in the old coaching cliche -- one match at a time. A wrestler needs to win five matches in order to gain a national title and taking it easy in the opening round matches could spell an early exit at the national tournament. It's perhaps the biggest challenge for Cerminara, who can't look forward to facing Michalak in the finals and forget about the other talented wrestlers looking for an early round upset.
"Kyle's biggest thing going into nationals is to relax and not put too much pressure on himself," said Jeff Catrabone, UB's assistant coach who works with the heavyweights. "He's just got to take one match at a time. Let's think about winning that first match and as coaches, that's our job, to keep him focused. We can't look through the first match and think about Wynn Michalak from Central Michigan in the finals because he may not even make it. We know someone on the other side of the bracket is going to make it, but we'll worry about that when we get to the finals. We've got a lot of wrestling to do before then."