The Pitt-Johnstown wrestling program has been among the best at the NCAA Division II level for decades under veteran coach Pat Pecora.
Three reasons the Mountain Cats have such a respected reputation on the national level will be in Cleveland for the Division II Wrestling Hall of Fame ceremony on March 13.
UPJ wrestlers will comprise half of the six spots in the Class of 2014 as six-time national champion Carlton Haselrig, two-time national champ Jody Strittmatter and national champion John Strittmatter will be inducted. All three are products of local high school programs, with Haselrig a Greater Johnstown graduate and the Strittmatter brothers of Cambria Heights.
“These are three of our best to ever put on a UPJ singlet, and Carlton Haselrig is one of the best ever to put on a wrestling singlet,” Pecora said on Saturday afternoon. “Carlton signifies that breakthrough individual that put Pitt-Johnstown on the map. I feel the Strittmatter brothers’ legacy was a team imprint. Because of both of them, we won in 1996 and 1999 team national championships. Their commitment and dedication are the mark they left on Pitt-Johnstown wrestling.”
Hollidaysburg High School graduate Wade Schalles, a two-time national champion at Clarion University, also will be inducted. Gannon University coach Don Henry and former Ashland University wrestler Corey Kline round out the Class of 2014 as announced by the NCAA Division II Wrestling Coaches Association.
n Carlton Haselrig: Haselrig won six national championships at UPJ, three apiece in Division I and II. The heavyweight champ had a 143-2-1 career record (.979 winning percentage) and holds five UPJ all-time records.
Haselrig never lost or tied while competing against a Division II opponent.
“It’s an honor to be inducted,” Haselrig said. “It’s a natural progression of things. That’s how it goes. It’s hard to put into words.
“When I wrestled, it was tangible. You could see it. You did this. You did that. Now, being put in the hall of fame. You think you could be there. You want to be there. Am I worthy? You ask yourself that question.”
Haselrig’s six national titles will remain a record because soon after his career ended, the NCAA implemented a rule that prohibits Division II champions from competing in the Division I tournament.
“Carlton had an unbelievable reign. It was legendary. Never to be matched,” said Pecora, who was inducted in the Division II Hall of Fame in 2003. “When do you have a record that never will be broken? That’s the rarest feat of all.”
Haselrig had a NCAA record 122 consecutive matches without a loss.
In 2005, the NCAA 75th Anniversary Wrestling Team included Haselrig.
At Johnstown High, Haselrig won a PIAA Class AAA heavyweight state title even though the Trojans didn’t have a wrestling program.
After college, a similar situation occurred, with a bit of a role reversal. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Haselrig in the 12th round of the 1989 NFL Draft even though UPJ didn’t have a football program. He evolved into an All Pro Offensive Guard with the Steelers.
Haselrig spends much of his time helping student-athletes playing football and wrestling at the youth level. He brings the perspective of a champion and NFL player who reached great heights but had to overcome personal obstacles and controversies over the years.
“I want to help young wrestlers and try to help them be better wrestlers and athletes and better men in life,” Haselrig said. “I try to be an example. I’ve gone through some good times, some bad times. The main thing in life is to have an even keel. Don’t be too up with the ups or too down with the downs. Keep it on the even keel.”
n Jody Strittmatter: Jody Strittmatter won two Division II national titles at UPJ and then finished his career with a pair of All-American finishes while wrestling for NCAA Division I power Iowa.
The Cambria Heights product won a Division II crown at 118 pounds in 1998 and won gold again at 125 pounds in 1999, when he was part of Pitt-Johnstown’s second national championship team finish. Jody Srittmatter was named Outstanding Wrestler of the 1999 national tournament.
At Iowa, Jody Strittmatter placed third in 2000 and was national runner-up in 2001 while competing for one of the nation’s most prestigious and successful wrestling programs.
At Pitt-Johnstown, Jody Strittmatter went 87-3 in two years, a .967 winning percentage.
At Iowa, he was a two-time Big Ten champion and a member of the Hawkeyes’ NCAA national championship team in 2000.
Jody Strittmatter was a two-time NWCA All-Academic Team selection at UPJ, where he earned his degree in biology and returned as an assistant coach in 2004-05.
The Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame inducted Strittmatter in 2010, and the Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame inducted him in 2006.
n John Strittmatter: John Strittmatter was part of two NCAA Division II national championship teams at Pitt-Johnstown, where he also joined his brother as an individual national champ in 1999.
John Strittmatter finished as national runner-up at 118 pounds in 1996, when he played a key role on UPJ’s first-ever national championship team. That year, UPJ outpointed top-ranked University of Central Oklahoma to claim the team crown at Northern Colorado University.
Three years later, John Strittmatter won the national title at 133 pounds and UPJ won its second national team title, this time beating University of Nebraska-Omaha in the Mavericks’ home arena.
John Strittmatter was a three-time All-American with second-, fifth- and first-place finishes. He was a three-time National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) All-Academic Team selection.
He was part of four straight UPJ regional championships and four consecutive top-five national team finishes. His 112-15 record translated to a .882 winning percentage. John Strittmatter still holds UPJ records with 35 wins in a regular season and 41 wins in a season overall.
He currently is a teacher in the Central Cambria School District, and both he and brother Jody coach with the Young Guns Wrestling Club.
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.