Zac Bennett had waited a year for this moment.
His coach, Pat Pecora, also eagerly awaited the Westmont Hilltop graduate’s first appearance in a Pitt-Johnstown singlet.
Bennett didn’t disappoint on Saturday.
The former Pennsylvania state champion and NCAA Division I national qualifier recorded five first-period pins and won by forfeit in another bout to finish third at 197 pounds in the Franklin & Marshall Tournament.
“It’s great to be wrestling for a team like we have at UPJ,” Bennett said after winning the third-place match by fall over Brown University’s Sebastien Levin in 2:03. “It’s a brotherhood. It’s something I really missed out on at North Carolina. Everyone was an individual.”
Bennett transferred to UPJ last year after wrestling under scholarship at Division I University of North Carolina for two seasons. NCAA rules prohibited Bennett from wrestling for the Mountain Cats for one academic year, so the wrestler, his new teammates and Pecora had to wait to see him in action.
“It made me appreciate the opportunity that I now have,” Bennett said. “I came from a strong high school team and had a high school coach, Matt Beaujon, who was able to lead me. It feels good to have that same camaraderie here.”
He joins former Westmont teammate Josh Duplin, who wrestles at heavyweight, and a number of UPJ wrestlers he competed with or followed throughout the years of local, regional and state competition.
“It’s good to get Bennett back home and in the lineup,” Pecora said. “He’s really going to improve our lineup. He had to sit out the whole year. He came the second term of last year and had to sit out the first term this year. We’ve been waiting to get him in the lineup. He’s a local guy and he’s excited about wrestling in front of the local fans.”
Bennett will have to wait until UPJ’s next home match against Millersville on Jan. 25 to wrestle at the Sports Center.
There’s plenty of work until then.
“He was a Division I national qualifier,” Pecora said. “He won the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference). He took second another year. He’s back home where he belongs.”
Bennett won a PIAA championship while wrestling for Westmont Hilltop as a sophomore in 2007. Later that year, he placed second in a national high school event for his class.
At North Carolina, he was a two-time national qualifier.
His abilities were apparent on Saturday.
“Zac shoots a single leg and cradles you,” Pecora said. “He had so many pins. All of his wins were pins in the first period. When he gets you, he gets you.”
Bennett was part of a solid UPJ showing on Saturday.
Forest Hills product Dave Fogle placed second at 125 pounds.
“Fogle had a great tournament,” Pecora said. “He lost in overtime in the finals (to Lehigh’s Darian Cruz).
“We had two thirds. Zac made his debut, and Travis McKillop had a good showing at 184 and he was 8-1.”
Dupin won seven bouts and placed fourth. Colin Landowski (fifth, 149), Sam Hanau (sixth, 141), and Luke Palamides (eighth, 133) also placed for the Mountain Cats.
Zac Bennett had waited a year for this moment.
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