Sending five wrestlers to this point was the goal. Getting six to the NCAA Division II national tournament in Cleveland is gravy.
With three Super Region I champions leading the way for his contingent, Pitt-Johnstown wrestling coach Pat Pecora is optimistic about the Mountain Cats’ chances to make another splash on a stage that the program has achieved success many times.
“We had a great regional tournament,” Pecora said.
“If you look at that last round, we won six out of seven matches. That was the key that we had a great final round. I believe that five was what we wanted, anything more was a plus.”
Pecora continued: “We’ve got guys who have been there before and some first-timers. I like how we look.”
Wrestling begins at 11 a.m. today in Public Auditorium. The weekend’s final session will start at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Dave Fogle (125), Travis McKillop (184) and Zac Bennett (197) enter the tournament having claimed Super Region I titles two weeks ago at Pitt-Johnstown’s Sports Center. Fogle is a three-time national qualifier and carries a No. 5 national ranking into the tourney. McKillop - a two-time All-American - is the top-ranked wrestler in the nation at 184 while Bennett is 18-2 with 15 falls this season.
Bennett transferred to Pitt-Johnstown from North Carolina, where he qualified for the Division I tournament.
Sam Hanau (141), Cole Landowski (149) and Josh Duplin (285) each reached the tournament by taking third in their respective weight classes at the Super Region I tournament.
With Fogle as the lone senior among the Mountain Cats grapplers in Cleveland, Pecora is aware that this experience will help the program a lot in coming years.
“It’s always good for the future of the program to have guys attending the national tournament who are going to be back next year,” Pecora said. “The experience in the national tournament is immeasurable. The experience of being here one year really helps and says a lot for next year’s team.”
But the support for this year’s team will be apparent in the Forest City.
“We’ve got a good fan base,” Pecora said. “Not only parents, but you’ve got extended family, high school coaches. There’s alumni and people from the Johnstown community coming down. Being within driving distances, we’ll have a good Pitt-Johnstown contingent down here.”
Shawn Curtis is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/shawncurtis430.