The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

College

March 5, 2013

Seven UPJ wrestlers headed to nationals

JOHNSTOWN — Travis McKillop has had success on the national stage before, so he knows what a contingent of seven Pitt-Johnstown wrestlers will encounter during this weekend’s NCAA Division II national tournament in Birmingham, Ala.

McKillop, UPJ’s sixth-ranked 184-pounder, earned All-American honors as a freshman last season, when he placed seventh nationally.

“The biggest thing I learned is I’ve got to fight for every point,” said McKillop, who is 29-1 with a team-best 11 pins. “You can’t give up stupid points. You’ve got to keep wrestling. Go out there and compete.”

Even though he’s only a sophomore, UPJ will count on McKillop for leadership when wrestling begins on Friday as part of the NCAA Division II Sports Festival, which includes men’s and women’s swimming, and indoor track and field, as well as wrestling competition at the 750,000 square foot Birmingham Crossplex.

“It’s a good experience for the wrestlers,” UPJ coach Pat Pecora said. “There is an opening ceremony like the Olympics. There are community events for the athletes to be involved in. Then, it’s time to get down to business.”

Junior Dave Fogle is a returning All-American, who wrestles at 133 pounds this season after finishing third nationally at 125 last season. Junior 174-pounder Gary Lantz has experience on the big stage as a national qualifier a year ago.

Four UPJ wrestlers will make their debuts in NCAA Division II national competition: Redshirt freshman 125-pounder Evan Link; seventh-ranked junior 141-pounder Dave Cawley; senior 165-pounder Keith Ryan; and Westmont Hilltop graduate Josh Duplin, a freshman heavyweight.

“We’ve got a little bit of everything,” Pecora said. “We’ve got guys who have been here and been All-Americans, and we’ve got guys who have been here and know their way around, and we have four guys who are making their first trip to nationals.”

McKillop went 4-0 in the Division II Super Region I event, defeating Mercyhurst’s Eric Lundgren, 10-3, to claim the regional championship. Now, he’ll look to build on last year’s success at the national tournament.

“Having that year under my belt is a huge advantage. I’ve been to the big show and became an All-American,” McKillop said. “The obstacles, there’s always adversity. If something bad happens, if I’m banged up, I’ve got to forget about it for the moment and keep going. You can’t take anyone lightly. You can’t look past a kid. Take it one match at a time.”

Hilltop graduate Duplin has made an immediate impact on the Mountain Cats program. He went 23-8 during his first season and reached the semifinals in the regional event before finishing fourth to claim a spot at nationals.

“I work out as hard as I can every day,” Duplin said. “There are some tough kids in my bracket, but you’ve got to wrestle tough. This season, I learned how much hard work matters.”

Duplin’s performance on the mat sometimes makes people forget he’s a freshman.

“Dupes is the youngster in the crowd,” Pecora said. “I love the way he wrestles. He’s not afraid of anyone.”

Fogle is 14-11 wrestling up a class this season.

“Dave placed third at 125 last year, and he moved up a weight this year, which makes it tougher,” Pecora said. “But Dave seems to always turn it on at tournament time. He has a habit of beating people who beat him at regionals. He’s a veteran.”

Link is 21-8 with a team-best nine major decisions. His record is magnified by the fact that Link has defeated some top-notch competition.

“Evan Link has had a fantastic season,” Pecora said. 

“He’s beaten nationally ranked guys during the season. He has the ability and all the things it takes to be an All-American in his freshman season. He can do it.”

Cawley has a 21-5 record to go with his national ranking.

“Dave Cawley has been around. He’s been in our starting lineup,” Pecora said. “He’s just one tough kid. He’s the kind of kid you love because he has a gas tank that never quits. He breaks people on the top. A tough one.”

Keith Ryan is UPJ’s lone senior at nationals. Ryan is 19-8 with eight falls.

“Keith Ryan at 165 has had a breakout year,” Pecora said. “He’s a fifth-year senior who never broke into the lineup until this year. He made it to nationals and wants to end his career with an All-American certificate.”

Lantz, a junior, is 24-5 with eight pins.

“Lantz is in every match,” Pecora said. “His goal is to be an All-American.”

McKillop said UPJ’s 15-2 dual-meet season, which included 14 consecutive wins, was special. The Mountain Cats’ showing at regionals and the large group heading to nationals has magnified the team’s accomplishments.

“It’s been a great season,” McKillop said. “We started off a little patchy here and there. Things weren’t clicking. This team shows character. The results show who we are as individuals. We bonded together. We worked out day after day. There is a great work ethic. Our record reflects that.”

Duplin agreed.

“My teammates, we’re one of the hardest working teams in the nation,” Duplin said. “We have one of the best coaches in the nation. Put that together and you have a good outcome.”

Wrestling is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. on Friday with 80 matches in the first round. Session II will start at 6 p.m. on Friday and consist of the second round championship matches and the first and second round consolations. Session II will consist of 120 matches.

On Saturday, wrestling will start at 10 a.m. with the championship semifinals, third round consolations and the consolation semifinals. The championship finals are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Saturday.

The top eight place winners in each weight class become NCAA Division II All-Americans.

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