PITTSBURGH. — You won’t find Kyle Patton’s name in the box score from Pitt’s win over Edinboro on Friday night.
Or in most Eastern Wrestling League matches for that matter.
But that doesn’t mean the Westmont Hilltop graduate didn’t play a key role in the No. 18 Panthers’ winning their first-ever EWL title this season. Patton, who was the Hilltoppers’ all-time winningest wrestler until Trevor Kushner broke his record on Friday, is 9-7 this season for Pitt, including 2-1 in dual meets.
But while he has served primarily as a backup to
149-pounder Eric Albright, Patton has been important part of the team out of the spotlight. His work in the wrestling room – like that of backups everywhere – has helped push the Panthers to a school-record 17-1-1 season.
“He’s not the guy we go to when it’s Saturday night and we’re wrestling Penn State or Edinboro for the title, but all the work that he puts in is helping to sharpen the skills of the guy in front of him and helps us to win,” Pitt coach Rande Stottlemyer said Sunday. “There’s not a lot of glory in being a backup, but without guys like him, you won’t be as successful as we are. We’re only as good as guys like him. He’s committed just like everybody else.”
Patton was just as thrilled about the EWL title as if he’d been on the mat when the Panthers clinched it with Friday night’s 21-13 victory.
“It’s really exciting,” Patton said in an on-campus interview Sunday. “We’ve been working really hard this year. Our training has increased, and we’ve got different goals in mind this year. We’re moving toward better success for the future. It’s pretty exciting. I’m enjoying it.”
After wrestling only in open tournaments during his first two seasons at Pitt, Patton was happy to help the Panthers in a dual-meet situation.
“I got in a couple of matches this year, which was exciting,” he said. “It was my first time, this year, wrestling varsity. The day-to-day practice grind is important because you need everybody in the room working towards the same goal, helping push each other to go a little extra, give it your all every day. That’s not easy to do. You need everybody in the room working just as hard to be successful as a team.”
Patton’s work ethic has impressed Stottlemyer.
“He’s a very hard worker,” said the Pitt coach, who is in his 31st season. “He’s very unselfish. If I called him up now and said ‘Hey, I need you to do something for the Pitt wrestling program,’ he’d be doing it. He’d be on the phone saying, ‘What do you need me to do, Coach? I’ll help you with whatever you need to do.’ He’s a good team guy, and you need those. But you also need guys like him to get better, and he’s done that. He’s worked at getting better.”
That’s important because, as much as helps the team in his current role, Patton doesn’t want to be a backup forever.
Albright is a senior, meaning that there won’t be a returning starter at 149.
With the dual-meet season over, Patton is already looking ahead next season.
“I’m kind of thinking what my best options are, what weight I need to be at to give myself the best chance to start,” he said. “There’s a lot of tough guys on the team, but I think if I’m at the right spot I can do well, because I am improving in wrestling. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better this year.”
Stottlemyer certainly isn’t going to hand Patton the starting job next year. Dane Johnson, a three-time PIAA champion from Shady Side will get a chance at the spot after redshirting this season, and redshirt junior Tyler Nauman, who is 30-3 this season at 141 pounds, could move up a weight.
But don’t count out Patton.
“You never know, but the bottom line is he’s going to contribute to our program,” Stottlemyer said. “Am I going to say he’s going to start right now? Those guys will determine that next year. They will decide it. And I know he’ll work hard all summer, and he’ll do everything that he can do to prepare himself because he’s a guy that could start for us next year. That’s how you have good teams. When you have two or three guys like that in each weight class, that’s how you have good teams.”
One way or another, Patton will be pushing Pitt toward a second EWL title.
Eric Knopsnyder is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat.