Pat Pecora’s latest wrestling recruiting class at Pitt-Johnstown has something old, something new and, according to Pecora, something of a coup.
“It’s a different type of class than we’re used to,” said Pecora, who led the Mountain Cats to a 14-2 record in his 35th season. “We got a couple out-of-state guys, a couple that were going to come last year. We got some good kids from the WPIAL. It’s a real solid class and athletic class.”
But, Pecora stayed close to home for what he feels might be the biggest prize in the recruiting class. Shawn Perich, who attends Bishop Carroll but wrestles for Portage, chose UPJ over Pitt’s main campus, and Pecora sees big things in store for the 145-pounder, who finished third in the PIAA Class AA state tournament.
“There’s no doubt about it, he was the best local wrestler in the area,” Pecora said. “We always want the best local athlete. He’s a good athlete. I follow football, and I’ve watched him play football for years. He was basically their offensive team.”
But it wasn’t Perich’s skill with a football that meant the most to Pecora.
“He’s also a great wrestler,” the UPJ coach said. “He beat the state champ (South Fayette’s Nick Carr) in the regional finals and lost to the state runner-up (Sharon’s Jordan Moss) in the semifinals.”
When Perich committed to UPJ he told The Tribune-Democrat that he’s hoping to follow the path of Forest Hills graduate Shane Valko, who won a Division II national title for the Mountain Cats this year. And Pecora already sees some similarities between the two.
“He reminds me of the Shane Valko situation, where he’s right down the road (with) a lot of raw potential,” Pecora said. “Once he concentrates on one sport, he’s going to be really strong.”
Pecora said the class also another talented athlete who could turn into an elite wrestler. Greater Latrobe’s Eric Shaffer played quarterback on the Wildcats’ football team and is a starter for the baseball team. Despite not wrestling during his freshman and sophomore years at Latrobe, Shaffer won a District 7 title at 189 pounds as a senior and placed seventh in the Class AAA state tournament.
“I think he’s a top recruit,” Pecora said. “When those kids concentrate on one sport, they’re going to be dangerous.”
It didn’t hurt that Shaffer had one uncle who was an All-American under Pecora and another who played basketball at UPJ.
Pecora also got two recruits that were supposed to be Mountain Cats a year ago. Chestnut Ridge’s Josh McDannell, who was a state runner-up in 2009, took a circuitous route to UPJ. After initially choosing UPJ, he changed his mind and decided to join his brother, Brandon Pfahler, at Lock Haven. After a semester at Lock Haven, McDannell switched course and joined the Marines as a reservist. Eventually, McDannell got back in touch with Pecora, and the UPJ coach was more than happy to bring him into the program.
“Josh is a stud,” Pecora said.
Ironically, McDannell will be joining the Mountain Cats at the same time as one of his biggest rivals from high school.
McDannell wrestled Bedford’s Cody Shippey multiple times during their careers, and Shippey defeated McDannell for the District 5 championship at 189 pounds in 2009.
“Shippey is a real big kid,” Pecora said. “He’s one of the few kids to beat McDannell.”
The other local wrestler in Pecora’s recruiting class is Chestnut Ridge’s Josh Shane, who went 32-7 as a senior and was a state qualifier.
In what is a rarity for Pecora, he also landed a pair of wrestlers from outside the Keystone State. Joel Paolo was a West Virginia state champion at 140 pounds for Oak Glenn High School, and Nick Katich (130 pounds) was a Division II state qualifier in Ohio for Louisville.
“It wasn’t a situation where we went after them,” Pecora said. “They came after us. That says a lot about our program.”
Paolo, who plans to major in chemistry, liked UPJ’s academics as well as the wrestling team.
“He’s on a lot of academic (scholarship) money,” Pecora said. “He’s just a good kid all around. He comes from a very good program.”
Katich also was attracted by the school’s academic reputation.
“He wanted our engineering program and wanted somewhere where he could continue wrestling,” Pecora said. “How many Division II wrestling programs have engineering?”
In all, 11 of Pecora’s recruits come from his traditional recruiting base of schools in the PIAA districts 5, 6 and 7.
One of those from outside of the area – Ryan Maurer of District 3’s Schuylkill Valley – was a sixth-place finisher at 160 pounds in Class AAA.
“This kid, he made it to the state semis,” Pecora said. “His dad’s the coach. He wrestles all year. I think he’s another one that we snuck in on.”
A look at members of the Pitt-Johnstown wrestling team’s recruiting class announced on Tuesday:
Wrestler High School Weight
Zach Baker Penn Trafford 285
Justin Harold Kiski Area 145
Jack Hnath Mount Lebanon 152
Nick Katich Louisville (Ohio) 130
Ryan Maurer Schuylkill Valley 160
Josh McDannell Chestnut Ridge 215
Anthony Napoleone Moon 125
Joel Paolo Oak Glenn (W.Va.) 140
Shawn Perich Portage 145
Dominic Pietropaolo Plum 140
Eric Shaffer Latrobe 189
Josh Shane Chestnut Ridge 140
Cody Shippey Bedford 215
Blaine Shutt Central Dauphin 125
Ryan Walters Latrobe 152