Pitt-Johnstown wrestling coach Pat Pecora has an ambitious goal.
“I want every good wrestler in Pennsylvania to walk through UPJ’s wrestling room before he graduates (high school),” Pecora said on Thursday.
The Hall of Fame coach certainly had a good start on it this week, as hundreds of young wrestlers filled UPJ’s Sports Center from morning until night.
Members of the Pennsylvania Junior and Cadet national teams – both freestyle and Greco-Roman – have been hitting the mats at UPJ while Pecora’s popular camp included 120 wrestlers ranging from first-graders to high schools seniors. Throw in the Young Guns club practices run by UPJ assistant Jody Strittmatter and it’s been a busy week on the Richland Township campus.
“We’ve had wrestlers on the mat from 7 a.m. to 10 at night,” Pecora said on Thursday as members of the Greco-Roman Cadet team warmed up for a practice session.
Members of the Pennsylvania teams are practicing in preparation for the national championship tournament in Fargo, N.D., which begins today.
The tournament has Cadet (wrestlers born in 1997 or ‘98) and Junior (those born after Sept. 1, 1993 and still enrolled in grades 9-12) classifications. It also includes male and female divisions.
The current members of Team Pennsylvania have quite a legacy to uphold. A report on theopenmat.com shows that the Keystone State has been the most successful at the event over the years, with a combined 1,294 All-Americans and 186 champions since it started in 1971.
But staying at the top is no easy task.
“Fargo is one of the toughest tournaments in the U.S.” said Joe Stabilito Jr., Pennsylvania’s Cadet Greco-Roman coach. “You can talk about scholastic states, but I personally don’t think there is anything tougher. The competition that we see here is a level higher. The kids that are doing this are the kids you see in the state finals in scholastic.”
Only one local wrestler – Somerset’s Jon Fabian – was a part of the Greco-Roman teams at UPJ this week. The 145-pounder, who will be a junior in the fall – is thrilled to be making his first trip to Fargo.
“I’m pumped,” he said. “I heard there are like a hundred-and-some kids in a bracket. I just want to go try it out. I’m praying I get on that podium. I’ve been working hard for it.”
Fabian said that Greco-Roman, in which wrestlers are not allowed to touch their opponents below the waist, is a better fit for him than freestyle.
“I’m more upper body,” he said. “I like how the pace is slowed down. I can just stay in my mind and just keep working.”
Penns Valley’s Seth Decker, who was a runner-up at the District 6 folkstyle tournament in February, said that having wrestled in the national tournament last year makes it easier for him this summer.
“It helps a lot, knowing what competition you have to wrestle, just knowing what they do,” said Decker, who graduated to the Junior level this year after competing as a Cadet last year. “It helps training with these guys, too.”
Members of the Cadet team were scheduled to leave for Fargo on Thursday with the Junior team beginning the long bus trip today.
Cadet and Junior wrestlers who are competing in only the freestyle portion of the national tournament will arrive at UPJ today for a few days of workouts before leaving for North Dakota.