Talented athletes from Pitt-Johnstown’s past and present and the guiding hands that directed them were among the hundreds gathered on Saturday at the campus Living-Learning Center to honor four individuals and a team selected for induction into the UPJ Athletics Hall of Fame.
Penn Cambria graduate Tony Albertelli was the first up, having earned his spot with a wrestling career from 1992-97 that produced 138 career wins and a Mountain Cats 149-pound record of 34 regular-season wins and 42 in a season. He played a key role in teams that chalked up two straight undefeated dual-meet seasons, dominated the East Regional Tournament and claimed the school’s first NCAA team championship.
But, it wasn’t a one-way street.
“Coach (Pat) Pecora supported me the whole time, not only as a wrestler but as a person in my personal life as well,” Albertelli recalled. “My teammates – I couldn’t have done it without them. They helped me with wrestling and with life in general. I couldn’t have achieved what I did without the support of my coach, my teammates, my family and the university itself. It’s a great place to get an education, and I wouldn't trade it for anything else.”
Jill Halapin, a 1988 graduate, scored double figures in every women’s basketball game UPJ played from 1986-88. She earned back-to-back Kodak All-American honors as a junior and senior and holds the school record for most rebounds in a game with 25. She was chosen for the all-tournament team in every tournament UPJ played for three straight years, and was a leader on the 1986-87 team that reached the NCAA Division II Final Four.
Halapin said she gave considerable thought to the highlights of her career in preparing a speech for Saturday’s dinner.
“I think the biggest thing that really stands out is the privilege I had to play for this program that coach (Jodi) Gault built,” she said. “It was a great source of pride for us back then because it was a nationally ranked program for years and years. The greatest thing, when I reflect on that time, is just the privilege to have been a small part of that.”
Bruce Haselrig has contributed so much to UPJ and its sports programs that he could have been considered for any number of reasons. The selection committee chose to honor him as the first Mountain Cats wrestling coach. He created the program, and led it from 1973-75.
“There are so many things I remember through the years,” Haselrig said after a lengthy pause. “But maybe what stands out the most is being able to find a lot of young men from this area willing to make the commitment to help us start a program.”
Justin Walther (1996-2000) sparked UPJ men’s basketball teams to back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Division II tournament. He finished his career as the Mountain Cats’ all-time leading scorer with 2,073 points and was the only UPJ player to score 2,000 points in his career until Nick Novak reached that milestone during the past season.
UPJ was 87-23 during Walther’s four seasons, 23-4 in his senior year, when the Cats rose as high as fourth in national polls.
“One of my most memorable moments was making the NCAA Tournament two years in a row,” Walther said. “In my junior year, I won the national player of the month. That was a nice achievement. Nobody ever did that here before, and it’s something I’m proud of.”
Pitt-Johnstown has a long history of success in women’s basketball, including several powerhouse seasons under Gault. But, the 1986-87 Lady Cats surpassed them all by earning a place in the NCAA Division II Final Four a year after moving up from Division III. No UPJ team has equalled that.
“They were very special,” Gault recalled. “This is a group that was driven. They were very competitive, fearless. That was a group with six 1,000-point scorers, and there were four All-Americans on that team by the time they had all graduated. That’s pretty talented. I was proud to be their coach then, and we’re proud of them today.”
Halapin was a junior that season, leading the Mason-Dixon Conference in scoring and field goal percentage to take Player of the Year and first-team Kodak All-District honors. She recalled Gault emphasizing the importance of playing well every time out.
“We had lofty goals, but I’m not so sure that that team actually had the goal to make it and almost play for a national championship,” she said. “I think we just had our sights on every single game and the next thing you knew, here we were. I think those expectations changed my senior year because we had gotten a taste of it and thought ‘Oh, we should have this as our goal.’ "