Zac Bennett had waited a year for this moment.
His coach, Pat Pecora, also eagerly awaited the Westmont Hilltop graduate’s first appearance in a Pitt-Johnstown singlet.
Bennett didn’t disappoint on Saturday.
The former Pennsylvania state champion and NCAA Division I national qualifier recorded five first-period pins and won by forfeit in another bout to finish third at 197 pounds in the Franklin & Marshall Tournament.
“It’s great to be wrestling for a team like we have at UPJ,” Bennett said after winning the third-place match by fall over Brown University’s Sebastien Levin in 2:03. “It’s a brotherhood. It’s something I really missed out on at North Carolina. Everyone was an individual.”
Bennett transferred to UPJ last year after wrestling under scholarship at Division I University of North Carolina for two seasons. NCAA rules prohibited Bennett from wrestling for the Mountain Cats for one academic year, so the wrestler, his new teammates and Pecora had to wait to see him in action.
“It made me appreciate the opportunity that I now have,” Bennett said. “I came from a strong high school team and had a high school coach, Matt Beaujon, who was able to lead me. It feels good to have that same camaraderie here.”
He joins former Westmont teammate Josh Duplin, who wrestles at heavyweight, and a number of UPJ wrestlers he competed with or followed throughout the years of local, regional and state competition.
“It’s good to get Bennett back home and in the lineup,” Pecora said. “He’s really going to improve our lineup. He had to sit out the whole year. He came the second term of last year and had to sit out the first term this year. We’ve been waiting to get him in the lineup. He’s a local guy and he’s excited about wrestling in front of the local fans.”
Bennett will have to wait until UPJ’s next home match against Millersville on Jan. 25 to wrestle at the Sports Center.
There’s plenty of work until then.
“He was a Division I national qualifier,” Pecora said. “He won the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference). He took second another year. He’s back home where he belongs.”
Bennett won a PIAA championship while wrestling for Westmont Hilltop as a sophomore in 2007. Later that year, he placed second in a national high school event for his class.
At North Carolina, he was a two-time national qualifier.
His abilities were apparent on Saturday.
“Zac shoots a single leg and cradles you,” Pecora said. “He had so many pins. All of his wins were pins in the first period. When he gets you, he gets you.”
Bennett was part of a solid UPJ showing on Saturday.
Forest Hills product Dave Fogle placed second at 125 pounds.
“Fogle had a great tournament,” Pecora said. “He lost in overtime in the finals (to Lehigh’s Darian Cruz).
“We had two thirds. Zac made his debut, and Travis McKillop had a good showing at 184 and he was 8-1.”
Dupin won seven bouts and placed fourth. Colin Landowski (fifth, 149), Sam Hanau (sixth, 141), and Luke Palamides (eighth, 133) also placed for the Mountain Cats.
Zac Bennett had waited a year for this moment.
Moving on up | Nine grapplers advance to AA quarterfinals
Bedford’s Garrett Thomas said he wasn’t nervous at all.
United’s Tyler Oliver admitted that he was, even if he told his coaches that he wasn’t.
And Richland’s Nico Pecora said the pressure is on his family members, not him.
Nervous or not, those three, who were making their state tournament debuts, and six other local wrestlers won their first match at the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships on Thursday morning to qualify for today’s quarterfinal round.
Day 1 gives ups and downs for region
There was plenty of talk about roller coasters on Thursday afternoon at the Giant Center, but it had nothing to do with the thrill rides across the parking lot at Hersheypark.
It was all about the ups and downs of the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships.
Berlin boys wary of Trojans’ size, athleticism
On the same night last week that Berlin Brothersvalley was winning its first District 5-A title since 2007, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic was losing to eventual champion Lincoln Park in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
The Mountaineers (23-2), one of three area boys district champions set to begin opening-round action in the PIAA playoffs tonight, and Trojans (15-10) will square off this evening at 7:30 p.m. at the Pitt-Johnstown Sports Center, site of Berlin’s 65-51 district championship win over Forbes Road.
Tomahawks return home to face Jets
Johnstown Tomahawks coach Jason Spence knows numbers can be deceiving.
For instance, the Tomahawks’ Matt Meier had two goals and three points on Saturday night. Goaltender Brett Young made 41 saves.
Those statistics are impressive for 60 minutes of work. Both players had solid efforts, especially during a road game. On paper, the numbers looked good enough for a victory.
Danel helping Falcons to Division III tournament
When Chelsea Danel was a senior at North Star, the Cougars were able to win a District 5-AA basketball title.
Now Danel, a senior at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, is a key contributor on a Falcons’ hoops squad which upset top-seeded Lebanon Valley 53-47 in the Commonwealth Conference championship on Saturday. It was the ninth title for the Falcons in 13 appearances.
Pirates, Jays rained out
The Toronto Blue Jays' spring training game at the Pittsburgh Pirates was rained out Thursday.
The game will not be made up.
Ferndale grad aiding Duquesne women’s hoops
Matt Schmidt was hired as an assistant coach for the Duquesne women’s basketball team in June.
Now the former Ferndale High School standout will have his first opportunity to experience March madness with the Dukes, who are the sixth-seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament which opened Thursday in Richmond Coliseum in Richmond, Va.
Icecats on way to national tournament
The Pitt-Johnstown hockey team needed to overcome some long odds to advance to the ACHA Men’s Division III national championship tournament in Coral Springs, Fla. next week.
- Local Sports Briefs 3-7-14
Local wrestlers advance in PIAA tournament
Nine local wrestlers – including three from Bedford – advanced to the quarterfinal round of the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships this morning.
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- Moving on up | Nine grapplers advance to AA quarterfinals