Wrestlers underachieve at nationals


UPJ national qualifiers and coaches pose for a picture. Back: Josh Duplin, Gary Lantz, Travis McKillop, Keith Ryan, Dave Cawley. Front: Pat Pecora, Dave Fogle, Shane Valko, Evan Link.

Nathan Bottiger, Sports Editor

Pitt-Johnstown’s wrestlers finished their season March 9 at the Division II National Championships. The Mountain Cats began the weekend with seven hopefuls and placed in two weight classes.

Pitt-Johnstown, who took second as a team in the Super Region I tournament, finished the weekend with 21 points, giving them 14th place.

Nebraska-Kearney successfully defended its national title, scoring 108 points.

Along with Nebraska-Kearney, St. Cloud State (Minn.) (105 pts.), Notre Dame (Ohio) College (103.5 pts.), Central Oklahoma (73 pts.), and Upper Iowa (49 pts.), are respectively the tournament’s top five teamns.

Sophomore Travis McKillop entered the tournament as a Regional Champion and earned a third-place finish in the 174-pound weight class.

McKillop won through to the semi-final bout, but lost 6-4 to top-seeded Shamus O’Grady.

McKillop triumphed through the remaining consolations bracket, and won a close 4-2 decision over third-seeded Adam Walters in the consolation finals.

Assistant Coach Shane Valko said McKillop’s win over Walters was a highlight of the tournament because McKillop lost to Walters in a previous matchup this year.

McKillop said he is not happy with his third place finish because he was hoping to be a national champion this year.

“I wanted to win, obviously, but I have two years left.”

Junior Dave Cawley also took a place on the podium at the 141-pound weight class, although not the place he was looking forward to, he said.

Cawley opened his tournament run with a  loss, but he continued to battle, winning two matches to put him in placement range.

Cawley lost the next match and won a 1-0 decision over Daniel Ownbey to take seventh. Cawley also left the weekend with All-American honors.

Like McKillop, Cawley said he also was hoping to place higher, but was still glad his success during the season enabled him to become an All-American.

“I was so happy. I pretty much hugged everyone I saw,” Cawley said. “It was such a relief to place and know I’m an All-American.”

Cawley said he is already turning his sights toward next year.

“I’m just going to work hard and stay on the mat as much as I can, so, hopefully, next year, I can win a national title.”

Valko said Cawley’s performance in his All-American match was another key moment in the tournament.

“It’s always awesome for someone to achieve their first time All-American status.”

Also contributing some team points in the tournament was junior Gary Lantz.

Lantz won his first match 8-4 against Kelly Henderson, before losing two consecutive matches, which eliminated him from the tournament.

Pitt-Johnstown’s rermaining national qualifiers, Evan Link (125 lbs.), Dave Fogle (133 lbs.), Keith Ryan (165 lbs.), and Josh Duplin (285 lbs.), all went 0-2 in their brackets.

McKillop said he thought the team underachieved at the tournament, but the experience was helpful in some respects.

“Some guys didn’t show up at the right times, but it was a great learning experience.”

Valko said he was happy with the wrestlers’ tournament performance, but that it was not their best.

“I think we did OK,” Valko said. “We definitely could have done better, but they wrestled hard and fought their butts off.”

The Mountain Cats also ended the season showing their success in the classroom as well.

The National Wrestling Coaches Association honored McKillop, Cawley and senior Keith Ryan as Division II All-Academic Wrestling First-Team members.

Cawley said he was excited about the academic honor because he had put a lot of extra time into school work and bringing up his grades this year.

“Academics is the biggest reason we’re here, and it’s a big accomplishment to be an Academic All-american and an All-American on the mat.“

Valko said the wrestlers who earned these honors are a testament to what is expected in the Pitt-Johnstown program.

“I think it is awesome,” Valko said. “We really emphasize education in our program, so, when we have athletes who can go to practice and put the time in the wrestling room and also in the classroom, it’s really amazing.”