Pitt-Johnstown’s wrestling team begins the 2014-2015 season this Sunday in the Clarion Open––a tournament the Mountain Cats have been participating in since joining the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference last year.
The team was only eight points away last season from winning ultimate bragging rights and their first Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championship.
Also, the Mountain Cats were not able to overcome Mercyhurst University in the regular season home finale, losing 23-15 in a de facto conference championship match against the Lakers.
However, following the season’s last meet, Pitt-Johnstown was able to top Mercyhurst in last season’s regional tournament, but could only reach regional runner-up honors.
The Mountain Cats finished 25 points behind Notre Dame College (South Euclid, Ohio) for first while beating out Mercyhurst for second place.
“I feel like our entire team has something to prove because none of our names are on the wrestling room wall and want to make a big impact this year,” sophomore Cole Landowski said.
“I (feel that way) individually too, I made it to nationals last year but I did not achieve what I wanted to.”
The 2014 National Championships closed out the season for Pitt-Johnstown, finishing in ninth of 42 teams.
The season was arguably highlighted by junior Travis McKillop becoming Pitt-Johnstown’s first Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference champion in the 184 pound weight class.
Head Coach and Athletic Director Pat Pecora heads into his 39th season with his squad preseason-ranked fourth of 15 teams in Super Region I.
Not only is the team ranked heading into the Clarion Open, but six wrestlers are individually ranked in the region.
Four of the six are underclassmen, leaving room for improvement with all their highly touted wrestlers coming into the season.
“The team has worked extremely hard on the offseason and preseason,” Landowski said.
“All of the wrestlers are buying into coach Pecora’s system.”
Juniors Evan Link (125 pounds) and Sam Hanau (141 pounds) are ranked third and second in their classes.
Sophomores Luke Palamides (133 pounds), John Blankenship (174 pounds), Heath Coles (157 pounds) and Landowski (149 pounds) are ranked second, sixth, third and sixth in their classes.
The Mountain Cats will need younger athletes to step up for seniors who graduated last year.
Former national qualifiers like 125 pound Dave Fogle and 165 pound Gary Lantz have left Pitt-Johnstown with big shoes to fill.
Pecora has brought in 11 new student-athletes to his program to hopefully groom them into the team’s national qualifiers.
Three of the 11 freshman are former Pennsylvania State place-winners, highlighted by 2014 AA 152 pound State Champion Steve Edwards from Burrell High School.
He won 46 of his 50 senior year matches that led to a state title and a 130-33 high school career record.
Coach Pecora has been known to try and find recruits that will make an impact for the team in their freshman year.
Junior heavyweight Josh Duplin will take a redshirt this season to return for the 2015-2016 season with two years of eligibility left.
“I want to use this year to focus on getting stronger and better,” he said.
None of the Mountain Cats were able to make an impact in last year’s Clarion Open, which included many division I athletes.
The team was not able to have one wrestler place in any class but had a couple come close.
Fogle was able to win his first four matches but lost his last two, which were the most imparative.
The lone division II competitor to win his weight class was from Notre Dame College, the eventually Super Region I champions.
Pitt-Johnstown are to have their first home dual meet in conference action against East Stroudsburg University Nov. 25 at the Sports Center.