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Penn State Greater Allegheny wrestler works toward goals

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Jeannette area native Matt Lago had a clear goal before this wrestling season even began — qualify for the National Collegiate Wrestling Association tournament.

“That's the goal I set last year,” he said. “I wanted to make it to nationals this year.”

The Penn-Trafford graduate, who is the starting 157-pounder on the Penn State Greater Allegheny team, did just that. By placing sixth at an NCWA qualifying tournament last month, Lago accomplished his goal. Now he will compete in the NCWA National Championship tournament beginning tonight and continuing throughout the weekend in Allen, Texas. (The NCWA is the college wrestling governing body for schools not affiliated with the NCAA, such as Penn State's branch campuses). Now that his first season goal has been accomplished, Lago has a new goal — become an All-American. In order to do that, he'll have to place among the top eight in the national tournament.

His head coach, Clay Karadus, likes his chances.

“I think he has a great shot to place in the top eight,” he said. “Matt is a combination of everything that makes a good wrestler. He's good on his feet, he makes adjustments during the match, and when he sees and opportunity to advance his situation, he does it ... but his best asset is he's very coachable.

“He comes from a good program (in Penn-Trafford), and has good base of wrestling knowledge,” the coach continued. “He worked a lot with my assistant coach, Frank Rizza. They have a great relationship. The skill set Matt brings, Frank enhances.”

Lago's record this season is 20-14. Lago is one of three wrestlers from Penn State Greater Allegheny to qualify for the nationals this season, a huge feather in the cap of a program that's in just its second year of existence.

“It's a huge stepping stone for us because it shows we are a legitimate program working toward higher goal, not just this year,” said Karadus “There's a bigger picture for the team.”

Young takes third

In Division I wrestling action, Jeannette area native Shane Young took third place at the 125-pound weight class at the Big XII Tournament held in Stillwater, Okla., on Saturday.

The Penn-Trafford grad fell to Iowa State's Ryan Finch 2-1 in his opening match but came back to beat Oklahoma's Kyle Garcia 7-3 in the consolation finals. Young is now 13-4 overall. As of press time, he was awaiting word on whether he would receive an at-large bid to compete in the NCAA Championship Tournament.

“You don't ever like leaving it up to the selection committee to determine your fate, because you would like to secure an automatic bid,” WVU coach Craig Turnbull said. “With that said, we do feel somewhat comfortable with Shane. He is ranked No. 29 in the coaches' poll, and he has a number of quality wins this year.”

DePalma takes fifth

Michael DePalma finished fifth at the 157-pound weight class in the Division I Eastern Wrestling League conference tournament on Saturday.

The Jeannette graduate had a rough start to the tournament — getting pinned by Lock Haven's Jake Kemerer in his first match then falling to Pitt's Donnie Tasser 5-0 in his second bout — before storming back to finish the tournament in impressive fashion.

DePalma, a redshirt freshman, grabbed a major decision over Cleveland State's Matt Donohoe 14-6. It was DePalma's team-leading eighth major decision of the year. His finishes the regular season 21-12.

Season ends for Cook

Heading into the NCAA Division I Big South Conference women's basketball tournament last week, Jeannette High School graduate Kayla Cook and her Coastal Carolina team felt good about their first-round matchup against Gardner-Webb.

After all, Coastal beat the Bulldogs twice during the regular season.

But the law of averages caught up to the Chanticleers and they fell to Gardner-Webb 64-60 in the first round Saturday, ending their up-and-down season. Cook, a junior shooting guard, had two points and a steal in the win.

Coastal finishes the year 13-16 overall, 8-10 in conference play. Cook finished with 146 points, a 5.4 per game average. She also had 23 steals, 34 assists and 83 rebounds, and she hit 34 of her 50 free throws.

Cook's attention now shifts to next season. She hopes and feels the pieces are in place for Coastal to make a run at the conference title.

“Next year is going to be a good year for us,” she said. “We have no seniors this year. We have great chemistry together, and we will continue to work hard and get better.”

Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.

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