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PSNK wrestling grapples with low turnout

| Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, 1:11 a.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Colin Austin (left) and EJ Rock spar during a practice in the gymnasium at Penn State New Kensington on Wednesday, November 13, 2013.

Penn State New Kensington first-year wrestling coach Joe Makara has the right mindset but lacks the numbers to match.

Makara will have five wrestlers to work with this year, causing the team to forfeit six of 11 weight classes before matches even begin.

Makara, though, won't let the small roster size ruin a positive outlook.

“We are small,” said Makara, a Burrell graduate who won two state titles in high school. “The five guys I do have, they are going to be five pretty tough guys.”

The roster will feature one returning starter in sophomore John Dopplehauer, who competed in the 265-pound heavyweight class last year and reached the national tournament. That, however, will not be the case this year as he lost 68 pounds to drop down to 197.

Dopplehauer, a Penn-Trafford graduate, made the cut to improve his health and to wrestle at a similar weight that he competed at during high school. He admits it will take some getting used to.

“The biggest thing is the speed of the match itself,” Dopplehauer said. “Everything happens a lot faster. I've been wrestling with a lot of guys in the area and getting back in the swing of things in wrestling in a lower weight class like that.”

Joining Dopplehauer on the roster will be freshman Colin Austin, Ejai Rock, Dean Lusk and Phillip Marra.

Marra, a 2012 Burrell graduate, will compete in the 149 pounds. He has high expectations, according to Makara.

“I coached Phillip at Burrell,” Makara said. “He is a tough kid and a hard worker. He's been putting in extra time after practice. I don't think that there will be too many kids that can beat him.”

Makara, a former Burrell assistant, hopes to use his ties to the Alle-Kiski Valley to recruit local wrestlers in hopes of boosting the short-handed roster.

“My plan is to get as many bodies in the room as I can,” he said. “I'm hoping that this year we can get three or four guys to nationals and that will open some people's eyes and see Penn State has a good program. I hope that will excite people in the area and drive people to the school.”

Makara knows the Lions won't win many matches with five wrestlers, but he will judge his team by individual performances instead of the end result.

The Lions open the season Saturday by hosting the Penn State New Kensington Open. Participating schools are Penn State Mont Alto, Penn State Greater Allegheny, Penn State Beaver, Pitt Wrestling Club and Jamestown Community College. Action will begin at 9 a.m.

D.J. Vasil is a freelance writer.

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