P.J. Tasser ready for NCAA championships

| Thursday, March 20, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

P.J. Tasser's wrestling career started at the age of 3, when his dad would put a mattress on the living room floor so that P.J. and his older brother, Donnie, could practice.

Later this week, Tasser, a 23-year old University of Pittsburgh redshirt-senior, will see his wrestling career end.

Tasser will end his wrestling journey at the NCAA Championships in Oklahoma City, Okla., and the 2009 Belle Vernon Area graduate is ready to see how things go.

“I am really excited and it is like the last chapter of this book,” Tasser said. “It is coming full circle as I was once the younger wrestler and now I am excited for my younger teammates.”

Tasser wrestles at heavyweight despite only weighing in at between 210 and 215 pounds. He could face wrestlers 75 pounds heavier, as the max weight for heavyweights is 285 pounds.

“When I wrestled heavyweight two years ago I was trying to win 1-0,” Tasser said. “I was trying to counter for points.

“Now I can go out and attack and go into my offense. It's a different ballgame.”

Today, Tasser opens up against seventh-seeded Mike McClure (27-7) of Michigan State.

With a win, Tasser would face the winner of the match between tenth-seeded Jeremy Johnson (26-3) of Ohio University and unranked Blake Herrin (19-13) of American University.

“I don't know a lot about McClure but I am going to watch film on him,” Tasser said. “I am ready for the grind I will have with him. He is a stronger guy. I am not looking at names, I am just looking to go out and compete.

“You have to expect the unexpected at the NCAAs.”

Pitt coach Jason Peters was an assistant during Tasser's first four years with the program before taking over this year.

“It has been great to watch P.J. grow and he is the ultimate team guy,” Peters said. “I can't say enough great things about him and he will be missed.”

Tasser has a 68-36 career record and is 17-9 this year.

He is unseeded at the NCAA's, but is ranked 17th in the nation in the RPI and 20th in the Coaches' Panel.

This is the second time that Tasser has qualified. He made the championships as a sophomore at 174 pounds.

Two weeks ago, Tasser took fourth place at the Atlantic Coast Conference championships.

During Tasser's four years, Pitt won three Eastern Wrestling League dual/tournament titles before picking up the ACC dual championship this year.

During his career at Pitt, Tasser won the Clarion Open, this year at heavyweight, and won the Franklin & Marshall and Edinboro Open tournaments last year at 174 pounds.

Tasser has won matches at five different weight classes: 165, 174, 184, 197, and 285.

According to Peters, it is common for a wrestler to win at two or three weight classes, but five is rare.

“It is pretty unique,” he said. “He has always done whatever it took for the program, and he deserves to make it one more time (to the NCAAs).

“There will be great competition, but everyone there is great. The key is to win the first match.”

Tasser knows that this week is it for him, and he will take a little bit of his head coaches at BVA, Mel Gray and Jack Jolley, and at Pitt, Randy Stottlemyer and Peters, with him for his last dance.

So what would a strong finish mean to Tasser?

“It would mean the world to me. I have spent the last five years of my life here at Pitt,” he said. “It is sad but being able to have a good showing, it would be something I could look back on 20 or 30 years from now and say I left it all here.”

Bill Hughes is a freelance writer.

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