Kittanning wrestlers reach for new level of success
Kittanning wrestling coach Brandon Newill found the distance between his Wildcats' potential and their on-mat performance maddening at times a season ago.
Not only is Newill intent on closing the gap this winter, he intends to have Kittanning reset its standard for success.
A loaded lineup must achieve a great deal this season in order to earn the approval of its third-year coach. The Wildcats' group of 10 returning starters includes five PIAA Class AA Southwest Regional qualifiers, one of whom — Jason Nolf — placed third in the state. Those wrestlers as well as varsity newcomers hope to put Kittanning in the mix for a Section 3-AA team title — something it last attained in 1982 — and a WPIAL title.
“We're always looking to live up to our potential, but more than that, we're trying to push our potential,” Newill said. “We're trying to do better than we should. Absolutely, last year, we did not achieve what I think we could have.”
Kittanning finished 12-7 in dual meets a season ago. It lost to Section 3-AA Subsection B foes Burrell and Valley, and it later reached the WPIAL team quarterfinals, where the Wildcats fell, 51-19, to eventual champion Burrell.
“We wanted, as a team, to make it to states,” senior Nate Robb said. “We thought that was realistic last year, and we think it's realistic this year. So we're going to push ourselves to do the best that we feel we can do.”
Kittanning will find out fairly early in the season how it compares to several of the WPIAL's top Class AA programs. The Wildcats open their Section 3-AA schedule Dec. 12 with a home match against nine-time defending section winner Burrell. The following week, they'll travel to Valley, another team expected to contend for the section crown.
Nolf, a junior who will wrestle in the 132-pound weight class, again faces the highest individual expectations among the Wildcats. A state champion as a freshman and a third-place finisher in the PIAA a season ago, he has a career record of 87-1.
Robb, a senior competing at 126 pounds, hopes to keep his season win total close to Nolf's. But to do so will require him to avoid injury, a task he failed each of the last two seasons. Torn ligaments in his right shoulder ruined his sophomore season, and a severe knee injury ended his junior campaign in the WPIAL semifinals.
“A lot of it was that I wasn't as consistent with my lifting over the summer, and my joints weren't as strong,” Robb said. “So I did a lot of joint stability exercises over this summer to strengthen the joints that were hurt and could get hurt.”
Others who show promise as seniors include Christian Emminger (138 pounds), Taylor Jack (152) and Zac Croyle (195). All three reached the Southwest Regional round last winter.
Seniors Derek Bowser (120) and Nathan Watt (182), juniors Elliot Zydonik (160) and David Grafton (285) and sophomore Brody Trumbull (113) hope to at least return to the WPIAL tournament.
Relatives of returning starters allow Kittanning to field a complete lineup. Freshman Nick Croyle (145) is Zac's brother, and freshman Jacob Robb (170) is Nate's brother and sophomore Logan Robb (220) is a cousin.
Freshman Brendon Malia will step in at 106 pounds.
“These guys are coming into a program that they know is not easy,” Newill said. “I push the guys that have gone through it already, and I'm going to continue to build on that push. So it's tough for (the newcomers) to jump right into it, but I'm excited for these guys because they come in and they work hard.”
Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-543-1303.