Armstrong native readies for wrestling homecoming
Addison Knepshield associates himself first and foremost with the country's premier high school wrestling program, Blair Academy (N.J.).
But the senior 182-pound grappler still calls Armstrong County home. And this weekend will serve as something of an athletic homecoming.
Long before he left Western Pennsylvania to attend Blair Academy, a boarding school in Blairstown, N.J., as a sophomore, Knepshield wrestled in Kittanning's youth program, and he lived in Manor Township, where his family still resides.
A Division I recruit, Knepshield will get to wrestle in front of a Western Pennsylvanian audience for the first time in his high school career when he travels with the Buccaneers to Canon-McMillan for the Powerade Christmas Tournament, which is regarded as one of the nation's top individual competitions.
“I want to win in front of my family; I want to win in front of all my friends back home; I want to win in front of everybody that's helped me become who I am today,” Knepshield said. “I can't really say I'm nervous. I'm more excited and anxious. Not nervous at all.”
His wrestling career started when he was 7. Wrestlers who fill Kittanning's starting lineup were Knepshield's teammates.
By the time he turned 11, Knepshield began to expand his wrestling horizons. He went to the Greensburg area for Rob Waller's All-American Wrestling Club. He traveled the country for tournaments and camps.
Knepshield attended Shady Side Academy as a freshman. But, as Knepshield described it, the program “was falling apart” soon after he arrived because of the long-time coach's departure at the end of the 2009-10 season.
Knepshield began to explore other options, and Blair Academy, though a five-hour drive from Ford City, appealed to him.
“People say that I went there for wrestling, mostly,” Knepshield said. “It had a big part in it, but I went there for academics as well. I knew that Blair would push me to the next level in both academics and athletics. It was just an added bonus that they were the No. 1 wrestling team in the country.”
He earned a spot in Blair's starting lineup as a sophomore and junior and wrestled in the 170-pound range. He helped the Bucs attain a No. 1 national team ranking in both Intermat and Amateur Wrestling News polls last season.
“He came in pretty assured of himself,” Blair Academy coach Charles Danhof said. “He came in, knew he could bang hard, and he did. That mental toughness, that mental approach, it really served him well.
“He's got a hard-nosed, fight-hard, grind style, and that's kind of what our wrestling style is like, so the styles were really compatible.”
Last winter, torn ligaments in his left knee caused him to miss the Powerade tournament, which Blair won by almost 100 points after producing four champions.
Ranked No. 19 in the country by Intermat, Knepshield believes he's right up there with the best at this season's Powerade. Earlier this winter, he placed fourth at the Walsh Jesuit (Ohio) Ironman tournament, which is ranked by most in the high school wrestling community as the toughest event in the U.S.
Kittanning's wrestlers also will compete in the Powerade tournament, so Knepshield gets an opportunity to catch up with pals he usually sees only during spring and summer break.
Knepshield relishes the time he spends with his friends from home. But, particularly during a time when he's weighing whether to wrestle at the University of Pennsylvania or the University of Virginia, he stands by his decision to attend school hundreds of miles away and endure Blair's grueling schedule of elite tournaments.
“I'm happy where I am now,” Knepshield said. “Not to put down Kittanning wrestling at all — I love Kittanning wrestling; it propelled me to where I am today, because if I never wrestled for Kittanning, then, hey, I don't know where I'd be. I don't know if I'd wrestle. But I don't know if I'd ever see myself as a Kittanning Wildcat.”
Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-543-1303.