Kittanning hoping to get more than one wrestler to states
Kittanning wrestling coach Brandon Newill accumulated plenty of fond memories during his time in Johnstown where he became a three-time NCAA Division II All-American and brought a national title to the local Pitt campus.
Newill continues to wait for the season when his wrestlers will mention Johnstown and joy in the same breath.
The third-year coach hopes more than just one Wildcat finishes in the top five at the PIAA Class AA Southwest Regional tournament in Johnstown to advance to the PIAA individual championships this winter. In the past two seasons, excluding standout Jason Nolf, Kittanning wrestlers have hit a wall in the regional round; the combined record of Kittanning's six other regional qualifiers in the past two seasons was 3-12.
Nolf, a junior and two-time champion, is the favorite in the 132-pound weight class at the regional, which begins at 1 p.m. Friday and continues Saturday at the Cambria County War Memorial. Seniors Zac Croyle (195 pounds) and Taylor Jack (152) return after winless debuts last season.
“I feel that if they wrestle like they can, both have the ability to move on,” Newill said of Croyle and Jack. “It's my job to convince them it's just another match, it's just another mat, it's just another tournament.
“We basically want to get them to the level where they're wrestling to the best of their abilities without thinking about it.”
The spectacle of the regional tournament, held at a fairly sizable hockey arena, is not the sole reason for the Wildcats' struggles, Newill said. But he believes the magnitude of the event might contribute.
Past experience makes Croyle and Jack better prepared for the second go-round.
Jack is one week removed from placing second in the WPIAL tournament.
“I'm at the level where I should be going past regionals,” Jack said.
Working with Blairsville sophomore Andrew Doak at Young Guns Wrestling Club practices for the better part of the past year has given Jack a good idea of where he stands in the region. Doak, a returning finalist at 152, is the No. 1 seed in Jack's weight class.
“I know it'd be a close one,” Jack said of a possible match against Doak, which would occur in the semifinals.
Croyle, meanwhile, placed third in the WPIAL championship. An 8-2 loss to South Fayette's Zach Walker in the semifinals sparked his motivation for a rematch; they're situated on the same side of the regional bracket and would meet in the semifinals.
“I've practiced all week just in case I get to wrestle him again,” Croyle said. “I think I should be in the finals.”
Nolf made clear that he'd like some company at the PIAA tournament, which begins Thursday at the Giant Center in Hershey. The past two seasons, a teammate joined him strictly to serve as a practice partner.
“They better make it,” he said.